Bratya Basu is the Minister of Tourism of West Bengal and is an efficient multi-tasker. He, in a candid conversation with Mainak Banerjee talks about his life, hobbies, important issues like intolerance, terrorism and his theatre ventures. He also explains how sexuality has come a long way and discussions on the issue are no more a myth or taboo.
Q. Recently, after staging Boma, you seem to be concentrating on directing plays in a row, any particular reason for that?
Boma is the production of Kalindi Bratyajon, my own theatre group. As you know, apart from other theatre related activities, I try to do one production each year in my group. I am also an avid reader of books, journals and if I find some scripts very interesting I grab the opportunity to direct it. This is nothing but a coincidence.
Q. Mumbai Nights is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night where relocation happens in Mumbai. Don’t you think Kolkata would have been a better place for it?
Kolkata of course is closer to my heart but Mumbai is a cosmopolitan and an equally vibrant city. The issues I have highlighted are mostly arising out of Mumbai rather Maharashtra – cricket, glamour world, underworld etc. and these are important national issues.
Q. The relation between gender and performance is particularly strong in this play. Don’t you think our current society has moved beyond that with movements for legalising same sex relationship? How relevant is this play now, in this respect?
Shakespeare wrote the play in the year 1601, more than 400 years back. Just imagine the time frame when he wrote it. Sexuality in the world has come a long way after that, and discussions on the issue are no more a myth or a taboo. India has come of age in this regard too. Now, the fight for legalisation is a step forward towards the acceptance of ‘alternate’ sexualities. Love and romance are the eternal truth of our lives, irrespective of our sexual orientations. This will remain ever pertinent in the world till the existence of mankind.
Q. How difficult is it to infuse serious issues like terrorism, ban on bar dancers, underworld’s influence in Bollywood, intolerance, corruption etc. in a romantic comedy and to place it in front of the audience without compromising even a bit on the quotient of romanticism?
It is really challenging to keep the essence of the play intact and the scriptwriter, Debasish Ray, has done a wonderful job here. The play represents a kaleidoscopic view of the society and the challenge lies in the subtlety with which the issues emerge within the context of the narrative. I have to keep in mind that the issues appear strongly in the plot keeping the larger milieu of humor and romanticism intact. It is important for me that the audience carries the impact of the issues even after the end of the play.
Q. In your play Sateroi July (17th July), you showed dissent against state sponsored terrorism at Godhra. Now you are directing a play which speaks loudly against religious radicalism. Is it a completion of a circle of such protest in the art form in which you belong?
I do not look forward to the completion of such a circle. As far as I am considered this is no achievement. It gave me pain to write and stage a play like Sateroi July. But it was a necessity. Similarly, many issues are unacceptable in present India where we keep emphasising ‘development’ and ‘reform’. We definitely do not want these religious fanatics spreading the message of hatred and intolerance. What sort of values teaches us to insult writers, artists, activists, just because they speak in different voices? Can we support the killers of M M Kalburgi or Narendra Dabholkar? Or the assault on U R Ananthamurthy? Isn’t there a need to raise our voice against the killers of innocent bloggers in Bangladesh? But even before we speak about against the extremism of other religions, we should evaluate the fundamentalism and violence that exists in the religion we belong to; a secular Hindu should soul search Hinduism first and a secular Muslim should do the same for Islam first before accusing others of religious fanaticism. A true Indian should have the freedom to strongly protest against religious extremism in India before he takes on the issue of injustice in the neighbouring country. Theatre is a platform which has always raised its voice against these fundamentalist forces. I am proud to be able to continue to be a part of that brigade.
Q. You, being the Minister of Tourism of the state are still continuing with theatre as your passion. It is definitely a sincere and hard work on your part. I think your state administration in West Bengal has never come your way while you continued to pursue your passion for creativity. It will be good if you can share your thoughts on this with us.
I am a proud citizen of West Bengal. While I continue with my passion unhindered, I continue to deliver simultaneously to the public of West Bengal. I am proud that my state West Bengal is among the top in the country as far as religious tolerance is concerned.
Q. You have ended the play in a very positive overtone. This shows you are very optimistic about the improvement of our bilateral relationship with Pakistan, especially on the religious and cultural front. Please share your views regarding this.
I am always very positive regarding this and I will continue to be. You must be aware that ‘Kalindi Bratyajon’ organises an International theatre festival at Kolkata, each year for last four years. This year, we had invited a theatre group from Pakistan who came and performed at the Academy of Fine Arts, Kolkata, the cultural hub of the city. The team was led by a renowned theatre director of Pakistan, Zain Ahmed, from NAPA. I strongly believe that in present times of intolerance, as shown in this play, the love between Billu (in disguise as Huma) and Ushnata and that between Alishan and Huma will show us the path to tolerance leading to the ultimate consciousness in peace and all Hindus and Muslims in and across India and Pakistan will all be united at the beach of Arabian Sea. I believe love is the only essence which can give us respite from our barbaric, beastly and cruel ways of living. Only love can instill humanity with grace in our souls. When the love of Mumbai Nights sparkles in the skyline of India, the Indian values of tolerance will come out as a winner overcoming the dividing forces within the country.
Q. The seed of tolerance should be sowed from the very childhood of a person. So, a lot depends on the upbringing of a person. Do you have any target audience for this play, if tolerance is one of the primary messages you want to convey?
While love and romanticism come spontaneously to the youth, so does aggression, impulse and excitement. These tender minds need to be caressed. They should be led to the right path of maturity so that they will learn to distinguish between the good and the bad. I always consider the youth as my greater share of audience, and I strongly believe their values will lead to a stronger India. However, having said that, I do not mean that the play is not for the elders.
Q. What are the other two plays you are going to direct? How long do we need to wait for your next surprises?
One is Meghe Dhaka Tara a renowned film by Ritwik Ghatak and the other is Adya Shesh Rajani adapted from the novel of Shyamal Ganguly. Both are adapted by Ujjwal Chatterjee. Meghe Dhaka Tara will be produced by Naihati Bratyajon.
The producer of Naihati Bratyajon, Partha Bhoumik has taken a vow to stage all the Bengali classical movies one after another. The first show of Meghe Dhaka Tara will be staged at University Institute Hall, Kolkata on January 2, 2016.
Adya Shesh Rajani is being produced by ‘Indraranga’ and the first show will be at Academy of Fine arts, kolkata on 14 January 2016.