Tribute to a stalwart
History has been witness to confinements, executions, ostracisation and marginalisation of many famous persons in the process of their quest to establish new truths. Socrates was executed for impiety; Galileo was kept under house arrest in the last few years of his life for his heliocentric idea. In the recent past the famous writer Paulo Coelho had to face electric shock treatment (ECT) for his love for theatre in his childhood, that too at the hands of his parents. The list can go on and on.
Bratya Basu has paid tribute to a journey of a passionate theatre lover of the 1970s in Bengal, Ashim Chakraborty, in his latest directorial venture, Awdya Sesh Rajani (The Last Night). The play is based on the novel written by Shyamal Gangopadhyay, with the adaptation done by the playwright Ujjwal Chattopadhyay. The theatre was staged at Mohit Moitra Mancha, Paikpara, Kolkata on February 21.
Credit goes to the Tourism Minister of Bengal, Bratya Basu for his experiment with another new theatre space with all the modern amenities after The University Institute Hall at College Street.
Ashim Chakraborty has been described by Bratya Basu as the first person to be shunned by Bengali theatre despite him being dedicated and committed for the sake of theatre. Indrajit Chakraborty, the director of Paikpara Indraranga, a theatre group near the birthplace of Ashim Chakraborty has done an implausible job by picking up this person from the lost pages of history of Bengali theatre.
The director of the play, theatre activist Bratya Basu refers to Ashim Chakraborty as the first person to realise the importance of the ‘Company Theatre’. Basu admires the success of his theatre which completed 1800 shows on trot on stage. In context of the controversial punch line from Ashim Chakraborty’s censored play, ekti bhalobashar blow-hot natok (A blow-hot play of love), Basu has used the tagline of the play Awdya Sesh Rajani as ekti bishader blow-hot natya (A Blow-hot theatre of grief). The play Awdya Shesh Rajani is based on the life of Ashim Chakraborty, who was a theatre lover, actor and director who carried the dream of making exceptional theatre in post-colonial Bengal. He was a theatre practitioner who had failed to gather initial attention of the spectators by doing conventional productions like Jonoiker Mrityu, Nil Ghora, Samraggni etc. in proscenium.
Amiya Chakraborty, the protagonist in the play, is passionately in love with theatre. It is his wife Mala, a school teacher, who supports the family financially while motivating Amiya to do better theatre. She helps him by choosing one of Amiya’s unfinished scripts, Barbadhu (The Prostitute), and predicts success for the play. The show creates records by running for 1144 nights in less than three years. The play is however marked as depicting vulgarity on stage.
The educated Bengali bhadralok society was at discomfort with the play depicting intimate scenes between a zamindar’s son and a prostitute. The theatre questioned bhadralok cultural norms of sexuality finally leading theatre authorities asking Amiya to discontinue with his theatre performances. A few acts in the play were described as ‘laced with unnecessary seduction’ by the ‘intellectuals’ of the society which included a few Ministers from the political party in power as well. The theatre thus raises serious questions about the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’, the ‘moral’ and the ‘immoral’ along with questions of state censorship. Even the Academy of Fine Arts, Kolkata refused to run the show. Amiya Chakraborty filed a legal case and won it and the show went on. But the determination to resist such a powerful attack was gradually diminishing and Amiya Chakraborty stood cornered from all quarters of the society. The severity of the protest led to a massive heart attack and his untimely death.
Awdya Sesh Rajani has been a spell- binding directorial production of international standards by Bratya Basu. The set designing by Debasish deserves a special mention for adding another dimension to the flavor of the production. The use of a tram on the set as a multidimensional space is enthralling.
The tram compartment is used as a green room at times as well as entry and exit routes for actors. The non-linear treatment of the narrative is very exciting. The dead body of the protagonist waking up to unfold his own narrative, traversing through realms of reality and fantasy, performing on the stage of life as well as theatre is a heart rendering process.
The dialogue, “rummage through my ashes; check whether my plays were genuine or not” rightly symbolises the spirit of the theatre. The scenes representing dreams and fantasy with ‘slow-motions’ seem like film-shots of exact precision. The scene of the blue horse with the protagonist’s failure in riding it and the fall thereafter is amazingly conceived and executed. The use of lights in these special sequences take the audience to a world of virtual reality and the effect leaves a permanent impression in their minds.
Anirban Bhattacharjee as Amiya Chakraborty in the play has enthralled the audience with his superlative performance. Debjani Chatterjee as Rajani is brilliant in her role. The ease with which she carves out a passionate performance is worthy of acknowledgment. Satrajit Sarkar and Ankita Majhi have added to the success of intense stage acting. Bratya Basu has given the great man of theatre of the 1970s his due and the team of Paikpara Indraranga deserves a bow for their pursuit in unveiling the rich cultural heritage of creative Bengal.