We have a prolific, experimental as well as versatile young partnership in Bengali theatre operating out of Barrackpore: playwright Anirban Sen and director Suvojit Bandopadhyay. Two of their new productions, each only about an hour long, gave me evidence of their range and flexibility. Their own group, Paramik, performed Winner in the tiny confines of Tripti Mitra Sabhagriha, while Onnwesak of Maheshtala staged their Māri the Great in a regular proscenium auditorium.
Two unusual aspects struck me immediately about their style. First, Sen’s unapologetic and confident use of a bilingual Bengali-English dialogue, which we speak in normal daily life but most Bengali dramatists still ignore in a misplaced fealty to the pure mother tongue. Second, Bandopadhyay’s startlingly innovative visual sense to match Sen’s novel locales, filling every available square foot of space with set pieces, props, puppets, video and lights of all kinds from every conceivable angle.
Winner, for instance, has a boxing ring for venue, because Sen tells the story of a female boxer who encounters resistance and exploitation in her journey as a sportswoman. Bandopadhyay places inside the ring a cluttered desk featuring, among other things, a miniature ring with a doll boxing, and LED lamps for pinpoint effects. Even under the table, underhand exchanges go on involving unsavoury characters. The scenography (see photo) in no way distracts from the self-empowered acting of the lead role by Swagata. I suggest that Paramik seat spectators on all four sides like an arena for full impact, rather than three-sided at present.
Māri the Great occurs on a cruise ship (hence Bandopadhyay’s clever credit as “captain”), so the stage looks like a deck with rope riggings. Sen (designated the “architect”) wrote it during the pandemic, presenting symbolically a voyage to “the boss”, with just one materialistic passenger in search of friendship, and the customer-care manager as the only other human. Existential isolation and a plague of loneliness form the theme, with an echo of Mohit Chattopadhyaya’s Captain Hurrah in the air. However, despite intense performances by the actors, Sourav Dutta and Rahul Bose, the density of the text makes it difficult to comprehend rationally.