URANTA TARADER CHHAYA | BHABISHYATER SMRITI

Uranta Tārāder Chhāyā

Group: Samstab

Dramatist-director: Debasish (Ray)

Highly recommended: ★★★★★

 

 

Bhabishyater Smriti

Group: Sayak

Director: Meghnad Bhattacharya

Dramatist: Debasish

Review:

Debasish Ray, who prefers to be known only by his first name, no doubt self-effacingly conscious of its commonness in Bengali nomenclature, has become the most prolific Bengali dramatist-director, sought out from his hometown Khardah by leading groups because of the original vision and theatrical quality that his work guarantees. Samstab’s Uranta Tārāder Chhāyā exemplifies this.

A passionate reader of history, he wrote this play not on any of the usual greats, but on two “failures” (the word he used when talking to me about what interested him the most, historically): the infamous Nader Shah and Muhammad Shah, the 13th Mughal. The violent Nader failed ethically, and the aesthete Muhammad failed imperially. Debasish pivots their conflict upon an imaginary encounter between them, in which Muhammad’s trust and compassion amazes Nader, to the extent that Nader begins to think of Muhammad as a friend and dreams about him.

But this gives you just the bare summary. Most unusual and inspiring about the text is Debasish’s ability to extract and express the benevolent and humanist core values of Islam, embodied in Muhammad (photo, left) and ultimately understood by Nader (right). Despite Nader’s bloodthirstiness, Muhammad’s epicureanism and the atrocities committed by both, Muhammad’s spiritual side soars above like the imagery in the title.

Debasish achieves this through spectacular design, from swirling stars in the sky down to his trademark poles onstage held by rope struts above and inner chambers masked by gauze curtains behind which he conjures magic with lighting. Bhaskar Mukherjee contributes whirling Sufic choreography and costumes in a beautifully earthy palette. Sanjib Sarkar presents perhaps his most compelling performance yet as the loud and uncultured Nader, beside Tathagata Chowdhury as the sensitive, dancing and singing Muhammad. Joydeep Sinha and Manjima Chatterjee lead the authentic-sounding music with three string instrumentalists including the unlikely banjo and mandolin.

 

Meghnad Bhattacharya, the renowned director of an even older group, Sayak, took a one-act script by Debasish, Bhabishyater Smriti, and persuaded him to expand it into a regular two-hour drama with a social agenda. A 350-year-old edifice in rural Bengal, occupied by a 97-year-old man and his son aged 78, reveals its haunted secrets when the son’s NRI granddaughter arrives on a whirlwind visit. The rambling great-grandfather refuses to leave his home because, he says, it harbours other residents.

The eerie ambience of the first half, aided considerably by Soumik Piyali’s overgrown set of the dilapidated building, green-slatted window symbolically hiding the past, with a dim passageway behind, surrenders after the interval to a simpler unravelling, one by one, of the suppressed existence of the generations of women made to stay inside. The add-on of a prospective promoter eyeing the property makes it all the more conventional. Surprisingly, the young descendant does not take her mother away with her—which seems the most natural thing to do.

Bhattacharya’s direction ensures Sayak’s acting standards, headed by himself as the paterfamilias living in a world of his own (photo). Dhurjati Prasad De (his son), Runa Mukhopadhyay (the maid who knows too much, having grown old working in the house) and Amrita Mukherjee (the great-granddaughter) play their parts to satisfaction. But the smoke machine, while mist-ifying, does not mystify, because we soon realize that each time it emits, we can expect a spirit to materialize.