We often underestimate translation as a means of cultural transmission. When it comes to translating words into acts and images, it acquires an added dimension. The challenge increases manifold when actors with disabilities are involved. In this regard, Jana Sanskriti Centre for Theatre of the Oppressed has pulled off a miracle of sorts. T.S. Eliot’s legendary work, The Waste Land, which completed 100 years of publication last December, has been dramatically expressed by Jana Sanskriti. Titled Wasteland — A Journey, this hour-long exposition was presented at ICCR recently.
The Jana Sanskriti think-tank, led by Sanjoy Ganguly and spearheaded by Ayon Joardar, decided to adopt the scenes of destruction presented by Eliot in terms of the Mahabharata, especially the catastrophe of Kurukshetra. But it was not just Vyasa who was referred to; parallel narratives with strong visual appeal were sought out from the writings of Rabindranath Tagore, Buddhadeva Bose and Jasimuddin. The use of Rabindrasangeet to supplement the Upanishadic refrains that Eliot employed was along expected lines.
But the production was unique. Jana Sanskriti scouted artists from across the state. Those like Subhash Dey, with decades of experience in taking part in theatre where the visually disabled perform, were roped in to essay pivotal roles. Swarupa Das, a physically disabled performer from Burdwan, took centre-stage quite a few times with her wheelchair. Where the production was verbose, an interpreter, Chobi Nath, silently entered the stage and used sign language so that those with hearing impairments in the audience could make sense of the production. Besides the visually striking choreography that received creative inputs from Sadhan Parui, the light designer, the ease with which the learning-disabled artists were incorporated made Wasteland — A Journey an exceptional theatrical experience. British Council’s support came in handy too.
With Muktadhara, the only truly international theatre festival of this state, making a comeback, one looks forward to more such cross-cultural collaborations from Jana Sanskriti.