Nayan Kabirer Pala – Reconfirmation of significance of Absurd Theatre

Posted by Kaahon Desk On May 2, 2019

Kathakriti theatre group on 9th March 2019 presented their first ever performance of ‘Nayan Kabirer Pala’ at Minerva Theatre, Kolkata. Written by Nabhendu Sen, the play has been directed by Sanjib Ray.

The play ‘Nayan Kabirer Pala’ belongs to a broad context. It is considered to be an authentic exemplar of the Theatre of the Absurd or ‘Absurd Drama’ in Bengali language. Taking the inherent chaos and recurrence of vacant and meaningless experiences of people’s lives into account, a handful of Parisian playwrights, around the 1950s, produced some plays (namely Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, Arthur Adamov, Jean Genet) which, owing to their corresponding views, are collectively designated as ‘Absurd Theatre’. Later on, this particular theatrical style spread all around the world (thanks to Harold Pinter). And that the Bengali stage too did not miss to respond to that wave is confirmed by this 1968 play ‘Nayan Kabirer Pala’ by Nabhendu Sen.

Previous Kaahon Theatre Review:

All the features of an Absurd drama are present in this play to their full extent, with a tinge of native romantic sensibility to add to it. Nayan and Kabir are two actors of older ages but the change of taste among the audience has rendered their style of acting irrelevant. They try to build up a play in front of the audience and since their lives are devoid of any significant events worth telling, they make an effort to dramatize one of Nayan’s nightmares instead. A man comes to meet Nayan in his nightmare and tries to establish himself as Nayan’s father with some paltry logic. Nayan and Kabir’s opinions in terms of the play’s progression differ, resulting in multiple reenactments of this scene. They agree to keep the conventional act of killing and repentance at the climactic scene of the play. But even the matter of who-kills-whom becomes a matter of dispute and they keep repeating this scene too. At last, failing to construct a single play capably, they prepare to leave the stage with complete disappointment and shame.

To analyze the dynamics of ‘Nayan Kabirer Pala’ we need to understand the context of the Absurd theatre. The destruction, despair and decadence of the post-World War II environment gave rise to this particular theatrical movement. Although drawing largely from the idea of Existentialism, it is Albert Camus’s 1942 essay ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’ that defines the absurdity that it so deals with. According to this perspective, man is detached from his surroundings, is confined within the illogical, incoherent and impossible stream of events, and bound within the recurring futility of pushing one’s burden like the Greek mythological character Sisyphus. These playwrights argue that in this neurotic socio-political milieu, people have become isolated from each other, bereft of any lingual or mental communication and logic has given way to incoherent speech. In such context the conventional descriptive form of play falls short to decipher the Truth of life. Therefore refuting all the traditional discipline and conditions of this art form, these playwrights searched for a new approach both in terms of content and form. A good conventional play possesses a well-formed plot, a carefully planned arrangement of events from the beginning to end, clever and impactful dialogue and sharp characterization. On the other hand, in an Absurd play there is no particular story, no clearly defined beginning, middle an end but only repetitive incoherent speech and mechanized characterization. If a good conventional play is considered to be the mirror of society then an Absurd play reflects the horror and nightmare of it.

When we try to accommodate ‘Nayan Kabirer Pala’ within this context, we get to observe its fundamental philosophy behind the apparently trivial, humorous and inconsistent exteriority. The play takes place in a backdrop of a circus, with Nayan and Kabir in clown’s attire. They are emotional and fragile, neglected and alone; their lives are miserable, insignificant and isolated. Their painted faces hide their differences and their identity crises heighten up when in their nightmare-play Kabir plays Nayan and Nayan plays the role of stranger. Triumph of hollow logic and recurrence of futile labour permeates the play! Even the conversation outside the play is saturated with despair, emptiness and a call to make a despondent journey towards uncertainty. A complete abandonment of convention is observed in terms of form as well, dropping the scene in the midway, with the artisans in charge of stage and light design coming onstage.

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Director Sanjib Ray has brought the 1968 play on stage, almost unaltered by any flings of contemporariness. In fact the context of time presents itself indirectly in this play, through the mentions of ‘last war’, living in Burma and a conscious employment of ‘Jester’ in play. Actually, Absurd drama focuses on building a blurred territory or an interim universe where time and space has no concrete definition. Both the stage and dress are designed by the director himself. The ambiance of the circus is very colourfully delineated by him, adding a knife-stricken Cross-like structure in the midst, suggestive of the play’s absurdity. Sadhan Padui has been very careful in crafting the light and shadowy atmosphere on the stage but he seems to conform to the conventions at times, like in the scene of Nayan’s ‘Chhagol dhuklo bagane’ (Goat enters the garden), a continuous use of three spotlights appears too formulaic. Debraj Bhattacharya’s music too has complemented the play capably. Bhattacharya in the role of Nayan and Prasenjit Bardhan in the shoes of Kabir have simply enthralled the house. Thanks to their erratic play acting, even a plotless, theoretical play like this becomes an appealing one. And that leaves a space to criticize the piece as well. It is their inconstant and erratic movement that somewhat overtakes the underlying melancholy and emptiness of the characters. Maybe that is why to some audience the play ends up being just ‘a humorous play of quality acting’. A kind request to take a notice of this issue is hereby made.

‘Nayan Kabirer Pala’ was first staged exactly fifty years earlier, in the year of 1969, under the guidance of the late Shyamal Ghosh of Nakshatra theatre group. Kathakriti deserves a special appreciation for familiarizing the present audience with this play. A resurgence of interest in the dramatist Nabhendu Sen can be observed in the Bengali theatre of late. We can hope for his other works to hit the stage as well. And a renewed theoretical argument on the relevance of Absurd Theatre needs to be pondered on again. Despondency and desolation is eternal, but do other trepidations too come within the scope of Absurd Drama? Is it appropriate to present certain problems of these days in the style of Absurd Drama? Maybe this discussion would pave the way for a new theatrical style which would eventually be fundamentally Indian.


Anjan Nandi
A science student, postdoctoral researcher, writer-translator of science oriented popular literature and a dedicated audience of theatre for last two decades, he has observed many changes in Bengali theatre from a very close proximity. He is a regular contributor in Bengali Wikipedia and engages himself deeply in photography and cinema.

Translation– Rishav Dutta

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