Archimedes-er Mrityu – Failure to show proper care for a powerful play

Posted by Kaahon Desk On January 31, 2020

On 20th January, ‘Archimedes-er Mrityu’, a Bengali play by Ashoknagar Natyaanan, was staged at Labanhrad Mancha. Kaahon watched the performance at Lady Ranu Mookerji Hall of Academy of Fine Arts on 25th November. The play by Nabhendu Sen has been directed by Chandan Sen.

The theatre group of Ashoknagar Natyaanan has been producing plays related to science for quite some time now. Their last play was ‘O-Pobitro’ – a Bengali version of the famous drama/film ‘Inherit the Wind’. It was about the problems created while teaching evolution in the United States of American a hundred years back. This time they’ve gone 2000 years back in time. The protagonist of this play is the scientist Archimedes (287-212 B.C.), whose formulas left us struggling when we were young. It’s the same Archimedes about whom most of all that we claim to know is a myth! Nothing can be said too surely about his death as well. According to one theory, Roman soldiers had killed Archimedes since they couldn’t recognize him. And right here start the playwright’s wings of imagination! By devoting some time to the last few days of the scientist, the playwright creates some crucial dramatic moments and shows us the eternal conflict between applied science and vested interests.

Previous Kaahon Theatre Review:

Nabhendu Sen (1944-2008) is one of the leading names in the list of modern Bengali playwrights. Since his workplace was in Bokaro, he remained out of the focus of the Kolkata centric theatre practice. But today the city is discovering playwright Nabhendu Sen in a new light. Right now two other theatre groups are also performing two different plays by Sen. He had written ‘Archimedes-er Mrityu’ during the 1990s. Like his other plays, this one too talks of the people being crushed under the pressure of capitalism. But here, the exhausted individual is Archimedes himself. Archimedes was always immersed in pure scientific practice but created certain arms and weapons when his birthplace Syracuse was attacked. From King Heron and merchant chief Peribulus to the Roman commander Mercilus, everyone got busy trying to capture the distribution rights of the weapons. Beyond the restrictions of history, the playwright imagines a long conversation between Archimedes and Mercilus. Through this conversation the playwright’s thoughts on science, civilization and capitalism get expressed.

But it was disappointing to see the presentation of such a strong and need-of-the-epoch production being dealt so casually by the team. The set design by Madan Halder and Basudeb Saha was traditional yet fine and fitting to the needs. But Kalyan Ghosh’s light design went haywire! There were so many different light sources that which one was being used when, and why it was being used in the first place, whether individually or together with many other sources, couldn’t be deciphered! The sound design by Goutam Ghosh was too loud or grand, like in Jatra or television serials. Due to an even louder projection, the music even overlapped with the dialogues quite a few times! Many of the actors are very well-known and popular faces of TV serials. Its influence is noticed in their acting styles. Probably, they aren’t able to make much time for rehearsals and hence, forget their dialogues frequently. Panchanan Banerjee, who plays Peribulus, left his dialogues incomplete 5-6 times and then repeated the correct dialogue all over again. It felt like he was too eager to deliver his dialogues as soon as he could! Yes, this play is heavily dependent on dialogues, especially in the scene(the main part of the play) where the conversation between Archimedes and Mercilus takes place. Even Shantilal Mukherjee in the character of Mercilus didn’t have his dialogues in full control. But he’s an experienced actor. He has concentrated carefully on acting like getting drunk slowly and gradually. This is why the audience’s attention is grabbed by that stereotype covering the lack of control of his dialogues! The director Chandan Sen distorts his voice to play Archimedes in his old age but at times, his real voice slips out. Besides that, he walks but stooping down a bit, makes a few artificial body movements in the beginning, thus following another stereotype. Though Archimedes was 75 when he died, what he says in this play is important. Hence, his words should’ve reached the audience with a clear and steadfast voice; the distorted voice was not needed [1]! Due to the lack of interest of both the main actors, none of the dramatic moments took proper shape, the conflict in the play didn’t get communicated to the audience and the play remained only as a chain of dialogues! What causes more harm to the play is the weak acting, rather shouting, by the woman who plays the character of Leus in the beginning and the ending of the play. The main job of the chorus in these kinds of plays is to make the play move forward. But here they didn’t have any primary work other than running from one end to the other wearing masks. Overall, it felt like the team was eager to stage the play just anyhow without investing any extra thought on the production.

Bhalo Lok- Pirandello again in an old-fashioned theatreEven in such a half-hearted production like this, the one who stood out was Rwitobroto Mukherjee. His character Gelon had a very short span onstage; but his energy, body language, speech pattern, etc. had certain freshness and a taste of modernism. He was like a breath of fresh air in this weak and old-fashioned production. There’s no doubt about him going a long way. Hopefully, he won’t waste his talent for want of instant success or cheap popularity.

This was the second show of the production. The creators might say that the acting will be more polished and the play more compact after a few more shows. In that case, the question is: What’s the fault of the audience who watched this particular show? Why will they buy tickets to watch an underdeveloped production? When will the theatre audience stop being taken for granted? Do the creators think that the audience are satisfied enough to watch serial actors onstage and don’t care about how the production has actually been? If not, then why have they taken the play so casually? If the theatre loving audience start demanding answers aggressively from the creators, only then can they stop taking their own productions this casually.

[1] In ‘Socrates-er Jobanbondi’, Dwijen Bandyopadhyay had played Socrates with a strong and clear voice. Also, Socrates, too, was above 70 when he died.

Anjan Nandi
A science student, postdoctoral researcher, writer-translator of science oriented popular literature and a dedicated audience of theatre for last two decades, he has observed many changes in Bengali theatre from a very close proximity. He is a regular contributor in Bengali Wikipedia and engages himself deeply in photography and cinema.

Translation: Kankabati Banerjee

Read this review in Bengali.

বাংলাতে পড়তে ক্লিক করুন।

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