Lalsalu – Safe theatre of the Majority

Posted by Kaahon Desk On July 17, 2018

Prachya has adapted the famous 1948 novel ‘Lalsalu’ by Bangladeshi writer Saiyad Waliullah on stage, keeping its name intact. It has been dramatized by one of the powerful dramatists of recent times, Kaushik Chattopadhyay. Since Kaushik is not only just a playwright but also a successful theatre director, he does quite well know how to transmute what is said and shown in the novel into the play, rendering it actable. He has kept his play closely related to the novel and almost nothing of the main text falls short in the play. He has put forth his best efforts to construct the play in a way that involves a handful of significant dramatic moments, which is absolutely needed in a two-hour long play. Abanti Chakraborty has taken up the responsibility of directing ‘Lalsalu’; we have already witnessed the pairing up of the group ‘Prachya’ and director Abanti in the successful presentation of the play ‘Sakharam’ some time back.

Previous Kaahon Theatre Review:

The play centers around one Majid who after being evicted from his own land, comes into Mahabbatnagar as a newcomer and sets up a religious enterprise in no time by turning an abandoned grave into a Majar. He wins over the innocent villagers quite easily, comes into terms of mutual transaction with the well-off families and knavishly renders them inactive those who make the slightest effort to question him. We not only witness Majid developing a complete control over the societal life of Mahabbatnagar using the religion but we also observe this individual in his personal life, being the same selfish, lustful and coercing his wife under his sheer haughtiness. At the fag end of the play we see Majid facing a serious challenge, put forward by his second wife, Jamila. Her incisive questions on Majid’s religious façade, her denial in being Majid’s mistress and her refusal to entertain any regulations in her natural behavior shuddered Majid’s strong self-confidence for the first time, rendering him totally dismayed. This outright short description of the basic narrative of ‘Lalsalu’ will help us get into some questions henceforth, but let us discuss a little on the play first.

The director Abanti Chakraborty weaves the play on a high note, as a result of which we get overwhelmed by most of the characters in the play. A small character of an aged woman appears on stage at the concluding part of the play; and her brief appearance on stage was steeped in an amplified disposition of her anger against Majid. The problem is, the play is so soaked in overall exaggeration that even though this scene does require amplification to some extent, this dramatic moment appears to be extravagant. What strikes us naturally is, is this loud and bold acting and cheeky dialogue-throwing necessary to capture rural life? Biplab Bandopadhyay in the shoes of Majid, even in this vociferous surrounding, with his unique movement and voice modulation establishes his character flawlessly and in so doing puts up perhaps the best work of his acting career so far. Majid is a very complex character- while he was spreading his poisonous web of religion, he could hear from time to time his mother’s call to return to his innocent life that he had lost; leaving us to fathom the psychological turmoil of the character. Besides, it is a negative character from every perspective; altogether dark, a very uncommon one in the Bengali theatre inventory. But it is the character sketch by Biplab that kept the audience’s concentration glued to the character all through the act. It was the same Biplab who pumped up while his character was snubbing and threatening but winded down to a tiny and serpentine figure while engaging in uncanny conspiracies. He was careful with his facial expression that was meant to be a reflection of Majid’s mind. Biplab has succeeded in delineating a character that the audience thoroughly condemns yet it leaves an impact on their mind, all thanks to his highly refined and well-studied acting. In this play teeming with characters, apart from Biplab, others who seized our attention were- Subhasish Gangopadhyay (Fakir), Srishti Gupta (Rahima), Sweta Bagchi (Jamila), Payel Mukhopadhyay (Pramila) etc.

The question that arises with Lalsalu’s narrative (which is present in the novel too) is, the narrative that in the first half, focusing primarily on religion, enters deep into the greater social problem, narrows its vision down on the individual Majid in the second. The narrative which was so broad in the beginning suddenly seems to constrict later; to speak from the audience, the narrative in which we could place ourselves (speaking of the society implies speaking of ourselves) at first, later leaves us in one where we had to witness the gradual decaying and ultimate fall of Majid from the outside (keeping in mind that it is impossible to relate to Majid personally). But the question that Lalsalu succeeds in raising so highly is as discomforting as it is important. Where Bengali theatre generally and inevitably has been a study of the social and cultural life of the Hindu Bengalis, this very play appears to be that overly exceptional text that brings the Muslim social life on the stage of West Bengal (another play to have done the same recently is ‘Biye-Gauni Knadon-Chapa’ by Chandan Sen, presented by Theatre Workshop, based on Ratna Rashid’s work). Amid the brag and bluster of the Hindu extremists in this 2018 Indian society which has recently extended its blood thirst even in this state, the staging of Lalsalu strikes us to the core. The Muslim society we find here in this play is indelibly religious, superstitious, ignorant of the modern education and misogynist. No reading of this play or of its text can establish that Lalsalu by dealing with the Islamic religious problems hints also at the same of the Hinduism or Sikhism or Christianity- Lalsalu speaks only and only about the Muslim society. Now the fact is, in the present scenario of India/ West Bengal, doesn’t a cultural text like Lalsalu, in a way, nourishes the aggressive Hinduism? Doesn’t this work, conforming to the majority in respect of the present political state of affairs of our country, appear to be a very safe production? Since these thoughts cloud the brain while watching this play, the ending composition, where Jamila’s feet haul up against the Lalsalu covered shrine- which had the possibility of creating such a strong ripple across the stage, theatre and even into the deeper parts of the society- ends up being only a hollow image to us.

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.

Translation: Rishav Dutta

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