Manush – Lack of profundity in Nandikar’s theatre

Posted by Kaahon Desk On August 30, 2019

It is remarkable that a theatre group has been performing on the Kolkata stage dedicatedly with success for the last six decades. In 1960, Ajitesh Bandyopadhyay and Asit Bandyopadhyay had founded the theatre group, which stepped onto its 60th year. Though it is very evident, the theatre group we are talking about is Nandikar. Theatrical productions like ‘Natyakarer Sondhane Chhawti Choritro’, ‘Sher Afghan’, ‘Manjari Aamer Manjari’ and ‘Teen Paisar Pala’ by Nandikar had given the audience of Bengali theatre a whole new perspective. During the late 1970s, Nandikar started a new journey led by Rudraprasad Sengupta. Apart from producing plays like ‘Football’, ‘Shesh Shakkhatkar’, ‘Shankhapurer Sukanya’ and ‘Pheriwala Mrityu’, Nandikar has successfully managed to organize various national theatre festivals and set up workshops for the development and enhancement of theatre. In due course, the responsibility of direction has been passed on to the next generation. As an attempt from the next generation of Nandikar, on their 60th anniversary, they’ve staged their latest play ‘Manush’ (Mankind). The play is bilingual (Bengali and Hindi) and has been dramatized by Anindita Chakraborty and Saptarshi Moulik from a short story by Prafulla Ray. The production has been directed by Sohini Sengupta and was last staged on 8th August, 2019 at Academy of Fine Arts.

Previous Kaahon Theatre Review:

‘Manush’ by Prafulla Ray has been made into a theatrical play by altering and adding to the short story to make it relevant to the current epoch. The play holds up a picture of the struggle for survival, humane values and extreme marginalization of immensely poor residents of a highly remote place in the gruesome socio-political scenario. The protagonist of the play is Bharosalal, a jungle crier. His work was to beat a tin instrument in the jungle and cry out loud shrieks to push wild animals like tigers and bears in front of hunters’ guns. A few people from the village try to move to the city in search of work so as to live a better life but in their path, wrapped in dense jungle, stand the humongous peaks of Shermundi. All of a sudden, on their journey joins a pregnant lady, who also wants to go to the city to look for her husband. None of the people agree to take responsibility of the helpless pregnant woman. It was only Bharosalal who readily agreed to take the woman across the mountains and reach the city. His humanity and sense of responsibility towards the helpless becomes important. But would the dreams of these poor people without an identity be fulfilled when they reach the city full of self-centered human beings? Can Bharosa keep his promise of helping the pregnant woman reach the city? Will he be able to do so only out of humanity overcoming the natural primitive desire existing between the sexes? One must definitely watch the play in order to find out the answers.

When Prafulla Ray had written the short story in his time, the only way to reach the city was to cross Shermundi, which might be questioned in the contemporary era. Even though the play is said to be bilingual, all the characters speak in Hindi except the two narrators speaking in Bengali. Not only that but they also explain bits and pieces of the play.Is that for the sake of Bengali speaking people? The director appears on the stage for a small part as a reporter. But even as the character, she imparts wisdom as if she’s the conscience of the journey and performs a song with the two narrators. This scene surely entertains the audience but fails to prove its context or requirement in the course of the play. It has become a trend nowadays to use choreography for showcasing stunts and physical fitness. This play too has a few brilliant choreographic compositions but some of which seem irrelevant to the plot. For example, in the last scene before the interval, the audience claps vigorously when the pregnant woman (weak) climbs up with the help of a rope but it seems realistically impossible. Again, Bharosa’s running around in the auditorium with loud cries with the catalytic actions of the music and the lights create a perfect ambience but the presence of actors on the stage in black costumes of wild animals seems a bit too much to take in. This merely curbs rather disrupts the imagination of the audience. Questions have also risen against inconsistencies in the current political scenario and a few other restrictions. For example, various projects are announced by the government for poor and marginalized people that require very complicated processes making it impossible for those people to gain those advantages. They constantly struggle to establish themselves in the cruel world. On top of that, there is the heap of hurdles created by the deeds of corrupted political leaders. Though the current political situation is conveyed through symbols and comic instances in the play, the real problem neither finds a ground nor reaches the audience entirely.

Jara Jege Thake – A ‘Bengali theatre’ from a ‘German cinema’The set design by Ayan Ghosh and Debabrata Maity is remarkable. A proper ambience of the jungle is created with the use of colored fabric materials. The mountainous path has been depicted with the help of wooden blocks. The light design by Sadhan Parui sets the perfect mood for the play. With the amalgamation of light and sound (by Gautam Ghoshal), some intense dramatic moments have been created onstage. The use of Indian classical music as the theme score is pretty contextual. But it seemed a bit odd and uneasy when the singer herself sang the tunes onstage in close proximity of the actors. The team work was incredible and a sign of massive dedication leaving us with no chance to comment on any one actor in particular. Apart from one or two actors, everyone had a good command in the Hindi language although the rural diction could be improved.

What impression this play executed by the vision and thought of the new generation is having on the minds of the audience will soon be known to all. But in comparison to the great productions Nandikar had offered to its audience for so many years, ‘Manush’ seems quite bland.

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 – Kankabati Banerjee 

Related Updates


Follow Us

Show Calendar

Message Us