Under watch

Swapnasandhani staged an adaptation of George Orwell's 1984 this summer. Considering the group's reputation rests primarily on plays questioning the State machinery, the choice seemed pretty obvious. For a change, Swapnasandhani roped in Debesh Chattopadhyay to script and direct 1984.

By THEATRE - Anshuman Bhowmick
  • Published 21.07.18
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Swapnasandhani staged an adaptation of George Orwell's 1984 this summer. Considering the group's reputation rests primarily on plays questioning the State machinery, the choice seemed pretty obvious. For a change, Swapnasandhani roped in Debesh Chattopadhyay to script and direct 1984.

How a seasoned director with an overwhelming penchant for scenography adopts a young team is always a fascinating watch. On the evening of June 23, Minerva Theatre wore a wasteland look with words of caution blaring through the microphone and spotlights spying all around. But 1984, loosely based on the original's vision of dystopia, is a no-holds-barred critique of digital India. Big Brother lords over this land where saffron-clad pedagogues go about with voluminous books, where yoga is compulsory for all citizens, where desi chocolate is peddled through the public distribution system, where records of Dalit deaths are erased, where the likes of Gilani, Shaukat and Afzal are falsely exterminated, where anti-Pakistan sentiments are systematically manufactured, and so on.

Chattopadhyay places a curiously named Goutam Islam (Ujjal Malakar) amid all this. Goutam loves his beef kebab from Nizam's and, like everybody else, is continually harassed by the system. He cannot even trust Lopamudra (Shubhannita Guha), his rebellious love interest. Ritwik Majumdar, the ideological opposition, reminds one of Ritwik Ghatak and Charu Majumdar. Baburam Sapure's flute finds a home in Chaturvedi Antique Shop. Without naming it, Chattopadhyay conceives Room No. 101, the torture chamber, after the Jantar Mantar Ghar à la Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, with light-bulb filaments underlining the shock therapy and textured top lights creating psychometric patterns on the stage floor. Video projections were used extensively, including a snippet from the 1963 Bob Dylan concert where he sings, "Blowing in the Wind", alongside Joan Baez. Towards the end, Chattopadhyay introduces live CCTV footage when the protagonist faces a trial downstage and the camera projects the audience reaction on the cyclorama. Light designer Dinesh Poddar delivers them all and Shreyan Chattopadhyay designs a raucous soundtrack that plays on the nerves. The actors happily fitted into the directorial vision.

A passing thought. Given Bengali theatre's predilections for anti-fascist ideas, would there be any takers for A Brave New World or The Handmaid's Tale?

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