Byatikrom (The Exception) – Old political wine in a new bottle

Posted by Kaahon Desk On July 10, 2018

On the occasion of Nandikar’s 59th birthday on 29th June, 2018 at Academy of Fine Arts, Nandikar’s Bengali play ‘Byatikrom(The Exception) has been staged as a part of the series of performances. It is based on Bertolt Brecht’s ‘The Expression and the Rule’ and is translated and directed by Rudraprasad Sengupta. Nandikar first staged this play back in 1980. The same production has been presented and this time with a group of fresh young members.

Nandikar has gifted more than 80 productions to Bengali theatre in 58 years. Apart from regular productions and theatre performances, Nandikar has conducted many sessions for grooming children of slums, footpaths and so-called red light areas and handicapped students in theatre practice. It had organised National Theatre Festival in 1984 and has been continuously conducting theatre workshops since 1986. The workshop participants who were hard worker and dedicated, have really made their mark in Bengali theatre afterwards.

Previous Kaahon Theatre Review:

On the other hand, decades after decades, West Bengal, actually Kolkata to be precise, has been engaged in the study of Brecht. Today, the theatre of Bengal is still equally excited about Brecht because as a poet and dramatist he was the greatest exponent of ‘Social Theme’. For Brecht both historical and contemporary incidents through which the struggle is depicted were equally significant. The intrusion of politics in art’s sphere didn’t intimidate Brecht at all. If we observe it from a different angle, he actually used to practice politics along with art as if it was a very normal thing. He knew that if politics is made oblivious from drama then art’s social significance will diminish.

The Expression and the Rule‘, written in 1930 is one of Brecht’s ‘Learning Play’ series. Through the dramas of this category, Brecht makes the audience aware of their social and political position along with the evils of capitalism by making their minds go through elevated tension. The strong always dominates the weak, the strong is always the bourgeois class and the weak is the proletariat class, we think that the weak will get their justice at the end but in reality it does not happen like that – even though it is very pessimistic, the drama teaches us this exact thing. The protagonist of the drama is an avaricious and sceptical merchant. The merchant is running through a desert in search of oil mine along with a coolie and guide. Rival merchants trailing behind. The merchant hurries the guide because he needs to reach the city of Urgah before his rivals where there is an oil mine. ‘If you want to be successful, suspect everyone’ – this was the merchant’s philosophy. He thinks that the people around him are his enemies. They belong to the different class, so they will backstab him the first chance they get but they will help each other being in the same class. Under this spell of doubt he first fires the guide. The merchant is running behind money, the sun over him is scorching, the sand under his feet is hot, his throat is dry and he’s about to die because of excitement and labour. At this moment the coolie extends his own water vessel towards the merchant because the coolie thinks that denying a thirsty person water is a sin. But the merchant thinks that the coolie is coming to stone him to death so he shoots him and the coolie ends up being dead. The wife of the coolie complains in the court about the merchant and asks for his punishment and compensation for herself. Thus the trial of criminal merchant is started. The trial is more like a farce. All the elements are in place to prove the merchant not guilty. The merchant through his power of money has access to police and justice system. The judge decrees that the merchant is innocent and the coolie is the culprit because he always thought himself to be the poor class, so he hated the bourgeoisie. This illogical act of mercy is the ‘Exception’. It’s only natural for the coolie to attack so merchant can easily mistake the water vessel as a stone. So this was an act of self defence. The merchant is proved innocent, the coolie is proved to be the culprit and the poor wife’s accusation is refuted in the court.

The ‘Byatikrom‘ of Nandikar that was performed more than 100 times back in 1980 has been wrapped with modernity by director Rudraprasad Sengupta, Sohini Sengupta assisting him. Through the minimalist stage (Debabrata Maiti), few essential components, poster, placards the time, place and situation has been presented. The chorus team’s performance also helpes the main actors. The production is actually a collage of dance, songs and acting. The song helps the acting to move forward, it compliments the dialogue. Gautam Chaudhary has used simple, lucid language in the songs but with heightened significance. If we talk about acting then the first name to make an impression is Saptarshi Mallick in the merchant’s role. He has tried his best to make the merchant’s character believable to us through his voice and gait. The hard work in the performances of Somesh Saha (coolie) and Ayan Ghosh (guide) was quite visible.

The lighting (Abhrajit Banerjee) in the play is adequate if not extraordinary. The usage of low-light in most scenes goes well with the presentation. The journey through the river scene is executed nicely which is accompanied by great lighting, making an impression in audience’s mind.

The music of the play was created by one of theatre world’s most iconic and popular music composers, Late Shri Debashis Dasgupta. His central theme is unchanged and new things have been added. Live music has been served through orchestra. The presence of chorus in every song and the high pitch of the songs sometimes result in the loss of details and melody.

We can safely say that the presentation has been successful through the hard work of a group of hard working and earnest young actors. There’s also a touch of modernity in the production. But the main anecdote could’ve been moulded in contemporary scenario to make it more attractive, the audience could also interpret the characters’ alienation through it. Why would such dramas won’t talk about contemporary politics is left unanswered. So there’s a sense of dissatisfaction. Nandikar through their productions have set a high benchmark for themselves. This production situates a bit lower than that.

Brecht was not only a Marxist, he also used to think that it was impossible to be a theatre activist without being a Marxist. He based his works on this philosophy. Amidst waning strength of Marxism, the popularity of Brecht’s plays is still surging. The theme of the play is still especially significant when we observe that criminals through their influence is getting away and living peacefully in foreign countries.

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: Biplab Mazumder

Related Updates


Follow Us

Show Calendar

Message Us