Translating Man of La Mancha | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, December 29, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, December 29, 2018

What's in the theater?

Translating Man of La Mancha

In one of my recent write ups in this column I made a promise (perhaps more to myself than to my readers) to translate Man of La Mancha, a very successful Broadway musical production of the present time. The inspiration came from my watching the said play translated into Bangla in Kolkata, titled Don—aami tomake bhalo bashi, during my last trip there. It was a real treat, for I had no previous experience of enjoying a musical in Bangla. Rabindranath's dance drama is quite familiar in our stages and it is, no doubt, an aesthetically pleasing combination of music, dance and theme. But musicals are almost absent from our theatrical or performing domain. My first ever experience of watching a full musical, though a translated version, had been absolutely quintessential, and I mentioned it in my aforementioned write up.

I did it last Saturday (December 23, 18)—that is, I finished rendering the musical into Bangla on that very day. The prose text was not as cumbersome as Shakespeare's plays, and I was quite comfortable finishing my translation work in two weeks. But then there is the rub—translation of songs! Composing poetry or songs has never been my comfort zone. Not that I never tried my hand in writing poetry—like every Bengalee youth after reading a few Rabindranath, Nazrul or Jibonanado poems—I too wished to excel in composing verses (mostly on the theme of love and social equality), and gave up when I discovered I had no competence, what so ever, in this type and style of literature!

There are twenty-six songs in the play and they are all precisely contextualized with the scenes, incidences, plots and subplots of the storyline. So I have safely given the assignment to one of my colleagues who is apparently skilled in writing poetry and songs. The text that I have used for my translation—which is once again an English translation of the original Spanish novel turned into a play (that is, mine is actually translation of a translation)—happens to be a collaborative work. The person who translated the prose dialogues is Dale Wasserman, the songs are written by Joe Darien, and Mitch Leigh has composed the music. I am afraid the same thing is perhaps going to be repeated in my case if the play is staged in Bangladesh at all. My feeling of uncertainty about staging the play emanates from previous experiences. I have seen plays with huge cast are difficult to perform regularly and the theater groups mostly discourage them. This play has a total cast of twenty-five, and then again it is heavily loaded with twenty-six songs!

However, I am happy that my mission is accomplished! But what is this play about? It is a novel turned into a play as I mentioned above. Written by Miguel de Cervantes y Saavedra, a Spanish writer of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the novel Don Quixote is still ranked to be one of the best ten novels of the world. It is also said that Cervantes's this particular novel worked as a role model for the European fiction writers of the successive centuries. Cervantes was a theatre lover too and in twenty years he wrote as many as forty plays.

I am keeping my fingers crossed to see this translated play on stage some day, and it would then perhaps be the first Bangla musical—in its true sense—performed in Bangladesh.      


The writer is an educationist teaching English Language & Literature at Central Women’s University. He is also a Bangla Academy awardee for translation.

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