Bazimatt – A confusion with the source text; sign of dishonesty in Bengali theatre

Posted by Kaahon Desk On July 26, 2019

Bazimatt, a Bengali play written and directed by Shyamal Kumar Chakraborty and presented by Natakwala theatre group, was staged few days back on 14th July, 2019 at Academy of Fine Arts auditorium, Kolkata. The play is produced under the financial assistance of the Ministry of Culture, Government of India. This review is based on the show presented on 25th April, 2019 at Madhusudan Mancha, Kolkata.

The play is advertised as ‘for the first time in Bengali inspired by James Hadley Chase’. The famous British thriller and adventure writer James Hadley Chase (1906-1985) is not an unfamiliar name to the Indian reader or audience. His works have been translated across languages and have also been adapted for films. His There’s Always a Price Tag is a celebrated novel. Usually in thrillers murders are made to look like suicides. Here the events are completely the opposite; the challenge here is to prove a suicide as murder! In that sense the story is unique. Uttam Gada, a Gujrati playwright, following this story wrote a play named Maharathi. Under the directorial guidance and participation of renowned actor Shri Paresh Rawal, the play became a big hit in 1987. In 2008 this Gujrati play was adapted for a Hindi film under the same name, produced by and starring Rawal himself, with Uttam Gada’s name as the writer. Although this critic has not gone through or watched the Gujrati play, the film is easily available for all. So there is enough reason to claim that this play Bazimatt has literally followed the events, structure and dialogue of Maharathi, at least at 90% of the places. The play has more things in common with Maharathi than with its original English source by Hadley Chase! For example, the resemblance of the accidents towards the beginning of the play where it was both shown in the film and suggested in the play that an electric poll crashed onto the car of drunk individual; whereas in the original story the man was about to come under a truck. Even the scene where the inhaler is thrown out of the window is nowhere in the original but taken from the film! Moreover the role of attorney, who is a marginal character in the original story and appears only once, gets to be one of the prime characters both in the film and the play!!

Previous Kaahon Theatre Review:

A tragic tone can be found in various works of Hadley Chase along with There’s Always a Price Tag. The criminal hatches a great plan to commit a crime but in the end comes to realize that it was entirely meaningless and unnecessary! To a director of film or play such tragedies are highly desirable. This distinctive feature is carefully done away with in Maharathi (and in Bazimatt too). In the source text, the protagonist is a felonious character who conspires a crime but accidentally ends up committing a murder and is later arrested by the police. In the film, however, the protagonist is a petty criminal and although he too conspires to commit the crime, he has nothing to do with the ensuing death and in the end is blessed with a fortune as well as a heroine! The immature perspective of the Indian filmmakers regarding the concept of ‘Anti-hero’ might be the reason behind this change. They, in a way, possibly take it for granted that no matter how abominable their crimes are, the protagonists should always be allowed to garner the audience’s sympathy (a plethora of examples are available, such as, Baghbandi Khela or Baazigar etc.)! This mentality is further extended in Bazimatt where the protagonist Banku (Gautam Halder) is not even presented as a criminal but a very honest man, building a hospital in the end with the bestowed money (the rest is same with Maharathi)! And to bring in this context of hospital, another character is transformed from a film producer to a descendant of a great doctor! But nobody seems to care that this change in turn is altering the other equations between action and consequence in the play! The character of lady caretaker is a weak point of the play (and the film as well); her character and related events reflect strong Western influence. No attempts have been taken to contextualize the character in credible Indian grounds. On the whole, it can be fairly claimed that if Hadley Chase’s original story comes to bite the dust in Maharathi, Bazimatt has successfully coffined it for good!

Adha Adhure – Successful staging of a timeless drama on middle class mindscapes

But a play does not consist of a text only but also some other important components. But do they have any particular significance in a play that is totally dependent on imitation? The set, designed by Madan Halder, is flashy and expensive. Along with it, the stage is crowded by multiple light sources (designed by Dinesh Podder), having hardly any utility! In terms of acting, Babu Dattatray is still under the shadow of Shambhu Mitra. Gautam Halder is a legendary actor of this age! But he tends to be rather out of place in characters or plays which have no touch of intense peculiarity in their form. Unfortunately, this character (and the play as well) does not go with him. He has tried his best to forge the character in his own smithy but circumstances were never in his favor. It can thereby be said that this play has failed to do justice to Gautam’s forte. On the contrary, the actor in the role of the caretaker has attracted attention by her Gautamesque acting. Shyamal Kumar Chakraborty has failed to induce credibility to the character of attorney. Kamal Brahma’s physique goes well with the character of inspector but it required a bit more charisma. The whole play reeks of a sense of patchwork which is hard to overlook for an aware audience! But the pomp and show of craft and the formidable presence of a star like Gautam Halder so apparently cover its weaknesses up, that the common audience never loses the interest in the play!

This production so blatantly suggests us of a resurging tendency of dishonesty in Bengali theatre that it is simply impossible to ignore! It is clearly translated from the film (or play) Maharathi, and there are fair chances that the translator has never even laid eyes on the original text! Yet the writer of Maharathi is not only nowhere acknowledged but the play is also claimed to be an adaptation of the original source text! It is debatable whether this is an attempt to target the audience’s fetish for foreign names or a deliberate reluctance to acknowledge Indian writers or a consequence of a general underestimation of the audience! Getting to watch a play with such expensive set and lighting along with such star cast, all provided by the Government fund, compels us to think twice whether the production is actually serving some greater dirty purpose!!!



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- Rishav Dutta

Read this review in Bengali.

বাংলাতে পড়তে ক্লিক করুন।

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