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TEPID CELEBRATIONS

Shakespeare’s 450th came and went but, strangely, Bengali theatre boasts of only one new production in his honour. This, in a city whose natives’ connection with him goes back to 1822 when, among others, a teen surnamed Derozio enacted Shylock at the Dhurrumtollah Academy. So we must praise Naya Natuya for staging Othello, especially translator Ratan Kumar Das’s fidelity to the text.

Goutam Halder’s direction extracts uniformly good supporting performances, and contains moments of unusual space utilization: the first scene moving from the auditorium (Iago and Roderigo) to the forestage (Brabantio), the curtains then parting for Othello’s dramatic entry, with a deeper upstage alcove behind an arch. But his characterizations of Othello and Iago (picture) pose problems. Halder (left) displays very few markers of Othello’s heroism; no overbearing stature that commands respect, eyes normally averted from anyone he speaks to, and uncomfortably subhuman movements in his jealous rage. Santanu Ghosh makes “honest Iago” blatantly villainous, tongue snaking out of his mouth, instead of the icy malignity that imparts complexity. But Dyuti Ghosh Halder gives Desdemona her vulnerability and also designs tasteful costumes, and Swajan Srijan Mukherjee creates a perfect gull of a Roderigo.

The birth centenary of another Bengali intel icon, Camus — who said he felt happy only in the theatre and on the football field — went unnoticed late last year, except by the group Prachya, who produced Caligula as their tribute. Goutam Halder and Ratan Das are involved in this, too; one hopes more commissions come the latter’s way, because of the respect he gives his sources. And Halder’s histrionic style suits Camus’s already schematized, antirealistic treatment of the Roman emperor’s excesses in an existentially unchanging universe.

However, Biplab Bandyopadhyay’s directorial interpretation, which could have applied Artaudian theatre of cruelty, does not satisfy. While he has every right to compare Bengal’s politics under two parties with World War II (when Camus wrote Caligula), Camus did not intend this play to attack tyranny, but to exemplify his concept of the absurd; he composed a totally different cycle about political rebellion. Caligula, realizing the world’s absurdity, makes two choices: absolute freedom and, indefensibly, the social experiment of pure evil. He is not, as Bandyopadhyay argues, “consumed with self-glorification”, nor does he deliberately choose the “path to self-destruction”.

Among the rest of the cast, Ashim Roy Chowdhury needs to work more on the important role of Cherea, Camus’s representative of those who “stand up and say No” (in Bandyopadhyay’s words). Samrat Sharma (Scipio), Saoli Chattopadhyay (Drusilla) and Poulami Chattopadhyay (Caesonia) support capably.