Hridipaash – Some hits, some misses

Posted by Kaahon Desk On August 22, 2017

The experience of watching Hridipaash (produced by Theatre Platform) on the 13th of August turned out a mixed one. The biggest positive is the text of the play, penned by Bratya Basu. Generations of playwrights have repeatedly returned to Sophocles’ two millennia old play Oedipus and will in all probability continue to do so. The reason for this is perhaps the two fundamental questions the play raises – are we in control of our lives and is it possible, or even advisable to know who we really are? These questions are as relevant today as they were two thousand years ago. Bratya Basu also raises these questions through his adaptation, and interestingly, even after having radically altered the time, setting and people, finds the same answers that Sophocles did. Hridipaash covers the span of some years before and after 1947 and spatially moves through Bangladesh, Kolkata and Purulia. The characters are mostly Hindu and Muslim Bengalis and some are tribal. Basu masterly keeps intact every major plot detail of the original text while writing his new play. This is exactly what good adaptation demand – the generation of a new text by remaining firmly grounded in the original.

Previous Kaahon Theatre Review:

The next best thing about the play is the use of curtains, made contingent by the text itself. Put in other words, the play was written with the curtains included. I will hazard the guess that Bratya Basu and Debasish Ray (director and set designer) worked together on the design of many curtains being pulled and drawn repeatedly and then moving on to conceiving the play and the production around this design. But why is it that the many curtains, hung from a huge frame covering almost the entire stage space, and maneuvered constantly to reveal, hide or partially expose characters and events, so important? This is because an important thematic concern of the play – sight and insight – is performed through it. Those who remember their Sophocles will undoubtedly remember how the play is replete with references to blindness and vision, the ability or otherwise to see the truth, wanting and not wanting to see it. Hridoy of Hridipaash too fails to see, though he has sight and those around him also flounder in the semi-darkness of half-truths and falsehoods. Thus the curtains. The moving curtains bring to theatrical life an abstract, philosophical idea contained in the text. The use of curtains in Hridipaash is a brilliant example of props and stage becoming the gravitational center of the philosophy of the narrative. The creative imagination of team Bratya and Debasish earns our respect for this unique use of curtains on stage.

The performance of the large team of around 35 actors is also a plus. Those essaying roles with relatively fewer sentences and brief on-stage presence portray various characters at different points of time by suitably adjusting their body language and speech pattern, thereby allowing the narrative to flow briskly. The disciplined practice that has gone into their performance is quite evident and apology is due to them for not being able to name them individually for lack of space. Sumit Kumar Ray (Hridoy 1) has tirelessly labored in his performance. Gradually one is beginning to see less acting in his acting. I believe Ray will very soon assimilate the grammar of acting so completely within himself that he will not hesitate to then go beyond grammar, which he did not quite do this time. However, he has injected in his vocal and his physical acting an element of naïve restlessness that brings to special life a very sprightly young man’s search of self. Prasenjit Bardhan turns in a riveting performance while essaying two roles diametrically opposite in nature – in one he has to act chiefly through his voice (educated, politically infirmed Wahid) and in the other, mainly through his body (Baramdebata, the tribal demon). As an actor Prasenjit has that enviable fluidity that allows him to completely inhabit whichever character he portrays. Incidentally, one can mention the crucial importance of make-up in this play (Mohammad Ali and Sanjay Paul) even as the focus is on Prasenjit – he will certainly acknowledge that make-up has assisted him enormously in getting into the character of Baramdebata, as will others who have been transformed by make-up in this production. In her brief appearance as Kulsoom, Amrapali Mitra brings on to the stage, through her entire physical presence, an embodied symbol of a normal life of youthful happiness which Hridoy will let slip through his fingers, thereby underscoring his tragic fate. Whether as a young man furtively locking eyes with his spark even while breaking bread and chatting away with friends or, much later, carrying the weight of his years in his creaking joints, Gautam Sarkar as Dayakaka constructs his character with his intellect and performs it with his entire body, his gaze, his voice. Indudipa Sinha, Soumak Bhattacharya, Apurba Ghosh and all others etch their respective characters out with careful skill.

The minuses to wrap up.One fails to fathom the textual or theatrical point of having two actors play Hridoy. The problem lies not merely in this that Debasish Ray (Hridoy 2) had a bad day in office – some of his lines were quite inaudible and there was certain tiredness in his steps that did not belong to his character. The ploy of having two Hridoys adds no discernible significance to the play; rather, it brings about a rupture in the audiences’ reception of the character. The impact of the rupture could have been mitigated somewhat if some traces of the young Hridoy – in terms of some distinctive gestures or mannerisms – had been carried over in the mature Hridoy, but that did not happen. Also, quite inexplicably, the queen and her brother refused to age even as Hridoy aged visibly.  After much thought, I could arrive at a reason for having a pair of Hridoys. The close of the play saw a bizarre scene, similar to a cinematic flashback, where mature Hridoy sees young Hridoy being killed by his father (making Sophocles turn in his grave). Presumably this is meant to be a death-wish, one that would free Hridoy from the clutches of fate by getting him killed. Not only is this scene utterly redundant, it also invalidates the very point the play strives to drive home –it is human destiny to be crushed by fate or under the great wheels of history. While this scene does require two simultaneous Hridoys, it throws up a few questions.

Question1. One has no issue with the fact that the adaptation departs in some respects from the original – violence is enacted, Hridoy does not blind himself. But acting out the son getting killed by the father (even in imagination) is not merely letting go of Sophocles, it is turning back upon him. Have the makers of Hridipaash thoroughly thought out the implications of abandoning Sophocles? If Hridipaash is cut off from its Greek roots, the phenomenon of an educated, well-informed mid-twentieth century man unquestioningly accepting a seer’s prediction comes under question. What also becomes questionable is the decision of an educated couple (the wife, brought up by Christian missionaries is a graduate from Dumka College), again in the first quarter of the 20th century, to get their new-born killed as a result of an oracle. Those who will say that belief in gods and demons and foretelling still persists would do well to mind the fact that society at large has rejected such belief. But in ancient Greece there were few who did not believe that Gods controlled every aspect of human life (see – The Seer in Ancient Greece by M. Flower and Delphi: A History of the Centre of the Ancient World; Chapter 1, Oracle by M. Scott), which is why Sophocles did not have to take the trouble to justify in his text the belief people had in oracles. Hridipaash also does away with any attempt to justify unquestioning faith in oracles because of its connection tothe ancient text. Switching on and off the connection with the original text rather whimsically cannot be a healthy strategy of adaptation.

Question2. Has the language of theatre become so impoverished that one has to rifle the dictionary of cinema to create the effect of flashback? Actually, if one thinks about it, it is quite clear that the production design as a whole is marked by an attempt to create audio-visual spectacle along cinematic lines. The audio-visual entertainment that is continuously provided through extravagant use of music, sound and colour actually dissipates the impact of a play that has emerged out of an ancient classical tragedy, one that Aristotle held up as the prototype of the perfect tragic play. Hridipaash would have truly scored if most of its audience reacted with “Now that we have realized we are as flies to the Gods who kill us for their sport, we are terrified, we are dejected” instead of “Oh, it was fantastic”. Did that happen?

Dipankar Sen

Related Updates


Follow Us

Show Calendar

Message Us