Matir Gadi Mrichhakatik – An urban folkish presentation of an old Sanskrit drama

Posted by Kaahon Desk On April 19, 2019

On last 27th February, ‘Naye Natua’ staged their latest production ‘Matir Gadi Mrichhakatik’ at the Academy of Fine Arts. The source text is the Sanskrit play ‘Mricchakatika’ by Shudraka. The translation in Bengali, editing, music, and direction are handled by Gautam Halder.

A perpetual appeal flows through the subject, characterization, and arrangement of the play, making it one of the most popular pieces translated and staged in several languages and countries, especially in the West. Among the various productions in Bengali, those of Bahurupi and Samikshan theatre groups deserve special mentions. Even the Hindi film adaptation (Utsav) by Girish Karnad in 1984 became widely acclaimed and popular.

Previous Kaahon Theatre Review:

The protagonist of the play is Charudatta, a well off merchant from Ujjain. But his benevolence and generosity made him donate all his wealth and lead a life of hardship at present. He is heavily loved by the people due to his nature and honesty. Even the beautiful courtesan Vasantasena, on hearing his story, respects and is attracted to him. On the other hand, Samsthanaka, the brother-in-law of the evil and tyrant king Palaka, has a lecherous craving for Vasantasena. But in spite of her promiscuous profession, she refuses to offer herself to Samsthanaka. He vies for various ways to bring her under his control. To get rid of Samsthanaka’s evil schemes, Vasantasena takes shelter in Charudatta’s home. She leaves her priceless jewelries in his custody while returning home. A thief named Sharbilaka steals those entrusted jewelries from Charudatta’s home in order to set Madanika, the chief maid of Vasantasena, free from servitude. Eventually they land up in Vasantasena’s hands. Charudatta’s baby boy Rohsen, coming across a golden toy of a neighbor boy, nags for one but is given a clay-made toy instead, since buying a golden toy was way out of Charudatta’s affordability. But the boy is hardly pleased and keeps on crying. On knowing, Vasantasena becomes deeply upset and decorates the clay toy with all her jewelries to turn it into a golden one. Vasantasena’s affectionate and generous behavior touches Charudatta and it brings them more close to each other. Samsthanaka comes to know about Vasantasena’s fondness for Charudatta. Therefore he needs to deal with Charudatta to get to Vasantasena. Failing in all his schemes to lay his hands on Vasantasena, he tried to smother her to death. Thinking her to be dead, a frivolous lawsuit is filed against Charudatta following the false allegation of murder. On trial, he is sentenced to death. Vasantasena arrives just when he was about to be decapitated. When she informs of the true culprit, Charudatta is released of his sentence. In the meantime the evil king Palaka is overthrown and slain by Aryaka. On his order, Vasantasena and Charudatta’s marriage is settled. Thus Vasantasena acquires the honor of bride from a mere courtesan. The generous Charudatta relieves Samsthanaka from his punishment.

The story of this play proves that Shudraka came out of the conventional tales of Sanskrit plays and created a realistic social play. His finesse in portraying the life of the common folk and the reality of society is unparalleled. The financial condition of the contemporary society is honestly delineated in this play. The class division between the rich and the poor was glaringly visible in that society. The rich used to live in luxury and comfort in the cities. The men in power used to abuse their power to cater their own needs. The revolt against the tyrant king and eventually the ascension of Aryaka as the representative of the common people can be seen as an act of revolution by the righteous people to overthrow the corrupt state power by establishing an honest and brave statesman to power! The contemporary social, economic and political scenarios run in close parallel to that of these days.

Director Gautam Halder has followed a folk style in the presentation of the play. The actor, actress, singer, and musician everybody is present at the same time on the stage. In this form and a play which is steeped in numerous characters, an actor has to perform multiple roles. With minimal changes in attires and props, one can easily and convincingly shift between roles. The stage is kept almost unadorned, with two round pedestals on each side and a three-stepped one in the middle. The set in the play, like trees and walls etc were all performed by actors. The choreography is impressive. The dance choreographies other than the classical ones, especially the two scenes of moving bullock-cart were truly ingenious.

Considering the acting part, several local dialects can be heard from the characters in the play. The play is primarily designed on a comic tone and therefore all characters other than Charudatta and Vasantasena are seen to do humorous acting. But certainly not everybody has the same edge, Santanu Ghosh in the role of Maitraya stands out of the crowd. The chief characteristics of the character of Samsthanaka are his incoherent speech, excessively detestable lust and mischievousness. Gautam Halder has presented this character with all its characteristics marvelously. Apparently his acting may appear to be cheap and full of buffoonery but delineating the debauchery, cruelty, deceit, meanness etc of the character demanded such acting. It generates a sense of anger and irritation in the audience against the character, and that brings out the humour of it. Samsthanaka is also called ‘Shakara’ because of his prolonged stress in pronouncing the Bengali palatal letter ‘Sha’- this detail has been beautifully portrayed in the acting. But his conscious use of certain English words in his dialogue did sound unmatched and surprising.

Matir Gadi Mrichhakatik- An urban folkish interpretation of an old Sanskrit drama

Dyuti Ghosh Halder has brought life to the character of Vasantasena by her dance, singing and acting. Neeraj Kumar Mondal in the shoes of Charudatta appears rather simple. The live music keeps the flow of the play unhindered. The songs sung by Gautam Halder are soothing as usual, elevating the complete production as a whole. In terms of dress design (Dyuti Ghosh Halder), the attires of the men do meet the contemporary taste but somehow the same has not been the case with women characters. The light (Debasish Chakraborty) blends perfectly well with the mood of the play. Modern helmets adorning the heads of two soldiers do astound us in the similar fashion that usage of English words by Samsthanaka did. On another note, using a puppet to represent Rohsen onstage and playing a voiceover of his dialogue was truly impressive but was that only because of a lack of a child-actor or to relieve him of the burden of acting?

A conflict between good and evil is portrayed in the play. Following a stream of events, at last the good thrives over the evil, establishing Truth and Justice. A number of common and breathing characters throng the play, creating a sense of perpetual appeal in it. This ancient play harbours a thoroughly contemporary realistic tinge in it, therefore, making even its modern representation undoubtedly relevant.

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: Rishav Dutta

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