Bhaadrajaa – Research based play, lesser height theatrically

Posted by Kaahon Desk On May 12, 2018

‘Spectator’ staged the first show of their play ‘Bhaadrajaa’, written and directed by Sudipto Chattopadhyay, on 3rd May 2018, at Gyan Mancha, Kolkata. The subject of this play is Bhadu, a local ritual in Purulia, West Bengal. The production, centering around the folklore of Bhadu, is claimed to be unique and different from the theatre with folk performance orientation because, the writer Sudipto Chattopadhyay has shaped the play based on his research on the dark and complex history of Bhadu coupled with his imagination, rather than making a mere illustration of the common mythos.

Previous Kaahon Theatre Review:

The folklore is a phenomenal creation of the folk society. The oral component of the social and rural economic history is deeply rooted in it. And since it is oral, the folklores, although based on the same narrative, appear to differ in course of time and place, depriving us of its very actuality. It is impossible to locate that actual form without the facts as well. The prevalent folklores on the Bhadu festivals too are not entirely historically and factually true. The research that has been done so far on the Bhadu tradition, based on the available facts, seems to have ceased at a certain point. This play, with its key of imagination, wishes to unfurl the history of Bhadu and thereby unlock that closed door to which the inaccessibility of facts has led it so far.

The narrative looks at the present through a rear view mirror and hence progresses keeping the present in close association to the past. The popular plotline of a recent film, in which the director has taken part as well, unavoidably impinges the narrative. The director, by designing his play with piecemeal scenes, uses the Bhadu-song as a connective thread between the scenes that in turn keeps the narrative afloat. Although the lyrics and tunes used in the play are mostly common, the director too has composed some of them. The present descendant of the Singhdeo lineage (perhaps the last of them) has himself told this story of his ancestors. But he is unaware of how much of this story is actually true. The play throughout its full course tries to locate the answers to those queries that this complex story so engenders. The narrative delineates the harsh consequences that Bhadravati and Bhadreshwari are subjected to, for which King Mahtab Singhdeo is to blame. Much like the story of King Dushmanta and Sakuntala, Mahtab Singdeo marries Bhadravati falling in love of her beauty in the forest but leaves her there without giving her any social recognition. Thereafter, the pregnant Bhadravati arrives at the king’s palace demanding her right that has been due but ultimately she is dismissed. Eventually she dies giving birth to Bhadreshwari. Afterwards when the king finds Bhadreshwari, now a teenager, he takes her with him to rectify his wrongdoings and begins to worship her. To keep his image intact and to conceal his sins, he murders her, consecrates her and initiates the Bhadu Puja; allowing only the women to take part in it. Thus, just to serve his own cause, he deified a common woman. This is the perfect example of a patriarchal class-ridden society. As we descend to the physical plane of reality and witness the daughter of the modern Singhdeo’s accountant being a victim of his lust, it stupefies us nonetheless, compelling us to recognize the public facade of flawed modernity and civility that we seem to consciously put up.

There are overall five actors in the play- Soumya Sengupta, Sraman Chattopadhyay, Barun Gangopadhyay, Arya Bandopadhyay and Arijita Mukhopadhyay. They have played almost 13-4 characters roughly, morphing quite frequently from one character to another. Despite the fact that all of the actors have been sincere in this rather tough job, there have been many instances where they seem to lack the believability of their act. Thanks to his experience, Soumya Sengupta has been successful in perfectly portraying the two characters of Mahtab Singhdeo and the present-day descendant of Singhdeo lineage, both of which don a similarity in their fundamental structure, by slightly altering his movements and expressions. By making swift alterations in his voice modulation, Sraman Chattopadhyay appears to have tried his best to delineate ‘Matan’ and some other minor characters but ultimately falls short of expectations, due to his indistinguishable movements, leaving his overdoing at some scenes rather prominent. Arya Bandopadhyay has portrayed Bhadravati’s jubilance, vulnerability and even her amour propre with great expertise. Besides, she has played the characters of Bhadreshwari and Saheli as well, which are equally flawless. But there was practically no difference between Arijita Mukhopadhyay’s portrayals of the characters of Queen Ahalya and Bouthan. Barun Gangopadhyay has played the characters of Prasad Mahato, Professor and the accountant. He looks comparatively agreeable in the role of the Professor, making the character quite believable with his expression and behaviour. Although there were some comical elements in the character, Gangopadhyay has been successful in keeping them in check, preventing the character from becoming an out and out comic one. Sraman Chattopadhyay and Arijita Mukhopadhyay deserve a special mention since they have also been the lead singers in the play. It should be also mentioned here that Sraman Chattopadhyay does have a melodic voice.

Arun Mondal has been successful in designing the stage with minimal elements as the play demands. He has convincingly created different environments by projecting the scenes on a cloaked quintet-stand and by frequently replacing its position to different perspectives between the scenes, has precisely depicted the change of locations within the narrative.

The songs by Mriganavi Chattopadhyay blend fittingly with the mood of the overall play, although it sounds a bit fidgety at times. But, the usage of live music throughout would have been perfect for this play.

Agnimitra Giri Sarkar too has been nice in designing the dress of the actors. When actors have to play multiple roles in plays, the dress plays a crucial role in it and Agnimitra has upheld that job precisely.

The lighting has been handled overall satisfactorily by Barun Kar, but his occasional operational miscalculations has disturbed the concentration of the audience.

Now coming to the theatrical composition of the play; with the right co-ordination of light, stage and music, the director gives a text its final shape on the stage by an accurate implementation of his talent, thought and creativity, which we eventually witness as the audience. The text gets its ultimate shape through many stages. The director attempts to acquire this compositional perfection by passing these stages thoroughly. But the director under consideration here, disappointed us, as the production seemed to fail to meet that expected height, marking its inadequacy to metamorphose into a definitive play from a text. To me, the main reason behind this is the serious deficit of poignant dramatic scenes in the play. Although the last scene reached its perfect height with the perfect coordination among the acting, lighting and music and rendered the moment notably. More such scenes were expected throughout the play. The background music of the play, at times, supersedes the lyrics of the connective songs, ultimately affecting the overall pleasure of the play. The prolonged length of the play too muddles the attention of the audience. So on the whole, despite the apparent carefulness in the composition, the play fails to culminate into perfection due to its lack of coordination among the dramatic elements.

Although it has been claimed to be the simplest illustration of the complex history of Bhadu, the abundant imagination and conjectures in the play, leave the claim unsubstantiated. A story certainly forms but it fails to find the truth. There is no portrayal of a new perspective of the history of Bhadu. But the story of Bhadu not only gives the local  picture of Manbhum but also sketches the greater impression of the society as a whole. This is where we can perfectly identify ourselves with the play and become one with it. And that is where the true significance of the play lies.

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: Rishav Dutta

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