Bengali theatre continues its excursions into drama inspired by the lives of pioneers in Calcutta whose work changed the way ordinary people used to think. The latest subjects include two pathfinders in physiology and film, respectively.
Our studies sadly ignore the history of science in India. Following Sukhchar Pancham’s Acharya Praphullachandra on P.C. Ray, Ekush Shatak makes a signal addition to our knowledge with Tamoghna, a play by Rudraprasad Chakraborty rewritten by Sharmila Moitra and directed by Runu Chowdhury. How many of us remember the achievements of Madhusudan Gupta in the 19th century? From humble origins outside the city, but trained in medicine at Sanskrit College, he joined the newly-founded Medical College as a demonstrator in 1835. The next year, convinced of the need to adopt modern practices, he became the first Indian to dissect a body, immediately facing excommunication from the scandalized orthodox sections of society.
Chowdhury has directed Tamoghna painstakingly, making it an important educational exercise that students of all ages should view. Dr Subir Chatterjee’s research bolsters the content substantially. Three actors (Dwijagra Sengupta, Sraman Chattopadhyay and Apurba Roy, picture) take us through the hero’s boyhood, youth and adult years, and the dilemmas he confronts, while we also get to see such historical personages as David Hare, concerned other British officers and Moti Lal Sil. By way of performance, though, the mime sequences look rather superfluous.
Shabdamugdha Natyakendra’s Rituparno Ghosh takes a different approach — not biographical, but a fictional story showing the profound influence that Rituparno had as an icon. Rakesh Ghosh has written and directed it, about a young transgendered man teased on the street as “Rituparno”, who wants to join the crowd at Nandan paying homage to his idol, the film director, after the latter’s death. Opposed by his conservative mother but supported by his grandmother and aunt, he goes through considerable domestic conflict that day, before the play concludes in tranquility.
Ghosh creates some tight dramatic moments, and depicts most of the supposedly “normal” characters as equally trapped in their separate lonelinesses. In the lead, Ranjan Bose performs with genuine intensity. For a relatively inexperienced group, the rest of the cast act credibly, too, notably the women: Nupur Bandyopadhyay, Sampa Dey and Swati Chakraborty. Both productions, however, unnecessarily insert videography that contributes nothing artistically. The technology has become something of a nuisance in Bengali theatre nowadays.