SAKHARAM BINDER | KAMALA

Sakharam Binder

Group: Epic Actors’ Workshop

Dramatist: Vijay Tendulkar

Director: Farley Richmond

 

Kamalā

Group: Calcutta Performers

Dramatist: Vijay Tendulkar

Director: Tamal Raychaudhuri

Review:

Sayak reached their golden jubilee this year, an achievement worth lauding because few groups of their vintage have attained this landmark. The managerial abilities of director Meghnad Bhattacharya, one of the founders, definitely facilitated their continuity over this period. They celebrated with a five-day festival that featured an American troupe of Indian origins performing Sakharam Binder in English, adding to the clutch of Tendulkar plays gracing Bengali theatre currently.

Epic Actors’ Workshop (New Jersey) had staged it in 2022 to mark this contemporary classic’s 50th anniversary, and revived it with a mostly new cast to premiere for Sayak. The director, American theatre professor Farley Richmond, has a connection with Kolkata going back to 1971 when Writers Workshop published his adaptation of two Bhavai scripts, Vanio and Zanda Zulan. His lifelong engagement with Indian theatre ensures an authenticity rare in foreign productions of Indian drama. The accents he impressed on his cast could have come from Indian actors speaking English.

In fact, I had no inkling that a Bengali by birth, Sajal Mukherjee, enacted the eponymous sexist-saviour (photo) until I read the credits. He not only played Sakharam realistically (except for Tendulkar’s stage direction instructing “bare-chested”) but even pounded his dholki like a natural. The Marathi roots of Madhuwanti Bhat and Seema Sahane made them contrast the docile Laxmi and unmanageable Champa facilely. Mandar Gadre as Sakharam’s buddy Dawood and Prasun Sarkar as Champa’s miserable husband supported capably. Their scheduled shows in Mumbai and Pune should receive good feedback.

 

Tendulkar’s recurrent theme of female exploitation by men who supposedly rescued women from “fates worse than death” continued on Kamalā (1981), now in a faithful Bengali translation by Tamal Raychaudhuri for Calcutta Performers. Unlike Sakharam, of course, the “hero” is an investigative journalist, Jaisingh (based on an actual Indian Express reporter), who buys Kamala from trafficking in a village and brings her to New Delhi to present her at a press conference and expose the criminal nexus. But the setting remains his home, where Tendulkar’s typical irony juxtaposes Jaisingh’s treatment of his wife and Kamala to underline that, despite his professional high moral ground, domestically there is hardly any difference.

The performance that I saw lacked energy, with the exception of the lead character, portrayed with credibility by Tanusri Goswami. Presumably Raychaudhuri has tightened his direction since, for Bengali audiences need access to this important drama, not seen in recent memory.