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REALISTIC DEPTH

New groups are making their presence felt in Bengali theatre, preparing the ground for the future. Their work includes two dramatizations of classic fiction. Nautanki, already known for ambitious choice of material, continues its penchant for sprawling novels such as Durgesh-nandini, to mark Bankimchandra Chatterjee’s 175th birth anniversary. Scripter-director Abhishek Basu compacts the unwieldy historical romance into a synoptic narrative staged in an open folksy style, under a cloth canopy, all performers seated in full vision and rising only when in character, with live songs and music. The acting becomes deliberately and indigenously presentational, “telling the story” (picture), though a few portraits stand out for their realistic depth, for example Gulshanara’s as Ayesha. However, the vocal delivery is uneven, sometimes so low as to be unintelligible — unlike traditional performers — as well as forced to compete unnecessarily with the sound amplification, certainly not a prerequisite for folk-inspired theatre. But Prakriti Datta’s classical-based singing and Mahuya Mukhopadhyay’s Gauriya-nritya training offer value-added attractions.

A band of former Minerva Repertory members and some seniors from outside Calcutta have come together to form Nirnay, who debuted with Narendranath Mitra’s story, Ras, much ahead of the author’s centenary, yet a fitting tribute. Subhankar Das Sarma has dramatized it much more faithfully than Sudhendu Roy in the Hindi cinematization, Saudagar, from forty years ago, or the last theatrical version that I have seen, by Samakalin Silpidal, twenty years ago. Male social oppression of women and exploitation of Muslim wives through the divorce code form a theme perhaps more relevant than ever, even if Mitra simplified the contrast between Majbanu, the industrious but plain first wife, and Phulbanu, the unproductive but desirable second wife, while the conclusion remains fraught with Majbanu’s suggested acquiescence. Sangita Pal directs her cast with graphic rustic naturalism, leading from the front as Majbanu, supported by Kausik Kar (her husband, Moti), Bahni Chakrabarti (Phulbanu) and the others.

Kal Pratima’s Nabya Prastar Yug exposes the callous treatment of Santal labourers in Jhargram at a factory breaking stone chips. Whether here, or in a sponge-iron or cement plant elsewhere in India, the workers contract silicosis, suffer and die. Debashis Datta bases his play on documented incidents and Srabani Sengupta directs it with the objective of generating public awareness on this issue, so that the inhuman practice stops.