Mitra, produced by Jadavpur Manthan, is Rajib Bardhan’s latest directorial venture in which he has used Subhasree Roy’s translation of Vijay Tendulkar’s controversial 1981 play, Mitrachi Goshta. Hailed as the first post-Independence Indian play with lesbianism at its thematic core, Mitrachi Goshta, quite honestly, had not been well-received. A minority artform like theatre, which touches a small percentage of the population, is certainly not the survey field to draw up an index of broad social change, but it is true that Mitra played out to a very accepting audience at Madhusudan Mancha in Calcutta.
The volatile political climate of the late 1960s is the backdrop against which the narrative of Mitra unfolds. Instead of trying to posit a sort of connection between the promise of revolutionary change in politics and an equally radical change in societal attitude towards sexuality, Bardhan, as the director, could have critically laid bare the history of radical left-wing politics in West Bengal studiedly avoiding issues of sexuality and gender. More pertinently, revisiting a text decades after it was written, he should have analytically unpacked Tendulkar’s problematic framing of same-sex relationships within heterosexual normativity. Bardhan had two narrators who could have been used profitably as contemporary lenses turned upon history. Speaking of the two narrators, the reason for using one as the alter ego of the male lead but not using the other similarly for the female protagonist is incomprehensible.
In spite of these directorial issues, Mitra is a compelling watch, with the actors doing sufficient justice to their roles. Aishiki Ghatak, Lopamudra Guha Neogi, Soham Sarkar and Rajbir Ghosh are all competently fluent in delineating their characters. Biswabasu Biswas as Pandey is effectually loud and theatrical, entirely in control of his task. Debabrata Das deliberately underplays Babul to underline the character’s timorousness and inherent goodness of heart. Sumi Har Chowdhury as Mitra excels in her complex role, paying attention to shifting the gears of her acting to pointedly suggest the layers of her character’s troubled mind.