A moment from the rehearsal of Red Oleander
Come Wednesday, Tagore’s Raktakarabi will bloom on a stage near you in a new idiom and language. The classic has been given a dance twist, and the characters will speak English.
The curtain-up for Bharatanatyam dancer Madhuboni Chatterjee’s version of the play, Red Oleanders, is 6.30pm at GD Birla Sabhagar. It will be presented in association with The Telegraph.
The play has never ceased to inspire directors and performers. From Sambhu Mitra, Tripti Mitra and Badal Sircar to Suman Mukhopadhyay and Gautam Haldar, several have tried their hand, with varying degrees of success.
The roots of the latest attempt at retelling Tagore’s tale of the maiden-heroine who tries to overturn a kleptocracy lie in May 2010, when Madhuboni decided to use the dance-theatre form to express more fully the hidden facets of this remarkable play.
Her version in Bengali by the Jahnavi Centre for Performing Arts was considered such a success that some 10 shows later, it was showcased by the ICCR at the Dhaka National Museum while an Indo-Bangla seminar on Tagore was on.
The next effort was towards widening the audience base further by translating the play. Madhuboni’s group was given the support to do that by the ministry of culture’s Tagore Commemoration Grant Scheme to celebrate 150 years of the poet. Theatre scholar and critic Ananda Lal and Samantak Das, (both teachers at Jadavpur University), collaborated in translating the dialogues.
There are some changes from the original. Tagore’s play has six songs, but there are 11 in Red Oleanders, including Mamachittey nritey nrittey, which is used as a refrain.
The text, too, has been changed at many places. “It is safe to call it a repositioning of text,” said Jahnavi secretary Mrityunjoy Chatterjee. The play gives a lot of importance to the Raja who comes out from behind a net wearing a Kathakali mask, which is also a disguise. In the original, he comes out only at the end.
Madhuboni uses a myriad idioms from Bharatanatyam, Kathakali, Kalaripayattu, mime, puppetry and theatre. The music that has a Western flavour is by her husband, the Rabindrasangeet singer Manoj Murali Nair. The songs are in Bengali because “there is more to it than lyrics”, says Madhuboni.
The set design by Sanchayan Ghosh includes a giant puppet made by Palash Ghosh. Lights by Joy Sen help heighten the tussle between a dark man-made world hungry for power and wealth and the beautiful and spontaneous life promised by nature.
Madhuboni has in the past been lauded for her experimental choreographic work on Tagore: Annya Aami (Chitrangada), Ranganayeker Jonye (Ritu Ranga) and Hrid Kamaleshu Sreemati Hey (about Tagore and Natun Bouthan).