Biodrama deviating from conventional structures marks two Bengali tributes, as Tagore’s sesquicentenary segues into Vivekananda’s. Lok-krishti terms its Bilé (Vivekananda’s childhood nickname) not biography but “life’s quintessence”, acknowledging the impossibility of stage or screen works doing justice to all the achievements of any iconic figure. The playwright, Ujjal Chattopadhyay, steers clear of hagiography while maintaining respect as he encapsulates an educative introduction to his subject at the expense of occasionally inventing encounters for theatrical effect that never actually occurred.
In perhaps the first drama ever written on Vivekananda, Chattopadhyay tells the story innovatively, through exchanges between the boy Narendranath and the adult Swamiji. These take us from his growing up, to his meetings with Ramakrishna, his legendary address to the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago, the founding and teething troubles of the Ramakrishna Mission, and his premature death. Bilé pays particular notice to his uplift of the poor and criticism of Hindu orthodoxy, as in the scene involving the conservative Goraksha Samiti. Debsankar Halder (picture) allows the sheer strength of Vivekananda’s personality to get across without embellishing. In supporting roles, Phalguni Chattopadhyay (who, equally, directs without any spectacular gimmicks) gives a natural and endearing performance as Ramakrishna, and Monalisa a Sister Nivedita struggling with very human conflicts. Only a pointlessly didactic choreographic prelude puzzles us at the start, while Soumik-Piyali’s set looks too static and centred.
Nautanki’s Rabi Thakurer Abad turns the spotlight on the aspect of Tagore’s multitudinous accomplishments that probably, and sadly, received the least attention during the recent festivities: his rural reconstruction schemes. Dramatist-director Abhishek Basu based his play on a university research project that he had undertaken, developing one of those rare interfaces of academic investigation with artistic creativity. No playwright normally puts so much scholarship into a script. Such a task also carries with it the risk of attempting to convey more information to the audience than theatrically advisable — knowledge that excites the pundit but not necessarily the public. Basu bears the learned man’s burden lightly, though he cannot escape it entirely. Adopting a commonplace scenario, of a group of young people travelling to Santiniketan but sceptical of Tagore’s proverbial contributions, Basu puts them through unexpected situations and imaginary conversations with historical personages that gradually make them realize the extent of Tagore’s social vision and commitment, to emerge transformed and aware of their own dissociation of sensibility with village life as well as their responsibilities to his legacy. The small cast of seven functions fluently as a team.