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SPREAD TOO THIN

Ujjwal Chattopadhyay is probably the most sought-after playwright by Bengali groups today. While others of his generation write regularly too, the workload is not evenly distributed, placing inordinate pressure on him, the most prolific among them. As demand outstrips supply, he gets into the unenviable position of spreading his talent too thin. Consciously lower output should guarantee higher quality.

Adapting from various sources has proved one quick and reliable way for him: Rom Com, for Lok-krishti, comes from As Good As It Gets. At the same time, the subject of middle-age and second-chance marriages interests him enough to compose an original drama on it as well, Mani Kanchan, for Nandimukh. As this social phenomenon itself increases among the Bengali middle-class, in the age group that constitutes the majority of theatregoers, these productions are sure to find an agreeable audience.

Rom Com’s brochure says that the hero resembles Jack Nicholson’s character. In fact, Chattopadhyay takes the entire situation from the film. Debshankar Halder plays a similarly obnoxious author with OCD who patronizes just one restaurant, whose waitress has an ill son; Halder’s neighbour, too, owns a dog that he must dog-sit. Only in developing the story does Chattopadhyay make a few changes.

Our attention, therefore, shifts to the acting (picture). Halder delivers his usual professional performance, but some of his roles have begun to blend into one another — we have seen him ranting and raving before. More unexpectedly, Monalisa gives a vivid, intense portrayal as the mother who has to support her son and mother-in-law. Her employer, Partha Chatterjee, presents a quiet cameo. Phalguni Chattopadhyay’s direction brings in some tiresome sequences: a long and unfunny song, Halder’s ventriloquistic byplay with a canine muppet, and the now obligatory concluding video.

Mani Kanchan, named after its lead couple, examines loneliness from a serious perspective. An apparently unhinged man, searching for someone, drifts into the chamber of a young psychiatrist who has just started her practice. She thinks of him as requiring treatment, and slowly realizes that his condition goes back to a failed marriage. Having lost himself, he finds himself again with her. In turn, his company becomes therapeutic for her.

The small cast makes Mani Kanchan much more dependent on acting. The director, Ashoke Chattopadhyay, himself creates Mani with an almost personal involvement, but Sonali Chattopadhyay cannot rise to his level, perhaps as a result of less experience and consequent self-consciousness, causing a noticeable imbalance in the pair’s believability.