Bilwamangal Kabya – Modified climax in Girish’s play, inviting further modifications

Posted by Kaahon Desk On February 14, 2020

The pioneer of the Bengali theatre stage, Girishchandra Ghosh (1844-1911) was an actor, director, theatre instructor as well as the founder of the Bengali commercial stage! This year will be his 175th birth anniversary. On that occasion, Chakdah Natyajan has presented Ghosh’s play ‘Bilwamangal Thakur’ as their latest production to the audience with the name ‘Bilwamangal Kabya’ to pay him tribute. Along with editing, adding to and altering the original play to shape up the new one ‘Bilwamangal Kabya’, the playwright Ujjwal Chattopadhyay has also managed to direct it. Recently, 28th January 2020, this play was performed on Academy of Fine Arts stage.

Previous Kaahon Theatre Review:

Girishchandra Ghosh had received the content of his play from Guru Nabha Dass-ji’s ‘Bhaktamal’ (short biographies of more than 200 bhaktas). This play is of the ‘Bhakti Rasa’ or the aesthetics of devotion. Like all of his other plays on devotion, Ghosh has followed the Gauriyo Vaishnav ideology to assimilate the expressions of God and the devotees. But unlike the rest, this play is unique because in most of his plays he has shown the hero in the guise of God. Here, Bilwamangal is a human being of flesh and blood, who is achieving salvation due to intense devotion and worship. Ghosh himself had said that the play was about love and apathy. Even though there’s an apparent contradiction at first, we see the establishment of love and apathy through Ghosh’s humane and spiritual emotions. Let’s now come to the present day production. Playwright and director Ujjwal Chattopadhyay has kept the plot more or less the same but changed only the climax. He has given importance to the moving away from the impracticality of blind devotion to God to the decision of living life like that of a common man. But he hasn’t omitted the supernaturalism (where Bilwamangal actually sees God and gets back his vision) of the original play. Towards the end of the play, this practicality has been tried to be established where love for humanity is much bigger and better than blind devotion to God. Of course, it’s totally opposite to the belief with which Ghosh had originally written his play. Two main parts can be noticed in the play – in the first part, the plot moves forward showing a life based on reality. But after Bilwamangal’s eyes are destroyed, the plot becomes supernatural that passes on to a spiritual height. If the playwright had looked into the very conspicuous disparity between the two parts and had given a new shape to the play, the production could’ve been more real and believable to the audience. It’s important to remember that Girishchandra Ghosh had written ‘Bilwamangal Thakur’ as a devotional play itself and these kinds of plays have a certain structure, movement and conclusion.

In the original play, we find Bilwamangal mistaking a corpse to be a tree trunk and then swimming across the river holding that and climbing a wall with the help of a snake mistaking it for a rope, which shows Bilwamangal’s deep love for Chintamoni. This scene was depicted through dialogues but in this production it has been shown onstage. Ghosh had compared the tumultuous river to a venomous snake. Here, the presence of a snake in the river fills the audience with awe, even more when Bilwamangal kills the snake to use it as a rope to climb the wall. In the original play, there was a reason behind killing the snake and climbing the wall with its help (it’s said that if a serpent enters a hole, one cannot pull it out by its tail, no matter what). Also, besides the dramatic aspect, there was no proper reason to drag the corpse, mistaken for a tree trunk, to his house.

In the play, one of the most eminent actors of the present time, Debshankar Halder has played the character of Bilwamangal. By maintaining his high standard of acting with his immense experience and capability, he has tried to present the character as believably as he could. Yet at times, some traits of his previously played characters of well-known people seeped into the character of Bilwamangal. Such an impression is formed in the audience’s mind since he has played innumerable characters in various and different plays. There’s also a limit of being versatile as an actor!

Archimedes-er Mrityu- Failure to show proper care for a powerful playThe character of Pagolini in the play is vastly important. Through Pagolini, Ghosh has established the crux of the play – he has tried to reflect mysticism through spiritual syncretism. Besides that, when the heroine is in a precarious condition, Pagolini shows them the way to the spiritual world to achieve salvation. Above all, this character has been created so as to entertain the audience with her songs. Her songs help the play to move forward in the right path. In the production, Sanjita in the character of Pagolini performs very effectively through her fine acting and songs that help express the main substance of the play. Both her physical and verbal acting are remarkable. All the actors have maintained a standard in their acting except maybe one or two of them. Among them, Suman Paul as Sadhak and Shaili Dutta as Chintamoni were noticeably good.

The light design by Manoj Prasad has aesthetically enlightened the mood and ambience of the play. The music of the play by Subhadeep Guha is an important aspect. The tune of the songs has been kept the same as it was in the original play and the rest have also been made to match with the main tone of the play. The sound has helped the play to move forward in the right direction. Stagecraft by Neel Koushik has tried to depict the time period of the play. With two settings and very few modifications the scenes have been changed smoothly. Costume by Suparna Halder has matched with the reality of the time period and social situation. But when Bilwamangal leaves his house and wanders here and there in complete apathy, crystal clear clothes take away the credibility of the scene.

Chakdah Natyajan is a new theatre group. They presented Girishchandra Ghosh’s ‘Bilwamangal Thakur’ in a new guise to the audience. Though there are some questions about the production, they deserve praise for their dedication and effort. We hope to see more such work from them!

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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