Despite the lethargy to step up and the tendency to stick to the norms, social commitment remains the hallmark of Bengali proscenium theatre in West Bengal. While the established groups mostly steer clear of politically sensitive issues, less-fancied outfits are displaying enough grittiness to keep the ‘Group Theatre’ flag flying high.
Belgharia Rooptapas, for instance, presents Kaushik Chatterjee’s 1997 script, Sthanangko, which dissects the lapses and the loopholes of the Naxalite movement retrospectively. What happens when a firebrand leader of yore (Kaushik Ghosh) returns to his ex-flame (Sipra Mukherjee) and a former colleague (Ayan Mondal), both of whom have seemingly buried the hatchet and are leading a regular middle-class existence? Sparks fly and skeletons keep tumbling out of the cupboard. The theme has been done to death over the last three decades, but suprasensitive subplots and volatile exchanges towards the end make it an essential watch. As the director, Ghosh utilises Pallab Kirtania’s background score to a good extent. Shadows and silhouettes on the cyclorama and posters and placards help him craft a 75-minute-long drama studded with stellar acts by Mukherjee and Ghosh himself.
Zinda Lash by Tamluk-based Rangan is more topical in an era when the media, both print and electronic, seem to have been taken over by the ruling dispensation. Reporters working in the mofussil face greater heat than their urban counterparts. Somewhat reminiscent of Ramesh Sharma’s 1986 film, New Delhi Times, which exposes the corrupt political nexus that impedes the freedom of speech, Zinda Lash, a 50-minute-drama recently staged at Paschimbanga Natya Akademi’s intimate space, finds the playwright-director, Anupam Dasgupta, at his innovative best. Moving back and forth in time, Dasgupta weaves a drama about a small-time reporter (Sk. Faizul Alam) who strives to excel in investigative journalism and loves to take the bull by the horns. In spite of editorial somersaults and crises in the home front, he keeps going until he is killed. Alam carries the production on his able shoulders with an understated act. The supportive cast, buoyed by Dasgupta’s creative scenography, makes Zinda Lash a compelling watch.
Over-enthusiasm sometimes takes a toll on younger theatre activists. Kasba-based Udbhab, which made a mark with its adaptations of Luigi Pirandello and Satyajit Ray texts in the recent past, attempted Utpal Dutt’s 1959 classic, Angar. Subhankar Halder Karmakar directs this tragic tale embedded in the colliery regions of Asansol with an eye on details and he tried to make the humanitarian crisis visible. But the lights failed him and the inexperienced set of actors, despite a bravura display of community melody, found the Rabindra Sadan proscenium too large to negotiate. Amid all the hullaballoo, Dutt’s message about human perseverance was lost.
Disneyland by Kolkata Romroma
Disappointments like this took a backseat as this reviewer found the same Rabindra Sadan stage vibrating with positive energy when Kolkata Romroma staged Disneyland. Consisting mostly of youngsters trained under Ramaprasad Banik (1954-2010), this remarkably refreshing youthful group takes a cue from Banik’s sensitive takes on everyday social issues and explores the interiors of an old-age home. Written and directed by Kanyaka Torsha Bhattacharya, the torchbearer of Banik’s unique dramaturgy, the 105-minute-long drama combines pathos with humour and mixes high-voltage exchanges with brilliant comic interludes (played to the hilt by Shiladitya Chatterjee). Given the rousing response, the group and Disneyland seem poised for a much larger audience. The key lies in an immediate connection with the audience, with a measured dose of populism à la Bollywood thrown in.