Natyaranga’s Junior Directors’ Festival actually showcased some quite accomplished Bengali directors. For example, Abanti Chakraborty has already made a name in theatre circles, and her network allows her to even direct internationally. She has earned a reputation for unusual interpretations of classic drama, often with a feminist perspective. She continues in this vein on Shyambazar Mukhomukhi’s 3 Kanya, her third production as guest director over the past year in Calcutta.
She chooses Chekhov’s most serious work, the only one he consciously subtitled as “A Drama”. Rife with womanist possibilities, The Three Sisters suggests multiple approaches to its stagnant situation of women languishing because so totally caught up in a patriarchal society. Therefore, one did not expect from Chakraborty the standard melodramatic woe-is-me treatment one finds in Indian acting, even more galling because Chekhov’s quiet naturalism permits a much more powerful statement, ironically by virtue of its understatedness. She cast able, experienced actresses as the ladies (Tomali Kakkad as Olga, Senjuti Mukherjee as Masha), who strangely ignored Stanislavski; only the youngest, Suchandra Banerjee (Irina), expressed the depth and sensitivity in their characters.
Chakraborty’s other strength lies in concept and design, amply evident here: the opening where all, sitting on simple straight steel chairs, face the audience symmetrically; the busy lunch where all, on the same chairs, sit around the table, half of them with their backs to us; or the sisters cocooned in their own worlds (picture). But all Bengali directors please note: Europeans never wear their hats indoors.
A truly junior director in charge of her own group is Sumana Chakraborty of Behala Anudarshi. As it happens, she too has selected a Russian source: 41st (in English translation, The 41st), Boris Lavrenyov’s famous story. Written in 1924, immediately after the Russian Civil War during which Lavrenyov fought in the Red Army, it tells the humanist tale of Maryutka, an orphan fishergirl who volunteers for the Red Army and wins fame as a crack sharpshooter. Capturing a lieutenant of the anti-Communist White Army, she ends up shipwrecked with him (her intended 41st “kill”) on an uninhabited island in the Aral Sea where both begin to feel respect and even affection for each other, until their impending rescue.
Virtually a two-hander in Chakraborty’s dramatization, 41st demonstrates the acting capabilities of herself and Prasun Bhattacharyya as the principals. She has also trained her entire team intensively in physical action, herself leading from the front.