Kalmrigaya – a timely presentation of Tagore on stage

Posted by Kaahon Desk On June 22, 2018

On the last day of the theatre festival ‘Mukhomukhi 22’ (June 14, 2018), Sri Bilu Dutta presented a Mukhomukhi production Rabindranath Tagore’s opera ‘Kalmrigaya’ on Madhusudan Mancha, Kolkata. It has been directed by Smt. Poulomi Chattopadhyay. In 1882, a 21 years old Rabindranath composed the Kalmrigaya. After returning from foreign tour to Kolkata, in between 1881 and 1882, he combined both the epic Ramayana and foreign musics from his perspective in his two operas. One being Balmiki Pratibha and the other being Kalmrigaya.

The main thing about opera is the perfect convergence of music, dance and acting. In both Balmiki Pratibha and Kalmrigaya the music helps to carry forward the flow of the dramas. Most songs of both the dramas are written in prose rhythm and thus suitable for acting. The influence of foreign tunes in the dramas can be traced back to the writings in ‘Jibonsmriti’ – ” Jyoti dada (Jyotirindronath Tagore) often used to enmesh Ustadi songs with the piano tunes and from time to time some incredible versions of Ragas would come up.” Many times the poet and Akshay babu used to try to put words on those instrumental music, the overwhelming and revolutionary experiments of which resulted in Balmiki Pratibha and Kalmrigaya. We come to know from Rabindranath’s own account that even though the dramas are influenced from European Operas, the opera-like music is not prominent here. Here, the main theme of the drama is acted through the rhythms and so the pleasure of pure music is less distinct.

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The story of Kalmrigaya revolves around the death of a blind saint’s son, killed by Dasharath. The son even after being intimidated by natural calamities near Sarayu river does not deter from his vow of providing water to his thirsty father. During his hunting, King Dasharath upon following a deer cub shoots an arrow through the bushes near the river that ends up critically wounding the boy. Before taking the last breath the boy requests Dashrath to take his body to his father and Dashrath abides. Initially the blind saint being in pain and anger curses Dashrath of experiencing the same loss of son but then forgives him. An unique side of Rabindranath is evoked in this opera. The sense of death and forgiveness is depicted in his post- adolescent phase. To think more deeply, the magnanimity of forgiveness can truly be felt in death.

Mukhomukhi mainly adheres to Rabindranath’s written story of Kalmrigaya but director has also included her own perspectives beautifully in places. The songs written in prosaic form for blind saint, his son and King Dashrath are stripped of melodies and have been used in poetic conversational tone. On the other hand, the songs of forest God and forest Goddess are well sung. The dexterity in handling the musical arrangements can also be felt which helps the flow of the drama. The omission of the character of jester is appropriate since it does not add anything valuable to the main plot apart from inducing comic relief. The scene of the king’s hunters which has been choreographed mainly with Rabindranath’s dancing forms is executed well with the use of surrounding sound but in the dance of the hunters, the western style is visible.

In dramatic performances, the light and the ambience can elevate its quality especially in dancing form which is present throughout the drama. Lighting ( Manojprasad) and ambience (Dishari Chakraborty) create the essential dramatic surrounding of the play. The stage production of Saumik and Piyali adds up to the glamour of the performance. Talking about the stage, the presence of colourful fine fabric and minimal commodities evokes to us both dense forest and cool, pleasant touches of it. In this performance, the makeup (Sanjay Pal) and costume design assisted the play particularly. By coming out of the shadow of Rabindranath’s imagination the costume design stamps a sense of individuality while the makeup plays an important role in establishing the relatablity of the characters. The black attires and red knot deliver the frightening personas of the hunters.

Through Leela’s dance arrangements in first scene the exuberance and vivacity of youth is expressed. Apart from the hunters dance scene Poulomi Chattopadhyay is the dance director of the play. She is a skilled dancer, being able to perform with the same vigour and energy as the rest. But in few moments, her presence becomes a little unmatched with the other dancers visually. The portion of the hunters’ dance is choreographed by Manas Mukherjee and it is performed by a different team (we are sorry for not being able to provide the name of the team). The westernised style of this performance is quite amusing. The group of hunters are the symbol of destruction and forest Goddesses are the embodiment of nature. The nature’s elegance is captured through Indian dance forms but the symbol of destruction is being portrayed through westernised style – this is an overly simplified take on good and bad. It is significant when we realise how western culture is influencing Indian culture therefore diminishing the purity of our culture as expressed by orthodox people. Instead of blindly following western style if we can combine the best of the both worlds then we can create something superlative, Rabindranath himself being the ideal example. And precisely because of this, the treatment of both cultures in simple binaries is unfortunate for a Tagore play.

The main attraction of the performance is the presence of Soumitra Chattopadhyay. He portrays the role of the blind saint, his dialogue delivery and presence is second to none. Here, his performance is mainly verbal. His verbal competence easily touches the audience. One song from his voice is an added bonus for us.

It is true that Kalmrigaya is a story of dejection. But it is not applicable only to the death of blind saint’s son by Dashrath, it’s also applicable to the subplot which exposes rampant killing of birds and animals of forests by the hunters. The present sad state of global warming is germinated with the killing of animals and destruction of trees. We are losing the balance in our ecosystem. In ancient age kings hunted in merry, to satiate their urges without even thinking for a second. But in this opera Dashrath’s mistake resulted in his lifelong suffering. The way we are destroying trees and animals without thinking about the consequences, one day it will retaliate as poison in our society. This is why Kalmrigaya, written 136 years ago is still relevant and its performance is highly significant.

Pradip Datta
A post-graduation diploma holder of the Department of Media Studies, University of Calcutta, he has been a theatre activist in Bengal for the last twenty five years. He is a freelance journalist by profession. Besides theatre, his passion includes recitation, audio plays and many more.

Translation: Biplab Mazumder

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