Experiencing West Bengal plays is nothing new for me – during and after the Liberation War I had had the opportunity to watch legendary actors, directors and playwrights of the day, like Ajitesh Bandopadhya, Utpal Dutt, Sambhu, Mitra, Tripti Mitra, Sova Sen and many others, but I never had the opportunity to see Shaoli Mitra performing on the stage. When Angsuman mentioned on August 22 Naathvati Anaathavat was to be read out (not performed as such) by Shaoli Mitra at Academy of Fine Arts, I immediately started enthusing over an extraordinary feel. Naathvati Anaathavat is a first person narrative of Draupodi's story of female marginalization even though she was the wife of mighty Pandavas. Draopodi has been a much talked about female character of the world's longest epic Mahabharata for multiple reasons. I must mention here Naathvati Anaathavat was penned, directed and acted by Shaoli herself back in 1983 and is estimated to be one of her milestone creative works. After watching her reading/acting the narrative I was genuinely intrigued by her performing agility at the age of, perhaps, almost seventy.
The second play that I saw on August 25 at the same venue, that is Academy of Fine Arts, was Don Taake Bhalo Laage, an adaptation of Miguel De Cervantes's acclaimed Spanish novel Don Quixote. In fact it is a Bangla version of the Broadway musical production titled Man of La Mancha, created by Dale Wasserman (script), Joe Darion (lyrics), and Mitch Leigh (music). The Bangla script written by Suman Mukhapadhya, has been directed and acted by Sujan Mukhopadhya. It was simply awesome, for it was a perfect musical! Rabindranath has composed several dance-dramas but our stage still suffers from a crucial dearth of musicals – I haven't seen any remarkable musical performed in Bangladesh. I can only recollect two so called musicals, which are essentially dance dramas and not musicals in the proper sense of the term – Alibaba o Chollish Chor produced by Nrittyanchal, and Gohor Badsha o Banesa Pori by Ngorik Natyagan. But perhaps witnessing my very first real Bangla musical performance was Don Taake Bhalo Laage. It impacted my inner mind so much so that I made sure to collect a copy of Man of La Mancha, the Broadway musical that I referred to earlier, with a silent conviction to give it a Bangladeshi version by 2019.
The third and last performance that I witnessed was a diametrically opposite experience that I had had so far. It was an English play titled Iron, directed by Arghya Lahiri and produced by the Rage Production of Mumbai, at GD Birla Sabhaghar, Ballygunge. Performers were all Indians with their Indian-accent English dialogues (one of the Englishes defined by famous linguist Braj Kachru), but without any fumbling or faltering. This I mention because our stage actors or for that matter most of the actors of all genres have problems speaking English, though actors need to get well adapted to the language of the characters they depict. However, to tell the truth my experience of watching this very elite and expensive (tickets sold at one thousand rupees each though ours were complimentary) theater show was not pleasant at all. But then, it was a distinctive exposure for me no doubt, for we don't get to see English plays performed in Bangladesh.
My Kolkata visit provided me a dividend too – I had the opportunity to listen to the Minority Problem in India lecture by Nobel Memorial Prize winner Amartya Sen on August 25, afternoon.
The writer is a theatre activist, playwright and theatre critic. He is also a Bangla Academy awardee for translation.