Kojagori : The success of discipline and collective effort

Posted by Kaahon Desk On June 29, 2017

Belghoria Abhimukh can legitimately feel happy solely on this ground that their maiden production Kojagori has already been performed around two dozen times; by normal standards, the play is a hit. But we all know that a play that has a good run is not always necessarily a ‘good’ play. However, having watched the 24th and 25th shows of Kojagori, (at Girish Mancha, 27.04.2017 and Minerva Theatre, 27.06.2017 respectively) I am inclined to use the adjective ‘good’ without too much hesitation.

Previous Kaahon Theatre Review:

Kaushik Chattopadhyay is the playwright and director of Kojagori. There are some distinct qualities of the play that Chattopadhyay has written based on the American writer Howard Fast‘s novel Silas Timberman (1954), of which I will mention two. First, there is such a fluent ease with which he has adapted/translated the source text that, while watching the dramatized narrative unfold, we never stumble upon jutting-out rocks of cultural differences. Written during the McCarthy era in America, the novel remains a searing critique of the state’s branding free-thinkers and dissenters as communists and creating a regime of fear through torture and oppression. Like Timberman of the novel, Sailesh Kastha in Kojagori is a college teacher who protests the plan to destroy a thick wood within the college premises.  Quite expectedly, this earns Sailesh the wrath of the college governing body, which is, of course, dominated by greedy, power-hungry and innately violent political characters. Kojagori presents a narrative of an ordinary man who overcomes fear and self-centeredness to raise a voice of protest. This narrative resonates with similar accounts present in our cultural memories and we get the feeling that the play is a retelling of our stories.  Secondly, the Bengali language that Chattopadhyay has employed has a certain tensile strength about it, coupled with a smooth flow. Neither structured like poetry, nor formless like the careless parlance of the streets, the language becomes expressive when it has to. The language also manages to indicate, through subtle variations of tone and tenor, the mental, intellectual and cultural differences that distinguish the various characters.

The chief reason for Kojagori providing satisfaction to the audience is that a sense of restrained discipline governs the entire production. The realistic set (designed by Jayanta Bandyopadhyay) uses just a few pieces of furniture to indicate the college Principal’s chamber and then, with minor alterations, the protagonist’s living room. But the gigantic axe that hangs from above, with a wide open eye on the blade, injects the symbolic within the realistic. The all-seeing axe hangs plumb in the middle of the Principal’s chamber, brazenly exhibiting its threat. When the action shifts to the protagonist’s house, the threat still remains, but in a less conspicuous manner, and the axe repositions itself to keep an eye on the proceedings from a corner. The meaningful use of props for dramatic effect is noteworthy – the oscillation of the rocking chair and the switching on and off of the table lamp become metaphors of the protagonist’s agitation. As crisis envelops the protagonist’s professional and personal lives, the subtly lit Tagore’s portrait in the otherwise darkened stage stands out like the pole-star. The tree that appears towards the close of the play is made to reveal it shape gradually (light designed by Dipankar Dey). When at the very end, the tree becomes a sharply defined silhouette against a sky touched by the first light of dawn, the branches reveal themselves as fingers of many outstretched hands and the symbolic is again conjoined with the realistic. That Rabindranath’s songs are used (music designed by Ujan Chattopadhyay) is almost inevitable because much of Kojagori’s ideological content is underpinned by Rabindranath’s ideas. Whenever used, the instrumental score effectively conveys the predominant situational mood; the intelligent use of background music during scene transitions demands praise. However, the loudness with which the last song was played at the close of the play somewhat disturbed the rhythm of restraint marking other aspects of the production.

The acting has enriched the play. All the actors, irrespective of whether they play major or minor roles, turn in performances that clearly point towards long hours spent in disciplined practice. The sense of moderation and restraint pointed out earlier as governing the aesthetic approach adopted while constructing the production, is evident in the way the director has handled his actors and also in the manner the actors have executed their roles. I will give two examples. The arrogant, uncouth student leader affiliated to the political party in power, announces his unbridled might simply by raising his arm high above his head and twirling his audacious index finger a couple of times. During another sequence, the wife of the protagonist (a college teacher) notices, from a distance, how her husband begins to be persuaded by the passionate arguments forwarded by a female colleague, a feisty, politically active person and (this is important) someone who is quite attractive as a woman. As the sequence unfolds, the wife, whose concerns have always been husband, daughter and family, suggests through her intense gaze a sense of disappointed anger tinged with a degree of jealousy. It needs to be borne in mind that the wife is, in this sequence, somewhat in the background, with the audience mainly following the other actors; she performs this bit of her role from a literally marginal position. I have deliberately chosen these two rather small examples (there are many more similar dramatic moments throughout the play) to indicate how the sense of restraint has allowed meaning to be generated through bodily language, quite independent of dialogue. At the end of the play it was announced (Girish Mancha, 27.04.2017) that the production is one without stars and in deference to this sentiment, I will desist from naming particular actors. Let it only be said that as far as acting is concerned, Kojagori is successful because of the collective contribution of all the actors.

Does the production of Kojagori, speaking in terms of theatrical form and keeping in mind the aspect of performance, advance even in some small measure, the practice of Bengali theatre? No, it does not. Even a cursory glance at the history of Bengali group theatre productions will tell us that there have been in the past many plays as successful as Kojagori and more or less for the same set of reasons. The makers of the production had set themselves an artistic challenge which had almost nothing new about it; the biggest takeaway from Kojagori is that the entire team rises in a disciplined manner to respond to the challenge and overcome it convincingly. Now that Belghoria Abhimukh has more than proven that they can do extremely well what has already been done before, we will expect that their future productions will take them to spaces of performance hitherto unexplored.

Dipankar Sen

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