Yakshagana Gombeyata, Ravana Chhaya, Mayurbhanj Chhau

Presented by Crafts Council of West Bengal



Lāvani ke Rang

Group: B Spot Productions

Writer-director: Bhushan Korgaonkar


When our traditional forms hardly get called to the city anymore, one rejoices at initiatives like the Utsav held by the Crafts Council of West Bengal, which showcased artisans and handicrafts from Kashmir to Kerala at the Birla Academy for ten days. Theatrical genres received place, too, three of them rarely seen in Kolkata compared to their more visible cousins. Thus, children in the sparse audiences thrilled to the experience of watching Yakshagana Gombeyata/Bombeyata marionettes from Kasaragod, Kerala, and Ravana Chhaya shadow puppets from Odisha retelling Rama stories, while adults normally familiar with Puruliya Chhau tasted the maskless aesthetics of Mayurbhanj Chhau on the Chakravyuha.

But a critic’s eye notices shortcomings. First, the troupes were not named in advance, leaving their credentials unknown. Second, the organizers failed to keep their own timings notified in ads. They cannot assume that viewers have leisure enough to go away and return at rescheduled times repeatedly. Third, all the performances—usually taking hours in their native ambience—were pressed into half-hour capsules, diminishing their art into what now passes as “sampling”. Fourth, when Ravana Chhaya had already begun upstairs, Mayurbhanj Chhau started on the lawns, forcing us to choose while their respective musics clashed sonically.

I also observed a disturbing development in Ravana Chhaya. The vocalizers spoke in Hindi, periodically punctuated with resounding cries of “Jay Shri Ram!” I can understand their desire to reach a larger population, but why at the expense of their mother tongue and the textual authenticity of the medieval Odia Vichitra Ramayana?

Equally disconcerting, at a festival priding itself in live artistry, the inaugural choreography by local eminences employed loud, synthesized recorded soundtracks. I realize that it is the much more convenient default option in terms of expenses and rehearsals, but even a bare minimum of three or four accompanists would have generated a genuine human element that technology compromised.


The same complaint with electronic amplification arose on B Spot’s Lāvani ke Rang, hosted by the Kolkata Centre for Creativity where I went uninvited, tempted by the production’s awardwinning reputation. Accustomed to prosceniums, the actor-singers used mikes, though their trained voices and the small KCC gallery did not merit loudspeakers.

Writer-director Bhushan Korgaonkar introduces the history and specialties of Lavani songs within Tamasha to listeners ignorant of the distinction between public outdoors dholkibāri and the sangitbāri or baithakichā private style, the latter foregrounded here, admitting its unsavoury exploitative features but notably omitting the crucial Songadya clown character. Led by Shakuntala Bai Nagarkar and Geetanjali Kulkarni, the performers held our attention with their individual singing and dancing. However, do they have to accept requests for Hindi-film numbers, which, as Maya Pandit wrote in my Oxford Companion to Indian Theatre, contribute “eventually to Tamasha’s own detriment, as its spectators began to want film-style songs and dances”? I suppose we cannot fight populist wishes and every form evolves, not necessarily for the better.


8 December 2023