Udichi premieres “Half Akhrai”
Central theatre department of Bangladesh Udichi Shilpi Goshthi staged its latest production "Half Akhrai" at the Experimental Theatre Hall, Bangladesh Shilpkala academy on January 24. Based on the historic conflict between Ramnidhi Gupta -- popularly known as 'Nidhu Gupta', the originator of Bengali 'tappa' songs -- and his once-favourite disciple Mohan Chand, the play is written by Ratan Siddiqui and directed by Azad Abul Kalam.
Ramnidhi Gupta formed a musical troupe, Akhrai, in 1804 through which his singing style and songs became popular. Gupta was considered to be one of the most talented artistes of his time. He believed in "art for art's sake." He felt that appreciating music was not for everyone. He retired from the troupe in 1832 due to ailments related to age and conferred the leadership to Mohan Chand, one of his favourite disciples.
Though a loyal disciple, Mohan differed with his master's view and believed that music is for the masses. With his innovative style, he presented Bengali poetry fortified with rich theatrical elements from "Vaishnav Padabali", "Mangal Kabya", "Nath Geetika" and others. Ramninidhi Gupta could not tolerate these changes and in response to his master's discontent, Mohan left the Akhrai group and formed his own group named 'Half Akhrai'.
The play uses this historic incident as the focus and expands the scope of the context through several imaginary characters and events. The inspiring love affair between Ramnidhi Gupta and the courtesan Srimati also comes into the limelight.
Ratan Dev in the character of Ramnidhi Gupta, Anwarul Haque as Mohan Chand and Fahmida Haque Koli as Srimati were somewhat average in their performances. The light-hearted conversations between disciples of the 'Akhra' provided comic relief in the otherwise serious play.
Azad Abul Kalam, guest director of the play, said, "This play has a rich subject matter. Ramnidhi Gupta was a pioneering character, who set free classical music from an exclusively religious atmosphere and made love the focal theme of his songs. Mohan Chand was one step ahead to introduce it to the masses. The play has a contemporary message: art has always been targeted by conservatives and fundamentalists."
"As for the performances, I admit that the first show has its limitation. The performers tried their best, and I think some changes in the characterisation, script etc will make the play more enjoyable," he added.
"Half Akhrai" is the 15th production of Bangladesh Udichi Shilpi Goshthi.