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By Ananda Lal
  • Published 28.06.08

As more and more young people join the world of theatre, it becomes necessary to scrutinize their efforts more discriminatingly, going beyond the general hosannas of encouragement. Intriguingly, all four productions reviewed today examine death as their central theme. The most promising of the new groups in this category is Theatron-X, discovered by Rotaract Club at their event titled Rota Acts 2008.

Its first original play, Bhalo Theko, written and directed by Sourav Chakraborty, strikes us first with the intensity of its raw passion, and next with its evidently impeccable rehearsal process and well-oiled multiple scene changes. It tells the fractured and impressionistic story of a radical youth whose involvement in a presumably Maoist cell spells trouble for his year-old marriage. As he realizes that his unit leader has no scruples about sending two friends to their certain deaths for the cause in Belpahar, he begins to question their politics. Simultaneously, he dreams about the times he will share in future with his unborn daughter. The conflict grows too stressful for him and his mind teeters on the edge, a portrait of seething tension and frustration expressed impressively through bodily and facial twitches by the actor, Dwaipayan. The casual conversations among the often inebriated young men are depicted very naturally, whereas the video projections (potted from various sources) look attractive but inessential. Unlike in most such works, which romanticize violent extremism, Chakraborty subtly and neutrally presents the human cost.

Another team featured in Rota Acts, Bibhaban, has been around since 1996, but prefers to recruit fresh college students in its continuing experiments with abstract, intimate, non-proscenium performance. Its latest, Maya, explores the idea of death as more living than mundane life, through the performers physicalizing and dissolving stereotypical gender identities. Supriyo Samajdar’s technical innovation lies in the assembling of artists from quite distinct disciplines — poetry, painting, music, dance — to symbolically unite in artistic embrace as do the male and female leads, manifesting Bibhaban’s credo, “Art creates another universe of thought against and within the existing one.”

A motley crew without a name, itself indicating low self-confidence, put together Jack, an original musical in English about Jack the Ripper that induced murderous impulses in many spectators. The creators must have been over-inspired by Sweeney Todd, but only duplicated the ludicrousness of Tim Burton’s movie without its campiness or, thankfully, its revoltingness. Amar Daing, conceptualizer and director, gave no new insight into Jack’s psychology other than an accomplice/apprentice alter-ego, leave alone hazard any identifications. Therefore, the libretto by Fauzia Marikar and Chaitanya Singh Manot lost dramatic interest after a certain point, though some of Marikar’s lyrics fared better. By default, Pradyumna Singh Manot’s music became the most stimulating contribution, relying on sparse, instead of the usually layered, arrangements heard in a musical. Actually a tough score to sing to, it received reasonably good vocalization from the cast, a few of whom have fine singing voices. However, choreography hardly existed and the lighting predictably dabbed lots of red on stage.

Another historical figure, killed (by society) rather than killer, is the focus of Natadha’s Ebang Socrates. Natadha, the premier theatre troupe in Haora, has decided to blood its younger members in occasional workshop productions, preparing the next guard as it were, following the present practice of several major Bengali groups. Arna Mukhopadhyay has collated existing texts on Socrates by Mohit Chattopadhyay and Sisir Kumar Das into a political interpretation that could have held deeper meanings of statehood, religion and democracy if he had just let the biographical facts speak for themselves. Instead, he plays the party card by decking the Athenian establishment in saffron, white and green (apart from the obvious association, an unimaginative repetition of the colours used in Natadha’s own recent reading of Tagore’s Raktakarabi), thereby explicitly equating poor Socrates with the Marxists in West Bengal. Enough said about this sacrilege.

Mukhopadhyay simplifies structure, too, inserting a sutradhar who explains things like a teacher, without any need whatsoever. As director, he does break out of fourth-wall conventions by seating characters in the auditorium, and himself enacts the aged Socrates with aplomb.

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