Dramatist: Samuel Beckett


Tār Pratikshāy

Group: Ganakrishti

Director: Amitava Dutta

Recommended ★★★★






Group: Little Thespian

Director: S. M. Azhar Alam

Recommended ★★★★


The pandemic has given new meaning to existentialism, particularly the bleak, socially isolated world of Beckett where we simply await death, which hovers backstage, unseen but omnipresent. Understandably, Kolkata theatre embraced Beckett’s earliest masterpieces during the lockdown: Ganakrishti’s Tār Pratikshāy in Bengali and Little Thespian’s Endgame in Hindi, both adapted into Indian character, yet translated quite faithfully.

Translator-director Amitava Dutta depersonalizes Godot in his title as Tār, not even the respectful Tānr, but then contradicts it with his inspired transcreation of Godot’s name as Bhagā (suggestive of Bhagwan) in the dialogue. This begs the question immediately, why not retitle it perfectly as Bhagār Pratikshāy? Although we can justify somewhat reluctantly the deletion of Christian allusions, one cannot have existentialism without an implied agnosticism about God that “Tār” just doesn’t convey. Dutta’s directorial note also stresses the “deprivation of the ultimate class discrimination of modern life”, which is only one of Beckett’s themes, and interprets the Pozzo-Lucky entrance as “on his way to the market to sell his slave”.

Mercifully, these discrepancies don’t affect the impact of the production, which relies almost entirely on the exemplary acting, paying commendably close attention to Beckett’s lines. Gogo and Didi become Agā and Bagā (Swarnendu Sen and Sukanta Sil respectively). Sen’s lisping lifts their ordinariness to a loveable level, while Sil holds his own as the voice of reason. Dutta’s masterstrokes in nomenclature continue with the vulgar “Podu” (Dipak Das, who takes pride in his name, making us smirk, spouts chaste sādhu bhāshā when his speeches demand a literary register, and periodically collapses into catatonic paroxysms). Dutta costumes “Lakkā” as a hardhat worker, which Beckett would certainly have disallowed as “this craze for explicitation”, but renders Lucky’s monologue most creatively of all in translation, ably delivered by Raju Das.

Annoyingly, the intrusive music conforms to Bengali theatre conventions of atmospheric embellishment, most uncalled-for in a Beckett play. We cannot stage Waiting for Godot by following formulae.

Compared to Godot, very few have the courage to attempt Endgame, like Azhar Alam did in his farewell production, pandemic-influenced, before he himself fell victim tragically to Covid last year. Even more than Godot, Endgame happens in greyscale, with even its light impossibly specified by Beckett as “grey”. Its space shrinks from the outdoors of Godot to the claustrophobia of apparently a nuclear bomb shelter—as I liked to describe it to my students—and despite the presence of a woman in the dramatis personae (unlike Godot), she dies and humanity has turned sterile, without even the hope of new leaves that sprouted visibly in Godot.

Consequently, Azhar’s decision to cast actresses as Hamm (Hukmarani) and Clov (Ekantika) startled, to say the least. Once the initial disbelief wore off, I realized that the gender didn’t really matter, for Uma Jhunjhunwala and Chandreyee Dutta Mitra acted as unsexed beings, only their essential humanness intact. To underline the concept, Nagg (Md. Maroof Khan) has very long hair and a man in drag (Amandeep Ray) performs Nell, both depicted grotesquely as well as pathetically. Uma and Chandreyee present the last of the human race, one unable to stand, the other unable to sit. Chandreyee projects the restlessly mobile Clov exceptionally, her hoarse cackling laugh setting the aural tone to the play.

While Jhunjhunwala’s translation follows Beckett’s dialogue scrupulously, she should give more respect to his stage directions. For example, returning to the matter of the design palette, there should not be any bright colours, but she must use Beckett’s “very red” faces and “blood-stained handkerchief” to emphasize the inflammation and haemorrhaging. The two windows should be placed much higher, as in a bunker. And there should be no interval—another conformist cliche to make audiences comfortable, whereas Beckett wanted Endgame to cause utmost discomfort.