Two adventurous youth troupes born last year continue to take on challenges in Bengali and English respectively. Mad About Drama’s C.H.U.T.I.Y.A. delivers much more than its derivative title suggests, adapting Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui into contemporary Calcutta. Brecht targeted Hitler through his invention of a Chicago mafioso’s ascent to total domination; Aritra Sengupta uses a similar character to represent the menace that stalks us today, the goondas who lord everything from the street upwards. He implicates all political parties for this situation, from the Congress who first recruited them to fight, to the Communists whose ideals gave way to corrupt practices, and to now.
In a significantly almost all-male production, Sengupta directs with fierce rage (picture) that reflects the feelings of thinking youth, spitting venom at those who have left our city battered, and reviving memories of MAD’s debut. His growling actors roam the auditorium injecting fear; his musicians thrash out rock to angry rap couplets. Only in the paucity of humour and the tiny captions did I find him unfaithful to Brecht’s spirit.
But it definitely improved upon MAD’s previous A Good Play, possibly because one cannot go wrong with a Brecht text, whereas the earlier one, an original by Sengupta, contained certain simplistic binaries of virtue versus vice that exposed a relatively immature hand. Within its hackneyed metatheatrical plot of a group planning its next work, the most truthful scenes arose from the backchat among the tech crew of lights, sets and props men — without whom theatre cannot exist, yet perpetually in the shadows. Their down- to-earth dialogues emerged from close observation, unlike the battle over values between too-abstract mouthpieces.
In a gentler, lyrical tone, Paper Faces staged Taramandal, written by Delhi-based Neel Chaudhuri, on disappointments to the self-fulfilment of artists reaching for the stars. Chaudhuri centred his play on Satyajit Ray’s Patal-babu Film Star, dramatized so often and so well in the past that this reduced retelling did not strike us as notably new. Sujoy Chakravarthi’s accent as Patal-babu also slipped occasionally. So the satellite stories drew greater attention, in which Divyamaan Sahoo and Yash Saraf especially excelled with their versatility. Sahoo also arranged the live acoustic music for the medley of songs spanning the Beatles to Hindi films, sung by the entire ten-member cast, to harmonies that bore the stamp of co-director Sumit Lai Roy (Shreshth Khilani being the other). Chaudhuri leaves the selection open, specifying only Mozart, “Eleanor Rigby” and “Rocky Raccoon”, but the ensemble here filled the jukebox to the brim, getting many viewers to hum along.