Bukjhim Ek Bhalobasha – A Novel Enacted

Posted by Kaahon Desk On July 14, 2017

The play Bukjhim Ek Bhalobasha thematically centers on a tragic tale of triangular love set in the time of the reign of the Twelve Bhuinyas in medieval Bengal. Chand Sultana, the sister of a formidable Bhuinya, Mohabbatjung, falls in love with Mansur Bayati, a folk singer and the brother of a marginal farmer, Haider. Mohabbatjung, brushing aside his wife Noorjahan’s protests, tricks Chand into a marriage with another zamindar, Firoze Shah. Mohabbatjung does not kill Mansur, but does probably worse by silencing his voice by administering poison. When Firoze Shah comes to know of Chand’s love for Mansur, he tries to restore Mansur’s voice and also reunite the lovers. But both Mansur and Chand Sultana die, leaving behind a grieving Firoze Shah who is given company by Abul, the late Mansur’s protégé. Many Indian folktales and folksongs narrate similar tragic sagas of love, but in some ways Bukjhim Ek Bhalobasha, produced by the theatre group Ekush Shatak, attempts to break a few established patterns. Not that the attempt is entirely successful, but we will come to that later.

Previous Kaahon Theatre Review:

These days, Bengali theatre runs on the fuel of big starry names, even as it is nourished by government grants. Sraman Chattopadhyay, the director cum actor, seeks to challenge this mode of theatre making. There is no star who is cast, and there is no attempt to fashion a flamboyant show packed with lavish set, props, lights, music, costume. There is no urge even to come up with a play-script as we know it – rather, Syed Shamsul Haque’s novel is presented without too much reworking. The mode of acting is decidedly minimalist – Chattopadhyay, who essays all the characters, both male and female, does so by relying on subtle variations of speech patterns and gestures to indicate different characters. Such constructions have been presented in the past with Shaoli Mitra’s Nathabati Anathbath and Gautam Halder’s Meghnadbadh Kavya being notable examples. Sraman Chattopadhyay scores by being able to suggest quite a lot without doing too much. What makes one appreciate Chattopadhyay and his team is that they seem to have a crystal clear vision as to what they wish to achieve and a definite strategy of execution, coupled with a steadfast confidence in their ability to perform what they have conceived.

Because the central narrative deals with a singer, Mansur, and his love affair with Chand Sultana, who is also a singer in her own right, songs play a cardinal role in this production. Hence, some words about the songs sung during the course of the play. The songs have not been sung with an intention to mechanically replicate the mode of singing and pronunciation associated with the Bayatis. Modern instruments such as the banjo and the guitar have been used. It is quite evident that the songs, which are part of a tradition that has lasted centuries, have been performed after having been received and processed by a consciousness that is definitely educated, urban and of the 21st century. As a result, not only have the audience been able to easily penetrate the play through the songs, but we have also been presented with a phenomenon that merits mention. Folksongs, being part of the tradition of orality, accrue the signs and marks of time and space as they continue to be sung and they carry on their bodies layers and layers of change. The manner in which Sraman and his fellow performers have entered the inner realm of an oral tradition through a printed text and have left their imprint upon that tradition is eminently praiseworthy. In an article written recently, singer and music researcher Moushumi Bhowmik writes (my translation): “A song is created when the listener accepts it, assimilates it, receives it with an open mind. That is when the song is correctly pronounced – you can utter the song”. (For the full article in Bengali, please visit https://goo.gl/L2xAvQ). Of course, Moushumi Bhowmik here is drawing upon the special sense in which the word pronunciation is used to indicate the manner in which some song performances become an utterance of the artist’s spirit. In this sense, the songs sung by Sraman and his companions in the play, instead of being mere exercises in phonetic fidelity, have indeed become pronouncements of their thinking minds. I unstintingly praise all who are involved in the play’s music-making – Shubadip Dey (music director), Indradip Sarkar, Chakrapani Deb, Jayanta Saha, Shusruta Goswami, Sraman Chattopadhyay and his co-actors, Sarbajit Ghosh and Suhanishi Chakraborty.

Syed Shamsul Haque’s language is itself an almost tangible presence on the stage. The various characters with their conflicts and peculiarities are expressed through language as are the dynamics of their relationships. The imagery-laden language articulates the human world with its palaces, humble huts, the futile anger of the poor, the claustrophobic existence of women in a man’s world and the order of nature with its fields, forests and, of course, the mighty Brahmaputra.

To come to why, in my opinion, this minimalist production has not entirely succeeded in exploding established patterns, I will refer to an excellent article (https://goo.gl/EmPAo4) written by the very gifted essayist, Priyak Mitra. Though this article has been an enlightening read, I will beg to differ with it on one count. Mitra has argued how the light (Chandan Das) and set (Kaustavchakraborty, Anirban Chakraborty) have added signification to the performed text. Against this notion, I wish to propose that the play demands a fixed light scheme, simply for the sake of visibility, and an unmarked backdrop. When so much is achieved only through the use of body and voice, the reliance on a clichéd lighting scheme (wavy blue to suggest flowing water and red to indicate death) and also on a partly abstract, partly symbolic backdrop with lines and colours, has managed only to insert conventional dramatic over-signaling. What Subodh Patnaik, one of the most important directors in contemporary Indian theatre, has to say about the use of unchanging light (https://goo.gl/Psqrrj) can be considered particularly in the context of Bukjhim Ek Bhalobasha. A final point before concluding. While it is true that the structure of the narrative and the protocol of folksongs (where a singer can sing in multiple voices) do endorse solo performance, indeed very ably executed by Sraman Chattopadhyay, the question remains, keeping in view the nature of theatre as a medium, whether the play could have been mounted as a collective performance. This question raises its head every time the co-actors perform their small but significant bits.

P.S.: The Mansur, Chand and Firoze love triangle will invariably put us in mind of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Hum Dil De ChukeSanam. Let us discount the construction of gorgeous visual sequences throughout the film and think only about how the wife is returned to the husband at the end, turning the tragic ending into a happy one, and thereby validating the institution of marriage. In the context of free market economy, artworks are not just consumables, but are required to perpetuate the ‘feel good’ consumption-conducive environment that has no place in it for the tragic or for ideas that question social structures. Bukjhim Ek Bhalobasha, by presenting the sad, a-social love story of Mansur, Chand and Firoze in a deglamorized understated idiom stands somewhat in political opposition to the trend of our times.

Dipankar Sen

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