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regular-article-logo Sunday, 23 June 2024

Identity crisis

Ramanimohan, presented as part of the four-day festival titled Ei Basante Char Sandhyay Abhash Natya organised by Abhaash Dakshin Kolkata, turned out to be an engrossing experience

Anshuman Bhowmick Published 18.05.24, 07:28 AM
A moment from Ramanimohan by Tarun Natya Goshthy.

A moment from Ramanimohan by Tarun Natya Goshthy. Source: Anshuman Bhowmick

Identity politics has often played a fascinating role in Sekhar Samaddar’s plays. This reviewer remembers watching Samaddar’s Digantarekha, an adaptation of Othello with an emphasis on racial discrimination, in Calcutta over two decades ago. In Ra­manimohan, Sa­maddar shif­ted his focus to the female impersonators in jatras who silently retreated from the performance arena in the 1970s and the 1980s as women actors began to portray female characters. The Nabadwip-based Tarun Natya Goshthi has been staging Ramanimohan since 2003. This gem of a production was mounted for the 202nd time at Tapan Theatre on March 30.

Ramanimohan, presented as part of the four-day festival titled Ei Basante Char Sandhyay Abhash Natya organised by Abhaash Dakshin Kolkata, turned out to be an engrossing experience. Directed by Bapi Chakrabortty (picture), who also plays the protagonist, the drama opens at a local cultural function where a retired jatra actor — a female impersonator—acts out his favourite parts before an appreciative audience. While he returns home jubilant and his empathetic wife (played to precision by Chhabi Chakraborty) responds positively, their only son (Shyam Sundar Biswas), a small-time shopkeeper, turns hostile. The son’s hostility is rooted in the social ostracisation of female impersonators and anxiety about his father’s gender identity. Now, what should the father do? Listen to the son’s diktat and live a cocooned life or renew his commitment to jatra? The arrival of an old admirer (Biswanath Das) from Midnapore and the intervention of the local MLA (Debasish Sarkar) complicate the situation further.

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This reviewer will not give away the ending, but Ramanimohan is a compelling watch. Within 80 minutes, Chakrabortty succeeds in exploring so many layers of Bengali middle-class society with the character as the prism that viewers end up with dropped jaws. Minimalist to the core, the production rides merrily on Chakrabortty’s acting prowess that balances melodrama with naturalistic characterisation underlined by the delicate manoeuvring of facial muscles and supple body movements.

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