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Athoi Jal Unplugging Bibhutibhushan on stage

With the stage adaptation of Bibhutibhushan’s novel, Bratya Basu continues his dominance in stage direction thus paying a befitting tribute to legendary writer.

The quintessence of the literary creation of Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay was his straightforwardness and portrayal of simplicity of relationships in Bengali culture that easily leaves one mesmerized. His novels namely, Pather Panchali, Aparajito, Chander Pahar, Hinger Kachuri when produced into films has earned critical appreciations, globally. Purba Paschim's 'Athoi Jal' is a stage adaptation of Bibhutibhushan's fourteenth novel. Bratya Basu continues his dominance in stage direction with his matured representation of characters and thus paying a befitting tribute to the legendary writer. His approach of using alter egos of the hero, Shashanka Daktar, in flesh and blood in important moments of the play is tuned to perfection. A post-modernist treatment on the stage of a pre-independence period piece soaked in Bengali sentiment and culture is another experimental venture of atypical nature. If people consider 'Awdya Shesh Rajani' as an intellectually loaded production, 'Athoi Jal' is a much simpler production comprising of a touching storyline with a poetic finish by Bratya. He expresses his pleasure in having Ujjwal Chattopadhyay by his side, again, after 'Meghe Dhaka Tara' and '21 Grams' and 'Awdya Shesh Rajani'. Chattopadhyay has done the original stage adaptation of the novel which Bratya has edited to his liking.

Shashanka is a rural doctor with high moral values who enjoys the power of an educated person in a village with low literacy. He is used to his banal lifestyle while staying there with his wife and two kids. He responsibly loves to pose a moral judgment, policing his fellow villagers, gone astray. He does not fall short of even driving away a widower for admitting attraction for a widow in the same village. On the contrary, Shashanka's life takes an unexpected turn one stormy night after watching the sensuous and provocative performance of a 'khemtawali', Panna. True love knows no bound and the influence of sexual desire completely overpowers his senses and he elopes with her to Kolkata, leaving his family behind. Sashanka transgresses respectable social norms to fall in love with a woman from the lower strata of the society. This relationship makes him realize the meaning of romance and sucks him into the uncontrollable vortex of life. He forgets his duties, responsibilities, material greed and happily becomes the manager of their dance group and effortlessly follows instructions from the woman and does not even hesitate to be economically dependent on her. The song and dance sequences in the drama immediately connect us with a rustic culture of a remote Bengali village of the 1940s. The script seems to falter a bit with Shankar's sudden return to his family in comparison to the elaboration of his courtship with Panna.

Prithwis Rana, an experienced stage designer of his generation, works in absolute sync with the temperament of the director and the drama. The revolving props in the rear side of the stage fit the visuals aids of an old building or a sailing boat or as an abstract piece according to the context of the play. Singer Imon Chakraborty teams up with the production house in belting out some mind-blowing folk songs that innate the philosophy of romance and its effect. Indudipa Sinha's choreography does well to bring out the spirit of 'Khemta' dance.

An experienced campaigner, Debshankar Halder, famous for portraying larger than life characters on stage breaks stereotypes here to fit admirably into Shashanka. Suparna Maitra Das as Panna and Rajeswari Nandy as Surobala are equally strong and commendable in their roles. Barring a few, most of the actors collaborate well to make it a wonderful production. Shubhadeep Guha in music and Dinesh Poddar in light complete the circle of producing the spectacle on stage. Group Director, Soumitra Mitra appears excited to present another Bandyopadhyay on stage after Manik Bandyopadhyay's 'Diba Ratrir Kabya' and Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay's 'Hansuli Banker Upokatha'. The charmingly different experiment with yet another directorial work by Bratya gives us the insight of his creative intelligence which is well enough for the theatre connoisseurs of Bengal to ponder.

Mainak Banerjee

Mainak Banerjee

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