Bhanu Sundarir Pala – A relevant contextualization of Shakespeare through Bengali folk theatre

Posted by Kaahon Desk On November 2, 2019

One of the most unique genres in the popular culture is that of ‘Pala Gaan’ or, so to say, narrative opera. Pala Gaan is basically narratives based on tales, and their stories acquire their shape from regional incidents or legends. These tales usually have only one plot without any other subplot attempting to enter and complicate the chief narrative. Due to a single storyline, the attention of the audience is undivided, and thus, the narrative swiftly advances towards the climax. The reason for discussing this subject is Chakdah Natyajan’s production ‘Bhanu Sundarir Pala’, which has been executed in the form of Pala Gaan.  The play has been written and directed by a young and talented Pala performer, actor and director of Bangladesh named Sayiq Siddiqui. The play has been adapted from and inspired by Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Its narrative has been developed as per our native environment and comprises the regional Bengali diction of Kishorgunj. The troupe staged this play on 26th October, 2019 at Girish Mancha though this review is dedicated to its 54th show on 22nd September, 2019 at Minerva Theatre.

Previous Kaahon Theatre Review:

The intense creative talent of this Bangladeshi theatre artist Sayiq Siddiqui has managed to cross the borders of many countries in the world and even beyond. Quite a few of his Palas have been praised nationally as well as internationally and have become the topic of discussion. Some of his works are ‘Roopchan Sundarir Pala’, ‘Khwaab Sundarir Pala’, ‘Jayatoon Bibir Pala’, ‘Bhanu Sundarir Pala’ and ‘Koinya Sundarir Pala’ among others. Sayiq is constantly trying to create new methods of presenting the historic tradition of Pala Gaan to the newest generation of audience. Here in this Bengal too, growing interest in the tradition of Pala Gaan can be noticed in the people of the current generation. Executing plays in the aforementioned form isn’t new in Bangla theatre. Many a few such plays had been staged that had gained popularity in the past; even in the present. Besides Chakdah Natyajan, a particular theatre group in Bankura regularly performs another Pala written by Sayiq Siddiqui in different parts of the state. A characteristic of Siddiqui is that he could turn any incident, folklore, tale or legend into a story that is relevant to the current modern society. His Palas contain certain messages that often become the language of protest.

“Bhanu with all her liveliness moves across all who gather, I hope, Goddess Saraswati, you respond to my prayer…” With this quoted prayer starts ‘Bhanu Sundarir Pala’. Shakespeare’s characters of Romeo and Juliet have been presented in an indigenous form through Siddiqui’s characters of Bhanumati and Chandrakumar. These two characters have a romantic relationship. The mutual dispute between the two families is being a barrier to their impending wedding. Apart from a secret wedding and a few other incidents, the Pala ends as a tragedy where both Bhanu and Chandra take their own lives.

The actors have performed according to the playwright’s style of narrating the story. The greatest treasure of this production is the lively and credible performances of a bunch of young actors of the group. A lovely blend of music and dance in the play surely pleases the audience. Various connections to the country life and the context of modernity have been excellently brought up through humour. The strength of the actors to perform impromptu could be witnessed while they connect with the audience. In this kind of acting, it could be seen how an actor creates, alters and continuously deconstructs a character – it’s quite interesting to watch. One or two actors need to pay attention to their pronunciation while speaking in the regional diction.

Abritto – Objectifying the position of Theatre amid Jatra and Television Soap

The main pillar of this play is its music and its songs. Not only do they narrate the incidents of the play but they also produce a nice rhythm in the forward movement of the play. Becoming a protagonist in the play, the music holds the entire production in a strong bond. With the help of harmonium, flute, tabla and dhol, the tunes of the songs find a concrete shape that skillfully create the perfect ambience for the play; the accompaniment of the vocal harmony works flawlessly with the rest of the arrangements. To produce the essence of a Pala gathering, the stage has been kept unornamented except for two colourful paper chains hanging on either side. Even though intricate light design is not too significant for such plays, the use of moderate yet colourful lights helps create the desired mood onstage for the play. The make-up and costumes of the characters too have become important in increasing the credibility of the play.

In the present time, when complications in the form of executing plays are constantly increasing, new forms are being explored and used, plays are being destroyed with the use of excessive technology and irrelevant choreography and when the stage is becoming a platform for circus and acrobatics, ‘Bhanu Sundarir Pala’ by Chakdah Natyajan stands praiseworthy and necessary. This production in the form of the ancient and historic Pala Gaan has induced a distinct spark in the minds of the audience, which is great for the world of Bangla theatre.

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- Kankabati Banerjee

Read this review in Bengali.

বাংলাতে পড়তে ক্লিক করুন।

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