Comedy and farce have returned with a bang to Bengali theatre, now no longer embarrassed to entertain. But times have also changed, bringing cheap film/TV caricatures onstage, degrading standards so that comedies turn into farces and farces degenerate further into abysmal crudity. More often than not, these do not attain comedy’s highest manifestations, of coruscating wit or biting satire.
In Nat-ranga’s Yadi-dang, written and directed by Sohan Bandopadhyay, humour cannot possibly go very far if he relies for effect on naming the pugilistic couple Priyatama and Priyatama, and the backdrop comprises two huge boxing gloves. If fun simply lies on the surface and the obvious, it sinks into unstimulating farce. The idealism of rom-com as a genre and the unrecognizable Debshanker Halder as an unlikely Kama who reignites the dead marriage cannot suffice to hold us right through. Swapan Bandyopadhyay’s music recalls formulaic screen soundtracks, and Mousumi Sengupta’s deliberately mismatched costumes do not click either. We long for a successor to Nat-ranga’s award-winning Gulbaj. The same goes for Kalyani Natyacharcha Kendra, who follows its brilliant Tritiya Arekjan with a dull version of Kshirod Prasad Vidyavinod’s familiar Alibaba. This hit musical demands spectacle and colour, but Kishore Sengupta directs in a minimal, low-key style, Hiran Mitra designs a sparse, even foreboding, look, Dipak Mukhopadhyay provides dim and gloomy lighting, and Goutam Ghosal composes a too-heavily percussive score — all of which made me wonder if Sengupta wanted to subvert the text into some political statement relevant for today. Not so. Here, too, the presence of multi-talented rising star Turna Das as Marjina cannot save the show.
In relative contrast, and also about gold, Rangalok captures the seriocomic satire of Parashuram’s story, Parash Pathar, in Tirthankar Chanda’s dramatization (picture), though he embellished his source with unnecessary subplots and topical references in an attempt to contemporize. But Parashuram’s parable of greed and its consequences stay intact, heightened by the appearances of the enigmatic man, who originally had the philosopher’s stone, in different guises throughout the play. Most importantly, the acting is a pleasure to watch, particularly Gautam Sadhukhan as the battered old protagonist, Paresh Datta. As I stated at the top, one does not normally see such depth of comic characterization these days. He receives fine support from Shipra Dutta (his long-suffering wife on whom fate smiles) and the others. No doubt Shyamal Chakraborty’s own excellence in acting enabled him to extract gold from them while himself refraining from taking a role, just as a modern director should but most Bengali directors don’t.