Calcutta’s English theatre has not only activated its social conscience of late, but has also taken up Indian drama originally written in English. A milestone is Stagecraft’s two-year collaboration with the inmates of West Bengal Correctional Services on Begum Sumroo — definitely a turning point in the theatre group’s three decade-long existence. The city is justifiably proud of the Correctional Services’ Bengali presentations, but probably never expected one in English (now we await a Hindi project to complete the trio of languages).
Partap Sharma’s historical drama about the 18th-century nautch girl who rose to power as Begum of Sardanha finds a classy leading lady in Aditi Kanjilal. As her European mercenary husband, Kunal Mazumdar does a heroic job of delivering so many speeches. But Sarwan Karel steals the show as the sybaritic yet matter-of-fact Mughal emperor, Shah Alam (picture). Understandably, the range of accents in the large cast varies, to the extent that one can often identify the community to which the artist belongs, but that never detracts from the earnestness of the enterprise. If anything, one wishes that the director, Rohit Pombra, edits the script, because they cannot sustain the impact for over two hours.
The Red Curtain has always espoused theatre for a cause, donating the proceeds of its latest, New Market Tales, for the preservation of New Market. But the dramatization by Sumit Lai Roy and Meet Tyagi of Jayant Kripalani’s book lacked the verve in the latter’s style as well as the polished finishing one associates with The Red Curtain. Perhaps because they chose only three stories, disconnected ones at that, joined only by the superficial device of two old-timers relating them at their morning addas, and directed separately by junior recruits, it failed to come together and certainly conveyed very little sense of the Market itself. Knowing Lai Roy as director, I hope he blew up everyone (too many) who forgot lines, missed cues and in general acted desultorily.
Stagecraft returned with its regular new production, Mahesh Dattani’s Where There’s a Will. His first full-length play, dating back to 1986, it encapsulates his preoccupation with autocratic Indian fathers in an entertaining way. Although not attaining the standards of Prime Time Theatre’s celebrated version, Pombra still hit Dattani’s bull’s eye with realistic interior décor and easy performances, especially from the male newcomers: Kanishka Tiwari as the control freak who dies and “haunts” the family, and Saradindu Naskar as his dominated son. Roshmi Roy acted the submissive wife and Nandini Banerjee changed from docile to assertive daughter-in-law; June Pinto gave the mistress a practical air.