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SLICES OF CALCUTTA LIFE

Our city forms the subject of two conceptually similar productions by young groups, both of which present several short vignettes of Calcutta life, linked by this thematic unity rather than anything else. Of them, Mad About Drama’s trilingual With Love, Calcutta even made an impression in Mumbai this month, invited by Thespo at Prithvi Theatre, where it received standing ovations. The author-directors, Aritra Sengupta and Ayanti Ghosh, have definitely improved their dramatic skills, exploring depth rather than plot and universal humanity over local specificity in most of the situations. In fact, the few scenarios in which they give priority to things happening do not succeed as well.

They frame their script within opening and closing scenes of a couple preparing a screenplay for a documentary on Calcutta. Of the episodes in between, some deserve mention for their intensity, like the back-to-back mother-daughter (Sharmistha Pandey and Ghosh) and father-son (Soumya Mukherji, Ayan Bhattacharya) relationships that stay close despite tribulations. Young love appears often, usually reconnecting after a gap, such as the Muslim girl (Najrin Islam) and Brahmin boy (Soumendra Bhattacharya) by chance meeting during riots. Humour surfaces too, but does not click when it becomes the primary aim, as in the Durga Puja family reunion or the parody of two socialites who misguide a jobseeker asking the way to Gariahat.

Although judicious whittling down in all the sequences could make the show tighter by a good half-hour, Sengupta and Ghosh have grown in directorial experience, creating individuated portrayals from performers in multiple roles. Mukherji has the most sustained character, of an apparent madman on the street (picture). Pandey and Sreeja Ghosh let it rip as lively women congregating and then quarrelling at a roadside tap. Aishwarya Kazi’s video urbanscapes are also integrated more organically than in most plays, and never allowed to dwarf the acting.

Aihik’s Thor Bari Khârâ attempts to capture a slice of Bengali middle-class life with comparatively underdeveloped snippets (for example, on the common topic of lovers). Swati Roy writes about a mother-in-law’s disapproval of her modern daughter-in-law, kids exploited by reality shows, older parents neglected by their uncaring children, and representative glimpses into a factory, crematorium, government hospital and corner teashop. Some skits — the bus passengers, a cinema queue — have had more definitive interpretations by mime artists, and therefore look clichéd. Others just do not elicit the laughter that is their objective. Director Arindam Roy needs to put greater effort into building up most of the sketches.