A-Pabitro – Timely staging of a foreign play, untouched, in Bengali

Posted by Kaahon Desk On January 26, 2019

On the 28th birthday of Ashoknagar Natya Anan they presented their newest production ‘A-Pabitro’ on the Academy of Fine Arts stage. The story is a Bengali adaptation of one of Jerome Lawrence’s plays, written and adapted by Chandan Sen.

A school teacher was impeached in 1925 in Tennessee, a state of USA for teaching Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. According to the laws of the state; it was a crime to say anything against the scriptures of Bible, and according to the orders of the Church a case was filed against the teacher. This case was made famous all over the world by the name ‘The Monkey Tail’, and is an important incident in the history of American Judiciary system. Jerome Lawrence and Edwin Lee constructed their 1955 play ‘Inherit the wind’ from this incident, although their main motive was to explore the contemporary injustice and austerity of the McCarthy era. This play has been staged multiple times all over the world because of its strong content, and the film adaptation of Stanley Kramer gained wide popularity in 1960. Bigotry, and the powerful class’s desire to impose their ideologies on the mass are pestilences to the current society, the space for free thinking is being crunched subsequently and there’s an atmosphere of intolerance, from that standpoint recreating a play in Bengali based on an incident that is almost a century old; is certainly a brave and relevant protest. The century old incident in America finds parallels in current India, even the economic conditions of the times were similar, the writer has left the characters, the place, and the timeline intact and the socially conscious audience can easily relate the storyline with current times. But for the common audience it fails to emerge as something more than a beautifully acted Bengali adaptation of a foreign play. The director has left no mark of individual modulation in the play, therefore it is questionable whether an in-depth impact on the audience has been made.

Previous Kaahon Theatre Review:

In the American city of Hillsborough, a school teacher taught the theory of evolution to his students which was considered a crime by the church, because the theory directly refutes the Christian claim that everything in this world including human beings are creations of the God, and claiming otherwise is a sin and those who do so are the messengers of the Devil. Naturally Burton was arrested, as instructed by the church, and a case was filed against him for contesting Bible and Christianity. It created a major upheaval in the society, although most went against him; he found support in his students, his girlfriend Rachel, and his journalist friend Hornbeck. The Judgement started. The famous barrister Matthew Brady volunteered to represent his Religion (Church) in court, he was also a scholar of Bible, and three times presidential candidate; on the other hand, Henry Draymond a shrewd lawyer and a childhood friend of Burton chose to represent him (and Science). Two parties argued, refuted, and reasoned against each other; turning the court in a battlefield of law. According to the church Bible is the final wisdom, anything related to science and evolution is nothing but a poison to the society, Bible is the Constitution- Draymond deflected these preposterous accusations and rationally argued that Bible is nothing but a book of Christianity, and the priests and noblemen use this book to control their followers. But at the end, Burton was found guilty and was fined a hundred dollars, and his case was transferred to the higher court. The theme of the play is made clear by a dialogue of Draymond to Burton- “I don’t know whether we’d win the case, but your protest provided courage for many.”

Science opposes those who have exploited the narrowness, superstition, and fanaticism of the common people for ages, using religion, to control them. Science aspires only for truth; expands our boundary of knowof the Padre Brown has explored the characteristics of an arrogant discledge and propagates free thinking. The funny thing is; the people who are against teaching science use objects every day which are inventions of science and technology with a plain face, and it is implied in the dialogue of the Journalist Hornbeck “Maybe we have kept our soul immersed in Bible, but for our daily life we have employed science.”

Sabyasachi Chakravarty’s fluent acting in the role of Henry Draymond has carried the play for a long distance, his confident postures and stark delivery has attached credibility in his character. Shantilal Mukherjee in the role of priest Mr. Brown, has portrayed the character of an arrogant judge and an affectionate father very competently. AshitBasu has tried to add liveliness in the character of Matthew Brady with the help of his long experience, but his memory related to dialogue escaped him in certain occasions to stubble the fluency of the play. Although Hornbeck is a comic character, his dialogues have pivotal deliverance, Chandan Sen has shown tremendous control and timing in performing this role exploring the all the detailed connotations of the dialogues. Torsha Banerjee in the role of Rachel, and Rhitobroto Mukherjee in the role of a student, named Howard delivered eye-catching performances.

Lights (Kalyan Ghosh) and Music (Gautam Ghosh) have delivered aptly according to the need of the production but failed to add a different dimension. Stage decoration (Madan Haldar) is worthy of mentioning, the transformation of the court into a prayer room only by swapping the symbols, and the maintenance of the actors on the stage to expose them Naha) and Makeup (Dilip De) have been managed properly according to the time period and the characters of the play.

Reaching the climax there comes a scene when properly, even when there are more than thirty actors present in the stage have been beautifully planned. Costume (Mitali Mukherjee, Soma

Draymond proceeds to weigh, with the Bible in one hand and The Origin of Species in another, as if to understand; which carries more weight! This is a symbolic representation of the current dilemma that the people of our times face; whether to go back to the darkness of yesteryears or the proceed towards the light of tomorrow!

Pradip Datta
A post-graduation diploma holder of the Department of Media Studies, University of Calcutta, he has been a theatre activist in Bengal for the last twenty five years. He is a freelance journalist by profession. Besides theatre, his passion includes recitation, audio plays and many more.

Translation: Harit Chowdhury

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