Regular readers of this column know of my antipathy to the locally popular non-art called “dramatized readings”. A theatrician realizes that these form part of the theatrical process, scripts hand-held in rehearsals, so can never qualify as an independent art — unless secondary to the performance, for example, Tagore elocuting from the side in one of his dance-dramas, or poems recited in dim light during a poetry-jazz concert. The sight of an actor reading from a text defeats a basic tenet of theatre (or any oral tradition), that the performer relies on memory.
Happenings’ Rabi Rashmi substantiated my conviction twice over. On the one hand, we heard Soumitra Chatterjee (picture) give one of his consummate recitals: two long poems that he knew by heart, literally, for he also understood the right emotional register with which to pitch each. Yes, he hesitated just a few times on Phanki, but we accept that as only human, given the enormity of the narrative and his phenomenal track record in mnemonic recall. In complete contrast, the seasoned Rajit Kapur and Shernaz Patel resembled amateurs, poring over their copies, obviously uncertain of their content, and losing eye contact with spectators — that tangible element the lack of which kills any live performance.
Kapur’s choice of the translations exposed inadequate homework, because better and more faithful ones exist. He read in Hindi Pinjar (Kankal), that classic humanist supernatural story, without consistently distinguishing between the voices of medical student and female ghost. Patel read the archaic English of “The Homecoming” (Chhuti) and for “Repayment” (Ketaki Dyson’s translation of Parisodh), uniformly pronounced Shyama to rhyme with “summer”. Does it take much to learn correct pronunciation?
Adhiti’s evening of Galpa-abhinay showed the right way instead for solo narrators to present a story: memorized. The director, Debashis Roychowdhury, adopted D.R. Ankur’s method in Hindi of relating the full text theatrically. Arunita Roychowdhury started with Tagore’s Khata, stumbling occasionally but recovering. A more assured Debashis followed, with Narayan Gangopadhyay’s Dâm, on an author who wrote a story satirizing his former schoolteacher, who later embarrasses him by coming to hear him lecture and telling him how he liked the story. Both joined to dramatize Suchitra Bhattacharya’s Baji, about a couple who constantly place bets with each other. In conclusion, Surojit Ghosh virtuosically enacted the greedy Akshay-babu in Tagore’s innovative monologue Bini Paysar Bhoj, which Tagore himself classified as a play.