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By Ananda Lal
  • Published 9.06.07

Why would anyone want to compress Ibsen’s masterpieces into ninety minutes or less? The éminence grise of modern drama meticulously chiselled them into such jewels that condensation amounts to just getting the plots right, and sacrifices the depth of characterization that gives his plays their sinewy strength. We can excuse Natyaswapnakalpa for conceiving of this tribute to Ibsen as part of their annual event because it is a festive variety show, but for three participating groups to revive their entries as one evening’s regular bill at Sujata Sadan is ill-advised. Those who declined to take part may actually be wiser.

Swapnasandhani’s Maydanab, Nirbak Abhinay Academy’s Dulali and Arshi’s Putuler Chithi achieve one thing, though: they provide the viewer who has zero knowledge of Ibsen with an acceptable crash course in Ibsenism. Thus, Putuler Chithi delivers an unusually univocal Doll’s House, the 1879 classic that everyone should have read or seen, epitomizing his trailblazing realism. Dulali Indianizes The Wild Duck (1884), typical of Ibsen’s intermediary symbolical phase. And Maydanab adapts The Master Builder (1892), representative of his late expressionism. A rich sweep of modernist styles from the hands of the same author.

Bibhash Chakraborty rewrites Doll’s House as Putuler Chithi, an epistolary monologue by Nora relating her story. That is precisely the problem, for it becomes one-sided; we do not hear from their own mouths the opinions of Torvald or the others that Ibsen had crafted so well. Besides, by facilely leaving the children out of consideration, the director, Abanti Chakraborty, simplifies Nora’s decision to depart. Senjuti Mukhopadhyay’s excellent shift from an apparently naïve Nora to the mature individual cannot compensate for these defects.

Suranjana Dasgupta sets Dulali in a Sikh family, which works reasonably well, except for the fact that everyone but she manages a Punjabi accent, reflecting poorly on her self-direction. Again, owing to the abridgment, she necessarily has to omit several characters and confine the locale to one house.

One expected a fuller treatment of The Master Builder from Kaushik Sen, who directs Tarapada Ray’s translation titled Maydanab. Ibsen’s original is a brilliant portrait of the artist as an old man. In this he excoriated himself both as an artist and as a human being, dramatizing his supposed infatuation with a young woman and his guilty feelings towards his ailing wife. At the same time, it is highly relevant in today’s promoter raj, asking whether architecture is art or business, creative or accretive, while the master architect faces the challenge to his position from upcoming talents. Having chopped much of the meat off Ibsen’s dialogue, Sen can present only the bare bones.