Chhumantar : A failed journey towards the commercial theatre

Posted by Kaahon Desk On April 26, 2019

Theatre, traditionally, for the purpose of entertainment chose the realm of the spoken words to narrate stories while also representing life.  In the course of history, the technical and technological innovations in all the mediums through tri-dimensional, surrounding, immersive, kinesthetic and stereoscopic recorded audio-visual content have presented the audiences to internalize the lived space through the senses. If theatre has to contest mediums like television, cinema, web in narrating stories while representing the context as a matter of authenticating or perceiving realism, then it will automatically transformed into a dead art. Theatre, as a medium, boasts its existence with a power to use symbolic realities which implies empirical actuality. The path of growth for theatre as a medium does not lie in the fact, that how close it could reach naturalism, but through symbols how far it could affect the receptor’s imaginations, behaviors and force them into actions. World theatre at large has already succeeded to experiment with this art form and lead it to the further possibilities and Indian theatre comrades are not far behind.

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Interestingly for some strange unknown reason, some very senior theatre practitioners of Bengal try not to recognize this large potential of theatre as a medium of art and expression. They prefer to live in a time, when people were limited to a nascent cinema industry where even cinema represented theatre on screen and people went to theatre halls with their families to enjoy a break from their routine life! They were expecting to go to the theatre to relax and have fun rather than think deep about sophisticated literary plays. That was the time, when through brilliant performances, Bengal’s commercial theatre existed being the only medium of entertainment complemented with visuals. But, time has changed, so has the quotient of entertainment value! Only live enactment of stories of good versus evil using familiar motifs and archetypes ornamented with over the top emotions at a heightened platform do not entertain anymore the audiences of the digital age. Though a forceful trial, to entertain the new age audiences with such theatres was witnessed in Bengal stage through a play titled Chhumantar. Directed by Prasun Bhattacharya, produced by Lokokrishti, written by Jeet-Shatragni, the play narrates a story of a petty clerk working in a merchant office. This clerk, enacted by Phalguni Chatterjee, struggles to earn his respect from his wife, enacted by Rumki Chattopadhyay, as he failed to be either a famous person or earn a big fat monthly salary. Suddenly, magically, he bags a role in a advertising film and restores his love and affection from his family members. During the curtain call, the director announces that this play is staged not for giving any meaningful lessons of life but to be entertained with a happy message.  A person mesmerized with his/her smart phone even after the auditorium turns dark for the play to start can really be entertained by such a play is a real disastrous thought of a year though.

It is definitely a foolish idea to discuss in length about a play which is studded with a set design exhibiting imperfect card board remains, high voltage emoted dialogues by non-skilled actors (leaving aside the two leading protagonists though being veteran actors) a painful extract less story. But the discussion is ignited by the fact that is the play is financed   by Ministry of Culture, Government of India.  What motive tempted The Government to invest public money earned in pain by crores of Indian citizens in a play like Chhumantar really invokes suspicion.  Being the tax paying citizen, can we then conclude that the Hinduised political ideology of the ruling party got influenced by the script which hails the Indian family structure juiced with values and ethics and which sustains the power structure?  Ignoring the fact that a theater with similar form and content will bounce off the present generation from the medium called theater, rather than imbibing into it?! Government patronage is required for those art forms which are struggling to etch out the Art from mere entertainment, an experimental venture knowing the fact that initially they cannot earn their production cost by selling it. A much acclaimed theater group from Bengal, with veteran actors, celebrating the backdated theatrical storytelling form is being patronized and fathered by the Government indicates the greater circle of nepotism and corruption in this grant dependent theater culture of India, that must be reviewed.

Matir Gadi Mrichhakatik- An urban folkish presentation of an old Sanskrit drama

In conclusion, it can be said, that if one cannot pace up with the demands of time, then preserving the prestige and love earned from audiences with honor, one should avoid testing audience patience through art expeditions.


Srijayee Bhattacharjee
A postgraduate in film studies from Jadavpur University, Research Project Assistant in Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies, a thespian, creative producer and a writer.


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