Bratya Basu, the theatre maestro of Bengal, has mesmerised his audience again with his directional deftness, by picking on the Bengali classic film of the sixties, Meghe Dhaka Tara, directed by the legendary Ritwick Ghatak for his play. Basu has done what nobody has dared to dream.
On January 2, Kolkata witnessed a rendezvous between two master directors of two different art forms at the newly renovated University Institute Hall. The play projects the pain, anguish, solitude, exploitation, and the unfulfilled desires and expectations of a family in the poverty-stricken refugee camp dealing with the aftermath of the Partition of Bengal.
When asked why he selected this film for the play, Bratya said, “Refugee issues have always besieged Bengal. While Bengali cinema to some extent has explored this subject, Bengali theatre hasn’t done as much. This play does offer a piece of the life of the refugees that Bengal witnessed once upon a time. As long as borders are there, we will have the refugee crisis: latest being Syria. True, the way refugee crisis came to be highlighted in the works of Manto or other authors in Punjab, was not done in Bengal.” Meghe Dhaka Tara (A Cloud-capped Star) is a film written and directed by Ritwick Ghatak in 1960 based on the social novel by Shaktipada Rajguru. It was a part of the trilogy of three films directed by the same director on the corollary of the partition of Bengal. The other two films were Komal Gandhar (1961) and Subarnarekha (1962). Bengal was then facing unprecedented human misery when national refugee care agencies were at a nascent stage.
Ghatak wanted to inform the people about the plight of the refugees trying to reconstruct their lives amidst the rise of colonies in divided Bengal. The film revolves around Neeta, a beautiful young sibling of a poor school teacher Madhab, known as ‘Madhab-master’. After partition, the family has shifted from East Pakistan to the suburbs of Calcutta as refugees.
Neeta is the provider to the family who aspires to help everybody in the family, including her fiancée, Sanat. She is exploited by all. Her mother, Ramala does not even think twice before marrying off her younger daughter, Geeta to Neeta’s fiancée to prevent the sole earning member in her family from leaving them. Sanat, unable to keep pace with her sacrificing attitude and constant anxiety amidst the clutch of poverty, takes no time in deciding to marry her sister. Neeta’s elder brother, though empathetic towards his sister, does not hesitate in taking her help to make a career in singing. Her younger brother, a budding soccer player leaves home to make his career too. Finally Neeta loses her job and gets infected with tuberculosis. She is quarantined and has no option but to stay away from her family. The dreams, hopes and aspirations of the protagonist crash amidst the growing demand of family members and her deep concern to save her family even at the cost of sacrificing her own interests. The original film was very melancholic, somber and melodramatic in tone. The lingering, surrealistic music used by Ritwick Ghatak left a feeling of numbness among the viewers. The magnitude of suffering rendered the audience speechless. Bratya Basu has used his flair and competence to create these nuances in the play and has paid a fitting tribute to the marvel of Bengali films.
Basu has narrowed down the difference between a film and a theatre, on stage further. He has used the projection of original film clippings and the newly filmed footages in the background with impeccable perfection. Debarati Gupta has used the camera shots in a way to bring out the effect of close-ups seen in Ghatak’s film. The artistic finesse of Basu is seen in the subtlety with which the characters in the play express the varying orders of human emotions on stage. The stage presentation is not so overcast like the original film but it is an epitome of financial crisis. The tin sidewall of the house with a bed made of local wood and a photoframe dangling from the wall, an ordinary table with a chair and a meat-safe do not exactly depict the condition of a refugee camp. The books of Yeats, Elliot on the table carries the intellectualism of the middle class.
But the loud colours of plastic flowers and a dream elevation in the backdrop seem to stand out exclusively in terms of representing the glaring difference between the world of fantasy and heart breaking reality. The characters move up the elevation whenever they think about an unfulfilled dream, or search for signs of happiness. The rise pulls them above the drudgery of their daily poverty stricken depressing life into a world of desires. Neeta’s flight of imagination, in the worst of moments, helps her fight the hopelessness and misery of her life. The bridge is her belief in the castle of dreams that she builds in the sky. The play represents these moments as the eternal hope in the bleak world of human beings.
The conflicts of idealism, strengths and weaknesses of a post-colonial middle class family were clearly noticeable. Prithwis Rana surely deserves an accolade in building the stage. Veteran actor Subhasish Mukherjee as Madhab master has re-established his talent as an actor on stage. His flawless movements on stage and skills of getting absorbed into the character are a lesson for the younger stage actors and a treat to watch.
Credit goes to the director again for utilising his talent on stage so efficiently. Poulomi Basu, in the role of Neeta has shown maturity in acting. She steals the heart of the audience with her heart-rending expressions ranging from sweet satisfaction of fulfilling family demands to shocking disbeliefs of being hurt by her near and dear ones. She has undoubtedly created a niche in the role of the protagonist, hailed in the film as having won million hearts with the epoch making dialogue, Dada, ami banchte chai (Brother, I want to live).
Partha Bhowmick as Shankar, Kathakali Deb as Geeta and veteran actor Suranjana Dasgupta as Ramala have done a credible job to give their roles a distinctiveness to cherish. The background music and sounds used in the play is different from the original film. When asked about it, Bratya said, “Let’s take the use of the sound of a running train in the background, the sound of falling raindrops, the sound of water trickling down. I feel these help in bringing out a signature sound that one identifies with colony life.” Dishary Chakraborty used all these sounds with the classical line ups from Ustad Bahadur Khan.
The script writer Ujjwal Chatterjee has written a delicately balanced script. Meghe Dhaka Tara is the first production of Naihati Bratyajon. Partha Bhowmick, MLA from Naihati and the director of the theatre group says, “We have decided, under the guidance of Bratya Basu, to stage the Bengali Classical films which carry social statements. Meghe Dhaka Tara is our first production in that direction.” They have decided to stage the play every Saturday at the University Institute Hall, in the educational hub of Kolkata.
The next play, Adya Shesh Rajani, directed by Basu awaits the premier show on February 21 at Mohit Maitra Mancha, Kolkata.