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Stage On & Off
Man in iron mask

The three-day programme to mark the 13th death anniversary of Utpal Dutt was an eye-opener of sorts, in the number and the nature of the turnout, and more.

For one, it was the fact that so few people turned up for this show organised by the Utpal Dutt Foundation, People’s Little Theatre, government of West Bengal and Airtel. Then, it was the kind of people who turned up, who cheered and clapped every time there was a mention of class struggle, of Lenin or Marx.

This was Utpal Dutt labelled and packaged. As one of the organisers pointed out, Dutt himself had once said that his first identity was that of a propagandist. Of all his plays, the festival chose Manusher Adhikare and Louha Manab.

Held at Rabindra Sadan, the festival was also marked by two firsts. The release of Macbeth, translated by Utpal Dutt, and the first public screening of an audio-visual on the works of Tapas Sen. Macbeth, published for the first time by Thema and edited by Samik Bandopadhyay, includes Sandeho, an unpublished poem by Dutt retrieved from the Macbeth script.

Tapas Sen’s CD presentation Exposition for submission to the International Colloquium proved an apt conclusion to a moving tribute by Tapas Sen’s son Joy and Samik Bandopadhyay on Day Three. Joy Sen’s lighting was certainly notable both in Nati and Manusher Adhikare.

Considered a classic, Manusher Adhikare was presented quite well by Behrampore Repertory Theatre, directed by Asit Basu. Written in 1967 and representative of Dutt’s dramatic genius, Manusher Adhikare protests the racial discrimination and injustice of the Scottsborough trial of 1931. If the trial of an innocent had been a catalyst in the Black Movement in America, it carried new meaning when it debuted at the Minerva in 1968.

Louha Manab, written by Dutt in 1964 while in jail, is based on a real trial against a pro-Stalin, ex-Politburo member by Kruschevites in Moscow of 1963. First staged at Alipore Jail in 1965, it was presented here by People’s Little Theatre.

The event also paid tribute to the memory of Bangladeshi poet Shamsur Rahman. Members of various Bangladeshi theatre groups were present, recalling chance meetings with Dutt and how they had seen and performed his plays.

Highlighting the People’s Little Theatre’s efforts to carry on the stage struggle beyond Dutt, Nati was a play written and presented by female members of the group, Sova Sen (Utpal Dutt’s wife), Bishnupriya Dutt (Utpal Dutt’s daughter), Averi Chaubey and others.

It had been billed as a tribute to all actresses of the Bengali stage from the 19th to the 21st century and a showcase of their contributions, trials and tribulations. It involved a lot of research, but what we had in the end was less play and more collective ramblings by actresses of various ages and backgrounds. The writers of Nati, however, believe this marks a new beginning. “The learnt lines have exhausted themselves and with it our complacent postures, our self engrossment… the true actress’s story cannot have a grand narrative or even a predictable story,” they claimed.

“The condition of actresses working in our group and elsewhere has certainly improved; they no longer accept their directors as their gurus, they speak out,” concluded Sova Sen.

Our girl, there

When the drama classes start at The Juilliard School in New York this month-end, there will be a Calcutta girl in the crowd of students. Nilanjana Bose (picture below) is the second Indian, after Jadavpur University graduate Mahira Kakkar, to have got through the rigorous admission process at this prestigious music-dance-drama school.

“I had to go through five rounds of auditions in New York. We were divided into groups and given a number of things to do. Acting, monologue pieces, dance movements, voice modulation, speech, reading, improvisations and group work. Each round was a process of elimination,” says Nilanjana, who studied in La Martiniere for Girls before shifting to Delhi to pursue a BA in history from St Stephen’s College.

“One of the reasons for going to St Stephen’s was to do theatre,” says she, having acted in a string of productions from Shakespeare to Oscar Wilde, Arthur Miller to Tom Stoppard. While in college, Nilanjana acted for Shakespeare Society, the St Stephen’s drama club. Later, she teamed up with some theatre actors — a few of them from her college — to form Wide Aisle Productions. The troupe had put up Ariel Dorfman’s The Reader at Gyan Manch last year.

Last summer, she did Terry Pratchett’s The Wyrd Sisters with Theatrecian on the Calcutta stage. “The four-year course at Juilliard will be focussing on classes and continual performances,” says the trained Manipuri dancer who also had a brush with the big screen when she played Sumana, a “small role”, in Bappaditya Bandopadhyay’s Devaki, starring Suman Ranganathan and Perizaad Zorabian.

A writer’s tale

With a bouquet of street plays, proscenium theatre and seminar, a three-day festival on Manik Bandopadhyay, organised by Pratikriti, gets underway on September 1.

The highlight of ‘Manik Bandopadhyay, Padma Nadir Majhi O Bangla Theatre’ would be the stage adaptation of the writer’s seminal work Padma Nadir Majhi, to be put up by Pratikriti.

The festival will be unveiled on the evening of September 1 with a seminar on the festival’s theme at Bangla Akademi. The speakers are author Sunil Gangopadhyay, and theatre veterans Manoj Mitra, Ashok Mukhopadhyay, Arun Mukhopadhyay and Chandan Sen. Sukanta, Manik Bandopadhyay’s son, will steer the discussion.

“We are holding this festival to kick-off the birth centenary of Manik Bandopadhyay which falls in May 1908. The stage productions at the festival are based on his novels, short stories and poems. We will dwell on the marginalised people that Bandopadhyay wrote about in his masterpieces,” said Pratikriti director Aloke Deb.

Two street plays are scheduled for Day II — Haraner Natjamai by Atmajog Behala and Dibaratrir Godyo by Ashokenagar Natyamukh. An adaptation of the eponymous short story, Haraner Natjamai will be directed by Satyapriya Sarkar. The second play is composed of pieces from Bandopadhyay’s poetry collection Kayekti Shironamheen Kabita. With six characters, director Avi Chakraborty has woven a 40-minute tale of a youth losing his livelihood and his love. The double bill will be held in the Nandan complex.

The curtains come down on September 3 at Academy of Fine Arts at 6.30 pm, where Pratikriti will stage Padma Nadir Majhi, the novel where Bandopadhyay recreated the lives of fishermen on the Padma. “This is a big challenge for us. No theatre troupe has ever attempted this play,” says Deb, who has adapted and directed the production. The light effects have been done by Joy Sen, son of Tapas Sen.

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