Jodi – A Parable for Our Times

Posted by Kaahon Desk On May 2, 2018

Put succinctly, Jodi, produced by Nirnoy, Howrah (Playwright, Director Sangita Paul) is in its structure and movement a parable for our times. A brief sketch of the narrative right at the outset will facilitate the discussion. Boris Andre, the protagonist, is a salesman for a cosmetics brand in today’s Paris. Friendly and fundamentally a good human being, the middle-aged Andre is rather unsuccessful in his professional and personal life; he is not a champion salesman and his marriage is on the verge of collapse. Narcom, the new manager of the cosmetics company, messes up Andre’s professional and personal life – he fires Andre’s colleague-friends supposedly for not achieving their sales targets and chases Andre’s wife Julia shamelessly. At a time when nothing is going right for him, Andre’s luck shines and he wins a huge jackpot. A number of adventures and misadventures later, using his astuteness and his drive, Andre is able to change his life’s course to chalk up for himself a victory. This summary is enough to indicate the parable-like structure of Jodi – the good hero finds himself in a fix, a bad person arrives to torment him, but help from an unexpected corner (many parables have gods or supernatural entities helping the hero) joined with his kindly nature and innate intelligence, helps the hero to overcome all adversities and finally reap his rewards (which in many parables come in the form of the princess’ love and part of the kingdom). Following the protocol of parables, 1) most characters in the play are more embodiments of character types than flesh and blood human beings; 2) the events take place at a slight remove from the plane of reality; 3) a lesson is forwarded for the audience to reflect upon and apply in their lives.

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The success of Jodi the lies in this that it takes this simply structured narrative and presents it in a manner that is smart and urban; the moral lesson is passed on with a lightness of touch, without any hectoring. The play’s smartness owes largely to the intelligently designed light, set and music (Light, Sadhan Parui and Dipankar Dey; Music, Dishari Chakraborty; Set, Sangita Paul). When the hero assumes the position of one driving his car, the sound of the car’s engine is heard in the background and on the stage right at a certain depth a back-lit cutout of a car becomes visible; as the play moves from car to pub to fancy restaurant to bordello, the background score and the back-lit cutouts change appropriately. The changing back-lit images are a nod towards Brecht’s theatrical notions (Brecht frequently used signs to indicate location, time or event). The background music, on the other hand, does more than just set the mood or define the location – at one point, when there is flurry of buying and selling, a few bars of Jingle Bells sound to become an ironic commentary on how modern commodity culture has virtually stamped out the Christmas spirit. The play becomes smart and briskly moving also because of the many brief scenes that follow one another in rapid succession, with the transitions happening smoothly. The intermission seems redundant as it only serves to slow the play’s pace down.

It would not be wrong to suggest that it is rare to come across a Bengali play that tries to grapple with urban reality. Merely a city setting with the characters being inhabitants of that city does not make a play urban. The reason why Jodi is being considered urban is clarified below. There comes a scene where the stage is broken up into three zones. On the right is seen a client unleashing his inordinate lust upon Katy, the posh prostitute; in the middle is seen Andre, half his body spread out on a drinking table (he had left his wife at home in search of a tryst with Katy only to find out that she was already engaged); and on the left side is seen Julia in a drunken stupor, waiting futilely for Andre. At this moment, in the left hand depth of the stage, an image of a glowing Eiffel Tower, the definitive symbol of modern Parisian urban life, rises against a dark night sky. It is almost as if when the darkness of the night and the darkness of the souls of the Parisians groping blindly in their confused search for love have flown into each other, the city of Paris rises to keep an unblinking yet impassive eye on its children. Jodi is urban in its being able to connect the crises of the characters to the larger life of the city. Jodi is also very urban for a different reason. The incessant ritual of eating and drinking wine continues throughout the play; once with money, Andre launches himself in an orgy of buying fancy clothes, shoes and watches, eating and treating in expensive restaurants, buying sexual favours; the bond of friendship is strengthened through gifting an exceedingly expensive sports car; and most importantly, Andre and Julia come together again in an atmosphere of wealth and material pleasure. It is clear then that conspicuous consumption is the norm here; if Jodi teaches the practice of certain humane virtues, the lesson of renouncing significant consumption altogether is not part of the curriculum. It is to be noted that Andre trumps Narcom not by quitting the game of market economics, but by playing the game hard and better. This is exactly why Jodi is a parable for these times. Jodi narrativizes the possibility of keeping alive a touch of brotherly sentiment, a quantum of love in our lives that have already been brought under the net of global capitalism, irrespective of whether we like it or not. Jodi is not for those who swear by plays throbbing with revolutionary rhetoric. Jodi is for those who would have their plays acknowledge today’s harsh realities and attempt to find ways to negotiate those realities.

Anirban Chakraborty, one of the finest actors of our times, has played the role of Andre. He is so adept at calibrating the projection of his lines while he is at rest or in frantic motion across the stage so that he does not sound loud or inaudible or theatrical that there is no trace of forced performance in Anirban’s verbal acting. His performance includes minute variations of gaze and facial expression as well as loud and amplified movements of his entire physical frame, all in order to convey the many facets of his character. He has put his keen sense of timing his lines to great effect – when jousting with Narcom (Suman Nandi) he resorts to rapid repartees, while in his scenes with Julia (Sangita Paul) he allows those precious microseconds to elapse before responding, so that Julia’s words may not perish immediately. Suman Nandi, Sangita Paul, Subhankar Dassharma, Kanchan Amin, Madhumita Dam, Barnali Roychowdhury, Chandrani Chakraborty have all done justice to their roles; not being able to evaluate their performances elaborately for reasons of lack of space is sincerely regretted. A number of actors appear in multiple roles, which frankly do not give the actors enough space to perform. The director may wish to reconsider the necessity of having so many minor characters on board. Among those having played multiple roles, Jeet Sundor Chakraborty stands out – he has introduced an element of lurid caricature while portraying the power-hungry, lust-driven Hospital Officer and has played the self-effacing Café Manager with skilled reduction of histrionics.

The manner in which Sangita Paul has taken care of the dual responsibility of playwright and director indicates that she is ready to shed some old baggage (such as necessarily having the text voice a clear anti-capitalist statement or necessarily making the play grave in tone) in her writing and direction. This is perfectly fine as a free and unhindered expression of an artist’s ideas can only enrich the practice of Bengali theatre. But the failure to acknowledge the origin of the text is, to my mind, a serious omission. It is just not adequate to say that the text is ‘translated’. Which text has it been translated from? Who is the author? What is the language of the original composition? Without even going into the issues of copyright and permission, one earnestly wishes that our cultural practices will incorporate such rigour as will necessitate the announcement before every performance of the play, if that is indeed the case,that the identity of the source text is genuinely not known. This announcement cannot be considered any less important than the mandatory one made at the start of each performance reminding the audience to govern their cellphones.

Dipankar Sen
A student of theatre as an art practice, he is definitely a slow (but hopefully, steady) learner. He is a father, a husband and a teacher of English literature in the West Bengal Education Service. His other interests include literature in translation and detective fiction.

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