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DARK MEMORIES

While researchers on Indian drama in English have made Mahesh Dattani their fashionable first stop, creating a mountain of mediocre papers and theses, Bengali groups refuse to acknowledge the genre as worth their time, exposing yet again their superiority complex and dangerous insularity. In this lose-lose scenario, we welcome Anyaswar’s September-er 30 Din, possibly the first Bengali production of a Dattani play, and probably one of his best to start with, since his treatment of incest should shock viewers out of their seats.

Director-translator Shuddho Banerjee adapted the original into a Bengali context (retaining some English for his heroine’s bilingualism) for a competition in Delhi where it won several awards, and has now revived it here. Although he edits it — occasionally improving on Dattani’s proclivity for sensational scenes — he maintains its fluidity and, of course, the horror of the subject matter. I suggest that he expands it back into full-length duration by reinserting important dialogue and Dattani’s device of tape-recorded conversations, which virtually turn the soundscape into another character.

The young cast perform maturely, particularly Priyanka Guha in the lead as the abused and confused Malini (picture). Her mother (Baidehi Sengupta) can add greater ambivalence in her behaviour towards Malini, given her own history and what she thinks she saw many years ago. Malini’s fiancé receives a rational portrayal from Prosenjit Bhattacharyya. Banerjee himself acts the uncle with frightening suavity, as well as the other men Malini meets, for she sees him in all of them, as Dattani intended.

Lillete Dubey had premiered Thirty Days in September in 2001, and continues to hold this privilege over Dattani’s works, like his new Where Did I Leave My Purdah for Primetime Theatre, brought by Sangit Kala Mandir. But we have seen better stuff from them both. This metatheatrical drama about a senior Zohra Sehgal-esque leading lady who left Lahore at Partition and ran a Prithvi Theatre-like company in India looks both forced and hastily constructed. Apart from a hilarious beginning, it underlines Dattani’s chief flaw, of plot-driven melodrama relying on late disclosures of dark secrets from the past.

Dubey’s directorial strengths fail here. She casts herself and her daughter Neha as old and young Nazia, respectively, yet makes Soni Razdan play both her sister and her niece, too much for a colourless Razdan. While Neha takes her part seriously, Lillete transforms Nazia into a caricature. Sid Makkar tackles the two male roles adeptly. The brief snatches from Shakuntala serve as mere ornamentation, and an ultimately predictable parallel for Nazia’s own life.