‘Chorus’ represents what? Is this about collective consciousness as envisioned by our Marxist thinkers? What kind of consciousness are we talking about? Whose consciousness? How does one decide upon what’s ‘consciousness’ and what’s not? Who decides? Such thoughts constantly hit your mind as you are taken on the roller coaster ride of spectacular events, unfolding on the modest proscenium stage in CHORUS, the new production by 4th Bell Theatre.
Yes, it is a proscenium theatre but actors in Chorus didn’t confine themselves to the stage only. Some might even walk up to the audience and merge with the heterogeneous crowd as ‘chorus’, singing and dancing all around the auditorium. Remind you of the good old days of Utpal Dutt’s PLT Productions. But those you see now are essentially the ‘Gen X’ or ‘Gen Y’ representatives, in the age group 25-28, i.e. those you usually don’t associate with serious theatre or cinema. Yes, ‘Chorus’ has lots to say about cinema too, but we’ll come to that later…
To start with, let’s look straight into the face of the world we live in. The Fall of Berlin Wall within a few years from the Tiananmen Square Massacre, the persistence of the Cold War syndrome even after the disintegration of the Soviet Block, Che Guevara adorning designer T-shirts in the free market atmosphere and Indian ‘Marxists’ (read Bongs) beating up their ‘radical brethren’ in every nook and corner. From Cuba to West Bengal nothing seems to be in place! Hence the regime-change, to carry out the mandate of the ‘Chorus’ (that’s ‘WE’). But which ‘chorus’, please? Is it what an average Bengali office-babu or college goer readily identifies with? Or should this be the one that speaks of resistance movements in the fringes, only to be crushed by an all-powerful state? But isn’t the ‘state’ a chorus too?
One and half decades ago, our IT & Electronics Minister Bratya Basu (also a brilliant playwright), had stunned us with the story of a committed leftist worker, waking up from his big fat slumber after a huge time lapse. We get to know of him as a veteran ‘Naxalite’ (a modern Rip Van Winkle of sorts), debating passionately with a CPIM loyalist. Earlier we had seen Ashok Viswanathan with his debut feature film ‘Shunyo Theke Shuru’, harping along the same ‘Naxalite’ lines. Mrinal Sen’s iconic film with the name ‘Chorus’ or even his ‘Interview’ or ‘Padatik’ could also be referred to. Same applies to Govind Nihalni’s ‘Hazar Chaurasi Ki Maa’ based on Mahesweta Debi’s explosive novel. But this is 2016 and the realities around have undergone a sea change. So have our ‘allies’ and ‘adversaries’. A true representation of such times would be a ‘Chorus Vs Chorus’ analogy, where ‘Maoist detractors’ just don’t end up as retired goons on hired motor bikes. Does our ‘Chorus’ miss out something there?
A sing-song mode often helps us say heavy things in jest, which might otherwise go unaddressed. While ‘Kissa Kursi Ka’ never gets released, Satyajit Ray’s ‘Hirok Rajar Deshe’ reaches everyone. As for ‘Chorus’, young music director Indranil Mazumdar does a commendable job, with active participation of all actors and musicians who are most sporting. In fact, music and lyrics could be the greatest asset for this play. Not only do they enhance the overall production value, but also enable the actors to play around effortlessly with types and stereotypes, without sounding bookish. It’s a delicate balance, which could’ve easily tipped the scale, more so, when it’s a group of young students and fresh university grads/post-grads, including the playwright cum director Aniruddha Dasgupta. But nothing undermines the confidence with which Aniruddha rounds up his extremely talented pool of actors. Everyone is in perfect coordination on stage, even while singing out (together or in parts) in between their dialogues. Easily gliding over from one crowd scene to another, they successfully bring the choral identity to life. No character stands apart in bold capitals, at the same time, each one gets to grab the eyeballs. The actors utilise their youthful energy to the fullest, without being overtly ‘hep’ or ‘peppy’. Dealing with the young generation but not as pretty young things is a difficult job, and it’s done well. Unforgettable sequences bring out the class typecasts with utmost hilarity: The comically typified father-son relationship vs. mother’s ridiculous material aspirations, the mock-serious parting of young lovers over supposed political differences, the selfie dominated lifestyle of a Bangalorean couple, and the rise of a former CPI(M) cadre to a small-time TMC chief through managing auto-rickshaw unions.
What shines bright is the uninhibited sense of humour, dished out in the most casual manner. Therein lies the biggest challenge. Aniruddha and his actors are probably at their best while targeting the popular prototypes from mainstream cinema and TV, accentuating the anecdotal piques. Much to do with being a student of Film Studies, Aniruddha shows considerable courage in mocking the role of certain Tollywood barons in our entertainment industry at large, bringing in obvious references from Bengali ‘block busters’. But no one names anything or anything. Aniruddha even lets his ‘hero’ copy the mannerisms of a popular Bengali star, while recreating an entire playback sequence on stage. This calls for highly innovative minds and sheer competence, which his entire team is amply gifted with.
Politics, business, real estate and entertainment become part of each other, while those in power ape every strategy adopted by the erstwhile ruling party. One political tabloid gets replaced as ‘power’ changes hands. The playwright goes on to poke fun at almost everything – starting from the auto rickshaw unions to state initiative in the education sector. May be a bit of safe play was also necessary while satirising an extremely volatile political situation gone upside down. While the political parties in West Bengal are named quite directly, proper nouns have been carefully avoided in case of political leaders. Of course, no young director would want his fledgling production banned for obvious reasons.
But all said and done, one thing remains unresolved till the end – i.e. this supposed identity of the ‘chorus’. Are we all, including the audience as ‘aam janta’, part of a puppet like chorus of our own making, or is it because we are simply too rudderless to fight eco-political forces? Perhaps it’s a bit of both. As they say ‘a country is poor because it is poor’. So is the case here, where ‘we constantly get hoodwinked by political parties because we get hoodwinked’. Or is it that we chose to be comfortably numb and passive letting things go their way. Don’t we really have anything else to choose from, than what we are ‘given’?