Three troupes from abroad visited this year’s Rabindra Utsav, all of them deficient in one department or more, despite positive accomplishments in others. Two of them revived Tagore’s originally prose plays from 1933, Tāser Desh and Chandālikā, as dance-dramas.
The Department of Theatre, Rajshahi University (Bangladesh), improved markedly over last year’s Dākghar with Tāser Desh. In both acting and dancing, the students’ youthful zest proved infectious, and the cards’ movements much more robotic than usual, suiting the android age. The music laudably dared to introduce Western instruments like guitar and drums, S. M. Faruque’s pleasantly surprising directorial interpolation of a revved-up “Pāglā hāoyā” expressing Tagore’s message of anti-regimentation perfectly. However, the songs remained on a soundtrack, denying us their live magic, all the more disappointing because we have become accustomed to hearing the rich Bangladeshi tradition of Rabindrasangit.
Based on the rarely-staged prose text of Chandālikā, the bilingual Mātir Kanyā by the Tagore Music Group of Greater Washington, D. C., had not just the entire music recorded under Debashish Raychaudhuri’s supervision, but also the dialogues. As a result, most distressingly, Prakriti and Ma lip-synced every line from start to finish. Theatricality vanished, the static aspect extending to the projected slides. Only Shreeya Chowdhury’s graceful Bharatanatyam in the lead, mixed with ballet, and the other dancers, gave vitality to the performance. Directorially, Bharati Mitra took a welcome step by translating the mother-daughter conversations into English, thereby reaching out to American audiences rather than the non-resident Bengali habit of preaching Tagore to their own community of the converted.
Hathāt ek Manche, by the Tagore Society of Singapore, bombed on every count. Incredibly, a gang of wagon-breakers hiding from the cops at night inside an auditorium begin acting Shāh Jahān effortlessly to kill the time, even though only the ringleader has prior theatre experience. If you justifiably ask what this has to do with Tagore, after 90 minutes the cultured crooks get bored with their own histrionics and switch to “Debatār Grās”, boring us for a further half-hour. Worse, director Koushik Datta reveals grand insensitivity by treating one character’s speech impairment comically. As with the Washingtonians, the Singaporeans use slides as backdrop, ensuring completely dead visuals.
(From The Times of India, 27 September 2019)