Political drama by esteemed modern ideologues can be reinterpreted in only two ways — right or wrong — and we have one example of each in the Bengali productions of Sartre’s Dirty Hands and Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra. Directors must understand the author’s philosophy fully, otherwise they run the huge risk of falsification.
Pancham Vaidik first staged Rajnaitik Hatya? in 2004, and has revived it recently. Although Sartre wrote it about Communist commitment post-World War II, it remains relevant in our own political existentialism, without codes of conduct or morality, where unscrupulous opportunists rummage for spoils. Not surprisingly, the line where Sartre says that involvement in politics means getting one’s hands dirty received spontaneous applause at this week’s show. He felt that we encounter many choices, and must create personal standards to act by, regardless of others’ “values”. But mindless conformism is robotic and immoral, neither human nor responsible.
Saonli Mitra’s direction grabs our attention in the intense second half, but needs tightening in the first, and more naturalistic sound effects. The performances of the central triangle (picture) keep us riveted: Babu Datta Ray as the practical senior Communist leader, Siddhartha Chakrabarti as the very confused revolutionary who volunteers to assassinate him, and Arpita Ghosh as his apparently flighty wife who injects action into a heavily dialogic drama.
Ghosh also translated the text faithfully, unlike Arna and Rudrarup Mukhopadhyay who, “inspired by Shaw”, virtually traduce Natadha’s Caesar o Cleopatra. They totally ignore Shaw’s depiction of Caesar as a pragmatic old warrior, a prototypical modern Shavian hero. Instead, they simplify Shaw’s socialist parody of romanticism into anti-imperialistic diatribe — which Shaw, beyond such easy oppositions, never intended. Shaw’s Caesar educates Cleopatra (a surrogate for what Shaw considered his philistine audiences) and grooms her to intellectual maturity, similar to Higgins with Eliza; like many of Shaw’s couples, they share a strong mental relationship.
But Arna’s young Caesar jumps about like a crazed wildebeest straitjacketed in a nightdress and changes later into an autocratic invader. Miska Halim does not seem to have received much directorial guidance from him on Cleopatra’s growth from impetuous teenager to intelligent woman.
However, he scores high in mounting this production, with quasi-Egyptian set and music, ornate costumes, lush choreography by Deb Kumar Paul and pronounced physicalized acting, all of which contribute to a dynamic mise-en-scène.