A scene from The Plight of Prospero staged by students of the department of English at Jadavpur University. Picture by Arnab Mondal
The first person to speculate if Shakespeare wrote his plays himself was a man called Looney (J.Thomas Looney, a schoolteacher who published Shakespeare Identified in 1920). Another who supported him from across the Atlantic was called Batty (George M. Batty).
On Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, Professor Swapan Chakravorty’s free-wheeling talk on the Bard of Avon, laced with witticisms, touched upon questions of authorship controversies, his social and religious status as well as playwriting for patrons versus playwriting as a profession.
“There was no money in selling plays to publishers. If you dedicated a play to a patron you got £2, which would be equivalent to £80,000 of today. But if you look at Philip Henslowe’s diary, people were paid £3 for writing a scene. So there was more money to be made in the playhouse. But Shakespeare was a partner in the Globe Theatre, so all he got was a share of the ticket sales. If he was really bidding the stage adieu in The Tempest, it was because he was losing money,” he told the audience at Jadavpur University.
After the talk, seven students set out to stage, or rather their tyrannical director was bent on staging, The Plight of Prospero. Somak Mukherjee, a research scholar at JU, played that “strident trumpeter of imperialism” Prospero in the play within the play and doubled as a pompous director for whom the paucity of actors was no impediment in choosing a cast-heavy play.
Brilliant comic turns were introduced in the adaptation of The Tempest like when the director himself was presented again and again to play sundry minor characters — the master, the boatswain, Sycorax... — arriving each time with dimming enthusiasm and diminishing flourish of live music.
Also drawing a laugh was a scene where Sourya Majumdar was being taught to play Caliban, reminding viewers how the word native might be variously interpreted with changes in geographical setting — native Bangal to native American to Caribbean. The actor’s frustration finally fuels a revolt against the director which mirrors the rebellion against Prospero in Shakespeare’s play.
In their sixth performance, the young students came across as consummate actors. “Before this, we had staged Tennesse Williams in 2012 and the murder of Gonzago in Hamlet the year after,” recalls Trisha Roy, the script-writer and director. The Hamlet production was sent to the inter-college Shakespeare Society of India contest in Delhi and came second.
“But we had no such ambitions for this play. I wrote it in three hours the night before the first rehearsal. It has no props, little emphasis on costume and fewer actors. Who knew it would be staged so many times and even make it to Delhi (where it came third)?” said Trisha.
And when the “Our revels now are ended” speech is delivered by Prospero, the actors, relieved that their ordeal is getting over, boo the director from the anonymity of the audience. But inwardly there is a hint of sadness. “I will be off for higher studies. The rest might not continue here. Who knows if we will stage a production together again?” Trisha mused.
Bard and books
Students of Apeejay School and NGO Apne Aap together celebrated Tagore’s birth anniversary at the NGO’s office in Kidderpore.
The programme began with a performance by the NGO students to Boro asha kore. This was followed by an audio play, Mohioshi Naari, by the Apeejay students. “Our play highlighted the importance of women in our lives,” said Sukrit Chatterjee, a Class XI student of Apeejay School, Salt Lake. The Apeejay girls also danced to Amar mukti aaloy aaloy. It was followed by another play, Kobi Pronaam.
Apeejay Anand Children’s Library donated some books to Apne Aap on the occasion. “A library has been set up on the top floor of the NGO for children of Apne Aap and the adjoining areas. This is an initiative of Priti Paul, the director of Apeejay Surrendra Group. There are books on general knowledge, computers, novels including colouring, alphabets and handwriting books for the younger children,” said Rita Chatterjee, the principal of Apeejay School.
“Inclusive programmes like these help develop sensitivity in children and remove emotional barriers,” said Tamal Mukherjee, a senior project manager at Apne Aap.
This is the story of a man with interest in the cultural world, a bibliophile and a refined prankster, somewhere in Bengal in the Thirties.
For a taste of Kshitish Chandra’s sense of humour, sample this — he would cook chicken (chicken was then a rare and dearer delicacy than mutton) on particular Hindu festival days when Shyambabu, a member of his entourage known for his voracity, would go completely vegetarian. Kshitish Chandra would have a feast of chicken with his toadies, much to Shyambabu’s chagrin.
|A child at the books corner set up by Apeejay Anand Children’s Library at the Apne Aap office. “I like the colourful books on handwriting. I would like to come here with my friends,” said the four-year-old.
Picture by Arnab Mondal
One day a letter addressed to one Miss Helen Taylor was found in the letterbox of Chowdhury House. Perplexed, the estate manager took it to Kshitish Chandra. A couple of months later, another letter arrived at Chowdhury House. This time the envelope was marked V V Urgent. Kshitish decided it would not be impertinent to open both letters.
The letters turned out to be ardent love notes from one Major Edward Russel, who had once been in the British Indian Army. During his stint at Fort William, he had saved the “Raving Beauty” (as he called Miss Taylor) from drowning and had since been smitten by her in spite of a jealous wife. There was mention of a daring but brief escapade from a party when the major had kissed Miss Taylor in the privacy of her father’s limousine.
The major, who had since been transferred back to England, wrote that it was impossible for him to stay away from Miss Taylor. He made earnest requests to his beloved to either use her tea magnate father’s influences to call him back to Fort William or insist with him to put her on a voyage from Bombay to Bristol at the earliest sailing date.
The second letter also carried a photograph of the major with his gargantuan moustache. A reply was sent, typed on the Remington typewriter Kshitish owned. “Dearest Ed, how shall I explain to you my longing for you in a few words? I have been spending sleepless nights tossing in bed, the bolster bearing the brunt of my violent love for you. Oh, if I could have you with me. But, darling, your moustache had given my nostrils enough tickles when you kissed me the last time around. I would sincerely prefer if you shunned it before our reunion, etc. etc” Kshitish wrote.
Soon enough, a reply arrived from London. “Darling, please find enclosed my latest photo, how do I look without the moustache? It was indeed very demanding to convince the authorities that I have developed sycosis. In return, I would beg for a few tresses of your luxurious golden hair...”. Kshitish snipped some fur off the tail of Don, his golden retriever, and mailed it along with a reply.
Two months later, the major wrote back: “Darling, I have kissed your tresses thin and have been flaunting those to my pals around London. I am planning to sail to India the coming spring...”. Kshitish promptly replied, “Dear Ed, my Dad is shifting to Darjeeling the next month for his business interests. The house is being sold to a Bengali family. So, please refrain from writing till I let you know our next address.”
Contributed by Sudeshna Banerjee, Showli Chakraborty and Subrata Chowdhury