regular-article-logo Wednesday, 17 April 2024

History lessons

As troupe, Shabdomugdho has always been inclined towards exploring gender politics

Dipankar Sen Published 08.04.23, 05:00 AM

The life and ways of Wajid Ali Shah, the contentious and enigmatic nawab of Awadh, continue to provide rich material for creative works in literature, cinema and theatre. Dumdum Shabdomugdho Naatyokendra’s latest production, Nawaab, is a case in point. Written and directed by Rakesh Ghosh, Nawaab is a well-researched text, staged with appreciable thought and care. As a troupe, Shabdomugdho has always been inclined towards exploring gender politics and Nawaab is no exception. Wajid Ali, whose unabashed androgyny resisted the colonial constructs of effeminacy and masculinity and the atypical contours of whose personal life had become a site of political contestations, is the perfect historical figure for Shabdomugdho to mine for issues related to gender and power.

If Nawaab works well on stage, it is primarily because Ghosh has not burdened the play with deadening data, but has sprinkled across the length of the narrative all the information necessary to flesh out the protagonist and to evoke the incident-laden, volatile times. Sequences have been crafted to create moments of theatrical magic like the one in which kathak steps have been recast as martial movements to suggest political defiance. Scenes portraying how Wajid Ali Shah’s syncretic imagination had become a rallying point for Hindu-Muslim unity against the backdrop of the revolt of 1857 and, thus, a potent threat to the British have been reconstructed with theatrical flair. Equally theatrically effective is the cityscape of domes and minarets painted on light and flimsy screens, conveying the fragility and ephemerality of kingdoms. The light design and projection require some reworking to cancel the unnecessary patches of darkness that appear randomly.

Ranjan Bose rises up to the challenge of multiple roles with great success, mixing equal measures of sensitivity and energy. Lopamudra Guha Niyogi, rock-solid in her roles, is all discipline and skill. The conceit of having the city (Calcutta) and the river (Ganga) narrate the melancholy saga is deeply satisfying.

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