Jara Jege Thake – A ‘Bengali theatre’ from a ‘German cinema’

Posted by Kaahon Desk On August 22, 2019

Have you ever pondered on the difference between design and direction? Many confuse good direction with good design. Beautiful plays are often confused with good plays, just as physically and vocally competent actors are confused with good actors. The funny thing is; all the above mentioned scenarios are true when reversed. Good direction consists of good design, and good plays are also visually pleasing (plays are visually pleasing when they are compatible with the texts) and good actors are generally vocally and physically competent. We (who regularly watch theatre, or participate it in certain ways or other) are often prone to generalization, and often consider the opposites to be also true, but not everything in this world works vice-versa. Say, people who stay awake, for example, will it be truthful to say that they never fall sleep? Of course not. They will die off if they cease to sleep! Is it possible for the dead to stay awake?

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But some can manage to stay awake even when they have ceased to live, take Joysingha or Suman for example. Some people stay awake even after death. This is the central idea behind Project Prometheus’s production ‘Jara Jege Thake’, directed by Indudeepa Sinha. The background of the play is set upon the late 80s East Germany, where German Democratic Republic Police and Intelligence Bureau are chasing after the same objective, their bird’s eye. And the target is to know everything. To know what is going on inside the heads of their citizens, where the artists, dramatists, and the poets are invested with special attention. The target is to blacklist anyone who speaks up against the state, imprison them, and eventually kill them, or force them to kill themselves. And they had a fabulous way of going about their business. They motivated (obliged?) millions of citizens to participate as their informers. Roughly one out of every five citizens participated as their informers. But some were still trying to stay awake in this political turmoil. This play is about them.

The plot may seem strangely familiar to some, and rightly so, as the play is inspired by ‘Das Leben der Anderen’ (The lives of others), the film that won the Oscars in 2006, for the best foreign language film category. A must watch, for the movie buffs.

But let us not get into the plot. Those who have watched the film are familiar with it, and those who haven’t should watch it first. Most of the scenes (approx. 75%) have been copied to the last dialogue, and not much is left to be said about them. An important character has been depicted in a different way, whose climax in not faithful to the film. Which Character? I shall not say, go watch the play instead.

There are two prominent problems with the performance, or maybe there are three. Number one, the state is invading the personal spaces of their citizens, not much of democracy is left, and it is ineligible to be called a state, but at the same time this ‘democratic republic’ claims democracy and socialism to be the pillars of their state, and their future as well- there is a glaring paradox, and it is absent from the play. When a self-proclaimed leftist state adopts extreme right-wing methods the depth of the oppression becomes multi-layered. It no longer stays confined in the boundary of the oppression of the ruling class. The dream of socialism was vividly colorful, but when materialized it turned out to be blandly black and white, and the stain of the betrayal should have taken some time to wash away… but the stain has been washed away all too easily… and it has subdued the magnitude of the dream.

The second problem originates from this particular point. Some scenes and songs from Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Taser Desh’ have been incorporated in the performance. To signify that at some point of time, even in this suffocated society, someone will break away with the song ‘Bandh Bhenge Dao’ (The Song of Freedom). Although the background and political situation of ‘Tasher Desh’ and this play may seem similar, but the primary conflict in them are far removed.

The third problem is quite foolish. The writer of the original film was well aware that someone at some point will begin singing the song of freedom (without reading ‘Tasher Desh’). And he has modeled a character for that purpose. In fact, the protagonist is that character. Although the performance is inspired from the film, the director has not paid enough attention to that character. He has tried to model the other two characters to break the damn. But why? Why was the protagonist not enough for her? There’s no proper answer. Was she determined and preoccupied to amalgamate ‘Tasher Desh’ in this dramatic text from the beginning? This lack of clarity in the story, along with the inclusion of ‘Tasher Desh’ somehow restricts the flow, and prevents the idea to consolidate.

Return Ticket – A comedy with its limited worldview

And this flaw can be attributed to over-designing. These designs are beautiful when considered exclusively, but they do not supplement the storyline, and even at times seem unnecessary. The content of the play is already very strong, and it begs the question whether a simpler performance could have had a larger impact? This play could have been sharp, slick, and smart production, but ultimately failed to achieve that.

The style of acting is also copied from the film. Everyone has copied in their own style, and they have done it properly. Specially Santanu Nath and Prasenjit Bardhan have copied it very well, but Indudeepa could have copied a little better. A strong actor like Biswajit Das demands more well-built situations, and stage presence. The music is original from Soumik Ranjan, he has done his job nicely. Prerecorded songs have been used in the performance, along with Shankha Ghosh, Joy Goswami, and Jibanananda Das’s poetry. Soumen Chakraborty has done the lights, but not much experimentations have been attempted with the lights. The director has tried to remain faithful to the original movie-scenes. No special theatrical moments have been attempted with the design-tools of lighting.

Film scripts and theatre scripts are different, because the two mediums are different, and it does not always produce good results to copy every scene to the last dialogue. But compared to the other works that are being performed in the current Bengali theatre scenario, this play deserves a ‘better’ rating for sure.

There’s not much left to say, except for you to go and watch the play.

P.S. 1- Biswajit Das has acted out a poem by Shankha Ghosh with special deliberation, which gives the performance worth a watch.

P.S. 2- Whoever can discern the significance of the Magician and ‘Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall’ please enlighten us in the comments section.


Ebong Ipsita
A Kolkata based theatre practitioner, she has been doing theatre from 2005 and now she is co-directing and adapting plays for different theatre groups in Bengal. She believes to explore the web medium as well to express herself to the world.

Translation- Harit Chowdhury

Read this review in Bengali.

বাংলাতে পড়তে ক্লিক করুন।


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