Bhootaneshwi – A Product of Spectral Times

Posted by Kaahon Desk On May 19, 2018

Bally Prabhat Natya Sanstha has tried to answer one of Bengali theatre practice’s long-standing questions through their production, Bhootaneshwi (script, concept and execution- Eenu Chakraborty). The question is – what is to be done to make a play a hit? Framed this way, this question begs another very basic question, which is, why do theatre at all? Does one do theatre so that one may express a range of artistic, social and political views/philosophies through theatre, or does one do it to draw audiences I large numbers? Even those who believe in doing theatre for the first-mentioned reason wish that many watch their plays. However, they try not to include unnecessarily in their drama or their play such elements that are known to pull in crowds. On the other hand, those who aim simply to cater to their audiences’ tastes will cook their plays accordingly. Let it be said unambiguously that no one, least of all the present critic, can have any problem with a play becoming a huge popular success, earning for the team and the members a substantial economic reward. But Bhootaneshwi is a different case because this play designed as a crowd-pleaser has some fundamental problems. To discuss those problems one needs to go back to question already asked – what is to be done to make a play a hit?

The simple, blunt answer that Prabhat Natya Sanstha has given to the question is this –get a play to become like a movie or a television serial to ensure that it becomes a hit. The makers have assumed that playgoers are so immersed in cinema and TV that a play made to become a movie will have a much better chance of being appreciated. How does the play Bhootaneshwi become a movie? On the posters and tickets of this play based on Byomkesh Bakshi, the most saleable property in Bengali cinema right now, we note, ‘Timir Chakraborty presents…’. Though he is an actor in the play too, Chakraborty’s major role is that of a producer’s. He has pumped money into the production, has invested in it and one invests in order to reap profits.


Bhootaneshwi – A Product of Spectral Times

The poster also credits the title song makers, the production controller, media partner etc., categories that insistently push the play towards the condition of cinema. Even the general design of the poster is such that one might mistake it to be a poster for a film; it can be assumed the makers deliberately want people to think this way. A number of promotional videos of the play floating in social media are promising theatre audiences a cinematic experience. It must be pointed out, however, that these videos are creating a somewhat misleading expectation about the play’s visual content – there are some visuals in the videos filmed using such camera angles that in order to give to a member of the audience that particular visual, the poor theatre-goer has to be hung upside down from the ceiling.

Previous Kaahon Theatre Review:

When the externals are so invested in making a movie out of the play, it is not surprising that the play with internalize such an agenda. As Bengalis we have constructed our sense of identity in such a manner that while demanding sexuality, violence etc. from art, we wish such a demand to be met under the garb of intellectual practice. The world of Saradindu, that is so full of violence, sexuality, greed and also the play of a refined intellect at work to unravel mysteries, perfectly fulfills that demand. Moreover, doing Saradindu ticks the box of dabbling in classics. Bhootaneshwi has tried to rope people in using Saradindu. However, not being very certain whether Saradindu can pull in crowds on his own steam, the makers of the play have taken matters in their own hands. They have made changes in the text and the changes clearly show exactly what the makers of the play are depending upon to draw in crowds. A few examples. 1. Satyabati’s character has been added to the text and she has been given an extraordinary entry. We first see her, in leggings and T-shirt, back to the audience, bending down to touch her feet in a Yogic posture. After this she spends little time on stage, in which span Byomkesh pulls her on to his lap twice without any apparent reason whatsoever and at one point of time she exits the play, literally with bag and baggage, having contributed nothing to the main plot. 2. Brishti, the daughter of the murder victim Umapati Sen, is an important character in the play. The makers of the play attempt to make this character more appealing by inventing an indoor swimming pool scene that has a bare-chested man in a bathing robe sipping whiskey, guarded by a black eyeshade toting thug, the entry of Byomkesh and Ajit after a while and finally, the entry of a lissome Brishti in a swimming costume, partially behind a towel. 3. A character named Nimai Hazra is given an extended stage time, though his involvement with the main action is negligible. He is presented as a ‘man who speaks like a woman’ (probably a gay) so that the audience might find him to be a reason of crude fun. Thus, the play is constructed with a touch of glamour, a dash of sexual titillation and dollops of politically incorrect, offensive and low humour, all of which can be recognised as staple elements in the formula that a certain type of Bengali films use hoping to pull in crowds. As a murder mystery, the text is quite weak, primarily because, unlike the better specimens of this genre, Bhootaneshwi does not drop random clues for the audience to pick up as to the identity of the murderer. The source story, Byomkesh and Boroda, is certainly not among Saradindu’s best. And the makers of the play, despite the opportunity being present, have steered clear of attempting a somewhat serious study of lust, greed and violence that mark human lives, lest the audience are put off.

It is a given that light, music and stage design will be more gimmicky than text-driven in a play like Bhootaneshwi that employs all old tricks of the (cinema) trade to produce a hit. The day this reviewer watched the play (Tapan Theatre, 5th May), a major accident due to the same structural problem of the set was twice averted by a whisker. The light projection was also beset with glitches on that day. Not much can be said about the acting, other than the fact that almost all actors portrayed their rather uncomplicated, one-dimensional characters with a show of skill particularly needed for this type of text. While Sumit Roy, Sraman Chatterjee, Prasenjit Bardhan and Amrapali Mitra (among the well-known faces) fulfilled the demands of the play, among the relatively new faces Prasenjit Biswas and Anuran Sengupta stood out.

It has been while now that an effort is afoot, led by some senior theatre practitioners, to make Bengali theatre economically prosperous by injecting in it the gloss and gait of movies. Let it be repeated that nothing can be better than Bengali theatre getting rich as a result of huge crowds patronising it. But it seems implausible that making plays become film-like or using formulae borrowed from films will bring about the desired prosperity. One can characterise the present times as one in which some plays have been visited by the ghost of films; Bhootaneshwi is a product of such a ghostly time. Whether the audience will remain under this spectral spell or will emerge as shamans to cast the ghost away, only the future will tell.

Dipankar Sen
A student of theatre as an art practice, he is definitely a slow (but hopefully, steady) learner. He is a father, a husband and a teacher of English literature in the West Bengal Education Service. His other interests include literature in translation and detective fiction.

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