War for love


By Ananda Lal
  • Published 11.04.15

War forms the subject of two new Bengali productions. Abanti Chakraborty has condensed the Iliad into Troy, produced by Arashi and Nobel Associates. This kind of dramatization has always raised a fundamental problem - without a doubt, theatre loses substantially by compacting the expansive sprawl of an epic into the time constraints required of a staging. Notwithstanding the artistic heights of a Mahabharata by Peter Brook, one cannot deny that compression, even into nine hours like Brook's, and even by Indians, sacrifices too much of such a source. Logically, nobody in Western theatre has attempted to do this with Homer's admittedly smaller epic.

Chakraborty's interest in Greek legend has grown since she collaborated internationally on the tale of Iphigenia. But that constitutes only one of a hundred stories in the Homeric corpus, therefore manageable within theatre's limits. Indeed, Euripides himself wrote two tragedies on Iphigenia. However, the same cannot apply to the entire Iliad or Odyssey. Although Chakraborty originally composed a three-hour script, it can communicate only the basic outline to her audience. One could argue that this has some value to those Bengali viewers who have no knowledge of the source. Thus, she focuses on Helen's elopement, the ensuing war, Achilles' temporary withdrawal, and Hector's death.

Doubly problematic in any Reader's Digest rendering, none of the score of major characters receive enough time to reveal the complexities of their personalities. This never happens in Greek tragedies because the writers kept no more than five principals. Here, we have a star-studded cast (picture) led by Sabyasachi Chakraborty (Agamemnon) and Senjuti Mukherjee (Helen), portraying Hera, Aphrodite, Athena, Thetis, Achilles, Odysseus, Menelaus, Ajax, Patrocles, Hector, Priam, Paris, Clytemnestra, Hecuba, Andromache, Cassandra, Iphigenia and others. But their hands are tied. Directorially, Chakraborty looks for arresting visuals and uses traditional Indian performing styles.

Kolkata Rangila takes Ma Ek Nirbhik Sainik from the novella of the same name by Sailen Ghosh, the popular children's author. Koushik Kar's dramatization, however, makes it as diametrically opposed to children's or young adult literature as possible. With scenes of unremitting cruelty and carnage, he presents a primitive war between rival kings on what seems like an imaginary recreation of the central Asian steppes. Reminiscent of Gorky's Mother, it draws a heroic picture of the eponymous protagonist (Ankita Majhi) trying to instil love in her son to protect him from the cult of violence. Kar's loud direction encourages nearly everyone to scream their lungs out, like schoolkids who think that shouting means acting. But Biswajit Das designs a robust set with a wooden bridge over a half-hidden hut.