That inexhaustible storehouse of stories, the Mahābhārata, provides more raw material for the mill of two current Bengali productions. Both of these also employ the traditional technique of Kathakata—the first as a collective, the second as a solo act.
Sukhchar Pancham Repertory Theatre’s Vidur Dharmayātrā, written and directed by Maloy Mitra, begins with an intriguing premise: a mortician at a morgue has gathered four doms, a priest and a madwoman to narrate the tale of Vidura. Spectators conversant with the epic can understand why him; Vyasa’s son by a Sudra woman, Vidura as a character appeals to the Chandal doms. Later, we realize that the cremation ground itself becomes a symbol for the slaughterhouse of Kurukshetra, with the spirits of the dead as audience.
However, the play is not about ancient lore or scary ghosts. Its subtitle, “Kaurav nai, Pāndav-o nai”, signals the need for us today not to toe partisan lines, but to follow the righteous and impartial path like Vidura always did, to speak up and protest for the right cause above and beyond taking sides. It was Vidura who rebuked Duryodhana for ordering that Draupadi be dragged into the assembly hall after the dice game. But because nobody else seconded him, Duryodhana had his way. Even more than Yudhishthira, Vidura represents Dharma.
Mitra designs the minimalist mise-en-scene aesthetically, in ironic contrast to the amount of stage time he gives to Duryodhana, Duhshasana, Shakuni and Karna, emphasizing the evil power-hunger that dominates our world. Is that why Vidura, towards the end of the Mahābhārata, renounced everything and went away, losing faith in humanity?
Behala Anudarshi’s Āhata Ambā, by Sumana Chakraborty, deals with the thrice-humiliated Amba, much more commonly encountered in theatre than the rare appearance of Vidura. Chakraborty relates Amba’s life from her youthful love for Shalya Raja to Bhishma’s abduction of her for Vichitravirya and her double rejection, to her next birth as Shikhandin, who takes revenge for her by killing Bhishma, all told from a feminist angle.
But Chakraborty compresses the battle and distorts the ending with Amba conveying romantic sympathy for Bhishma on his deathbed. Her acting should show greater variety of expression depending on the situation and on Amba’s moods, while she should deliver her monologue in a less rushed manner, pacing the lines as required so that we can hear the words clearly. Self-direction creates such shortcomings, which an objective director can remedy.
(From The Times of India, 28 July 2018)