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By Ananda Lal
  • Published 14.03.09

Swapna-sandhani recently completed four years of unhindered, fulfilling existence at Sujata Sadan. Unlike most Bengali groups competing for infrequent bookings at their four or five regular auditoriums, since 2004 it has staged over 240 shows of its repertoire here. This freedom has also enabled director Kaushik Sen to mount new productions fast — as many as 13 in this period, counting the two latest.

Ostensibly for children, Sraban Haoya is commendably activist, given its anti-pollution, anti-smoking agenda and a state government that does zilch to stop vehicular pollution or smoking in public places. The asthmatic boy in Ujjwal Chattopadhyay’s play, like lakhs in Calcutta, suffers because of this official licence to kill. His friend’s father, like millions of inconsiderate adults, lights cigarettes wherever he goes. Luckily, Sraban Haoya has a happy ending, though reality tells a different tale. Educational institutions must support it as essential viewing for students: the only way to reach callous Calcuttans may be through their kids.

Sraban Haoya is more immediately political than Unishe June (picture), adapted from Biru Mukherjee’s Bishe June, itself translated for the Indian People’s Theatre Association in 1955 from Loyalty, an obscure Hungarian play on the notorious trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, convicted as Soviet spies by the US and sent to the electric chair in Sing Sing on June 19, 1953 (wrongly dated as June 20 in the original). Earlier that year, indicting Senator McCarthy’s witchhunt of communists, Arthur Miller had named his lead couple in The Crucible, John and Elizabeth, adopting the Rosenbergs’ initials. Actually, The Crucible would have been a far superior drama to adapt on the same theme. Although Sen constructs Unishe June innovatively, going back in time scene by scene from the execution (like Pinter’s structure in Betrayal), it remains a dry and factual account of the inquisition. Sen’s other framing devices — two sutradhars commenting from a contemporary perspective, and film footage of the dismantling of Lenin’s statues after the fall of Communism — do not add complexity. Indeed, the latter may backfire, if our local party appropriates its nostalgic romanticism as a sign that Sen has returned to the leftist fold! However, the acting conveys the cruelty of the Rosenbergs’ (Shankar Malakar and Reshmi Sen) sentence through the frustrated federal emissary (Kaushik Sen) and sympathetic warden (Shankar Ghosh).