Many of you readers, who care about my songs and movies, may not be aware that at the age of 21 I attempted to build my career around theatre. Having staged Sartre, Genet, Peter Weiss and Brecht, I went off to Berlin (then a part of West Germany) to work with a company called the Teatermanfaktur in 1981. That I finally saw no economy of survival in that field and joined cinema is a different story. My first love remained buried deep in my heart. Like a jilted lover, I never took any interest in the theatre scene in Calcutta since 1994. Also the scene seemed rather dated, essentially mediocre. I heard about Suman Mukhopadhyay’s rebellious experiments with Thomas Mann and Brecht, but never got to share it.
After acting in 10 films and directing almost 10 films, I came to a point of saturation. Creative burning out. Dutta Vs Dutta, my most personal film, left me totally naked, drenched. If I had to continue functioning in the ruthless world of cinema, I needed to remain creatively energised. My 20 years of singer-songwriter self too had reached a point of exhaustion (10 albums and numerous live concerts) and I had stopped cutting discs from 2000.
The only thing I could do was turn to my first love and try to rekindle the old affair. With help, specially from t2, Max Mueller Bhavan and my bank balance, I ventured into producing Bertolt Brecht’s Galileo in Bengali at Gyan Manch. I selected about 15 people from the world of cinema, TV, live bands and fresh faces from the theatre. The TV and cinema people mostly disappointed me with their acute lack of intellectual energy. They were replaced. The younger lot seemed worth the effort somehow. They were willing to get carried away into an energetic, creative anarchy.
I chose Galileo because of two reasons. First, if I were to love again then it had to be a Master. And for me there are essentially two Masters. Shakespeare, then Brecht. Brecht is someone I had already flirted with in my youth.
Second, Galileo to me is essentially the crisis of an individual intellectual and his responsibility to mankind. Like Abani Sen in Ranjana Ami Ar Ashbona, an ageing, defeated Galileo hands over his knowledge to his beloved student Andrea. A convoluted comparison but very valid for me. I am 59 now. Whatever I, Anjan, have learnt and achieved either dies with me after a few years or I seek out those who matter.
Producing it was a hugely personal experience. With young vibrant musicians rocking the stage coupled with young energetic actors trying to break all rules of conventional theatre, I was once again that Anjan of the late ’70s — rebellious, intellectually stimulated and passionate.
You readers who have watched my movies should remember that most of my protagonists have been very young people who finally rebel against their mothers, fathers or boss. Be it the failed Anglo boy Bradly in Bow Barracks Forever, the clumsy Apu in Bong Connection, the angst-ridden Ranjana in Ranjana and the amateur actor Rono in Dutta Vs Dutta. They all end up screaming out against their previous generation. But with tears in their eyes. When Galileo gives his final lecture to Andrea and secretly hands over the discorsi, he too is crying. Those of you who might come to the last leg of our shows this February might witness that chaotic energy and angst in the production. Yes, Galileo made me feel young again, in this final leg of my creative life.
I have achieved some success and fame. Lost friends in my professional circuit for reasons I cannot fathom. Lucky to have an audience who are still listening to my 20-year-old songs. Never connived with powers that be, be it left or right. Found great buddies in Thailand, Germany and Darjeeling who make efforts to catch up for a drink. Fortunate to have found a teacher like Mrinal Sen who is still a phone call away. Grateful to have got a wife who still allows me all the space to make all the mistakes and relearn....
But at the end of the day, I need to wake up every morning and look into the mirror and question: “Are you functioning just for money?” That is when I need to step out of the routine and recharge my batteries. Some, like my friend Jamling Norgay, climbs Mount Everest to come to terms with himself. Lesser beings, like me, take out three lakh from his bank to produce Galileo just to be answerable to himself.
Yes, I don’t want to be just a part of something called Tollywood and get away with it. I don’t want to sing songs just because it happens to be my job. I need to look into the eyes of my next generation who want to be different, like I wanted to be different 40 years ago, and say: “Hey, doesn’t it feel good to be different?”
I am still not sure how different Galileo has turned out to be. The job I set out to do was to pay debts to theatre from where I started. I don’t know whether I could truly live up to the expectations of my Brechtian mentors like the late Dharani Ghosh or Samik Bandopadhyay (who were barred from watching Sambhu Mitra’s production directed by Fritz Benevitz; though Samikda gave a long hug and a gift after the sixth performance.)
The actual end result has been two-fold. I think I have been able to rub off some energy into some young musicians and aspiring actors. I pray with all my heart that a handful of them start thinking differently and can challenge our generation with tears of passion. I sincerely hope that they do not bow down to the overwhelming sense of mediocrity all around. But the most important gain has been the fact that I myself have decided to be a little different from where I was. I have decided to continue doing a few more theatre productions. Turn my flirtation into love again. I am planning a rock musical version of Shakespeare’s Julius Ceaser immediately after I wrap up Bomkesh.
Those of you who did not make it in October, try to drop in any of the four days from February 7 to 10 and see what exactly I am talking about. It is our final leg of Galileo.