Athoi Jol – A novelesque theatre, staging of literature

Posted by Kaahon Desk On June 14, 2019

There’s been very few projects in Bengali Theatre based on the works of Bibhutibhushan  Bandyopadhyay. Very few works have been staged and most of them have been discontinued after a few shows. His most famous novels like Aranyak, Kinnar Dal, Pather Panchali, Ashani Shanket, and Adarsha Hindu Hotel have been adapted and presented in the Bengali theatre stages. Although Adarsha Hindu Hotel is still relevant in our memory, the same cannot be said about the other plays. Adarsha Hindu Hotel gained its popularity from its regular staging at Rangmahol and Srirangam auditoriums during the 50s and 60s, for this reason it is still remembered by the people and often reminisced. Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s writings have this vastness about them, often described as ‘paintings of life on the canvas of the skies’. To condense this vastness in the small boundary of theatre, all while keeping the true essence intact is not only difficult but nearly impossible, which explains the scarcity of Bibhutibhushan in Bengali theatre. The recent effort by the group Purba Paschim has tried to challenge this predominant conception by staging his novel ‘Athoi Jol’. It needs to be mentioned here that this group has shown a tendency to challenge from their inception. They have already staged Rabindranath, Tarashankar, Manik Bandyopadhyay, and Satyajit Ray’s writings in all their vastness. The latest addition to this list is their new production ‘Athoi Jol’. The adaptation has been done by Ujjwal Chattopadhyay, edited and directed by Bratya Basu. The 30th staging of the play was recently held in Girish Mancha, on 27th April.

Previous Kaahon Theatre Review:

A happy family of a middle aged doctor named Sashanka Mukherjee with his wife and two children live in the Batashpur village. He is an ethical and disciplined person. He is a respected member of the community, and the people of the village come for his advice when in a social dilemma, taking his words as commands. A man with a strong ethical sense, Shashanka is always eager to keep his village free from any scandal. He strongly handles any unethical act carried out by a villager, no matter however small they may be. He is a man with a big heart, and treats his poor patients without remuneration. Only things that matter to him are his profession and the social well-being of the people. He doesn’t have the mind or time for any other passion or desire. One day he gets stranded in a nearby village called Mangalgunj in a storm. Coincidentally the villagers had arranged a dance performance on that particular night. Although he resisted at first, he eventually gave in to the invitation of the villagers and joined the gathering. He starts feeling a strong sense of desire towards the young, beautiful, and seductive dancer Panna. He loses himself in the deep waters of desire and Arabian funk, perpetuated by the beauty, gaze, and the posture of the dancer. He realises the fact that he loves his wife Surabala, but he could never expect from her what Panna had to offer. He leaves behind everything that was once important to him, the society, his household, his profession, his discipline and ethical sense, and comes to Kolkata with her. He begins to live with Panna depending fully on her profession. The union of this peculiar couple with all their age and class differences is epitomised by the love they feel for each other. Love is the basic idea behind this story.

Some adjustments, negations, and additions are essential while adapting a Novel into a play. Some of these adaptations have enhanced the basic idea behind this play, and some of them have seemed excessive and gone against it. The presentation of Shashanka’s two different selves (in adolescence and in maturity) has fleshed out the dilemma going on inside him in various levels. The cinematic implementation of the two selves of Panna during the dancing scene is especially significant. The depiction of the psyche of the two primary characters by the original author is quite complicated to be presented in the sphere of theatre, but the adaptation has stood out commendably. The director deserves credit here too. He has assigned each character with the space it requires to grow. The inspector in the original story was depicted as a hard headed character set out against crimes, but in the play he has been transformed into a characterless character prone to bribery, which has annihilated the structure of the character. It was a seemingly unnecessary step to take. The ending has been altered significantly. After his affair with Panna breaks down prematurely he goes through a phase of unbearable restlessness and misery, which induces a depth of emotions among the reader which properly justifies the lovelorn tale. But in the play Shashanka goes back to his family and resumes his previous life. This ‘happy ending’ has seriously jeopardised the core idea of the story.

Debshankar Halder in the role of Shashanka has carefully explored the contrast inside the character. Although his mannerism seems to affect the character from time to time, but owing to his vast experience and capabilities he mixes them with the character with ease. Subarna Mitra Das in the role of Panna has acted brilliantly alongside the veteran actor. The stark personality of her character contrasted by her seductive and youthful pronunciation fleshes out her role, aided by her gaze and expression. Rajeswari Nandi in the role of Surabala, and Chalantika Ganguli in the role of Nila are also worth mentioning. Their acting is fluent, although that’s not the case for the other actors, who are prone to monotony and flat acting.

কিরীটীর নোটবুক- একটি দায়সারা বাংলা নাটক

The stage decoration by Prithwis Rana is intelligent. Revolving stage has been used to signify the change in setting, and the character’s transition from place to place has been depicted flawlessly. Different sizes of frames have been used to hint the windows and doors. There was no trace of extravaganza in the lighting, Dinesh Poddar has arranged the lighting thoughtfully, thanks to which the scenes between Panna and Shashanka have gained a special dramatic significance. Similar to lighting the background music (Subhadip Guha) has also played an important part. The use of Khyamta (a crude for of folk dance) has preserved the centre of gravity of the story nicely. The music has aided this sector especially. The voice behind Panna’s songs is of the talented contemporary singer Emon Chakraborty.  This is her first involvement in theatre, which is a bonus for the audience. The costume by Malabika Mitra and Madhumita Dam are compatible with modern times, but the shiny whiteness of the costume of the villagers disturbs the visual sense. Shashanka in the guise of Panna’s manager did not require the bandana he was assigned.

Stage decoration, lighting, acting, music, the singing and the dancing; everything comes together in this two hour five minute long play to create an enjoyable package, which is easily discernible from the number of tickets sold. Although it is hard to judge the quality of a play solely on the number of audience. At the end it needs to be noted that we ought to be thankful to Purba Paschim for presenting a lesser known story like ‘Athoi Jol’ of Bibhutibhushan, who is not very popular in Bengali Theatre arena,  in front of us. We hope they will continue this trend in the future.

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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