Saudagorer Nauka : When designer defeats director

Posted by Kaahon Desk On March 10, 2017

Is it possible for a theatrical production to offer to the audience a rich and pleasurable experience and yet, contain at its conceptual core a ringing hollowness, which renders the production irredeemably problematic, flawed and, quite frankly, deeply dissatisfying in the final analysis?Saudagorer Nouka, a production born out of collaboration between Niva Arts and Sansriti,perfectly realizes that possibility.

Any attempt to indicate the elements of the production that bring pleasure has to begin by referring to the aspect of acting. While there can hardly be any surprise in the casting of Debshankar Halder to play the role of the protagonist Prasanna, it has to be said that this immensely powerful actor is beginning to repeat himself. Nivedita Mukhopadhyay (as Asha) and Ranajit Chakraborty(as Harisadhan) are quite convincing in their stylized interpretations of their characters. Sudipta Chakraborty (as Sati, Prasanna’s wife) proves yet again her mettle as a fine actor as she buries her own self under that of a much older character’s with seemingly effortless ease. For me, however, it is Sujan Mukhopadhyay who stole the show as an actor. Kalo is arguably the most complex and layered character in the play – Sujan’s sense of timing, his ability to suggest conflicting emotions by bringing into play voice, gesture and movement, and his fluency at being able to scale dramatic highs and also create, when required, contained moments throbbing with emotions kept under a strong leash, bring Kalo wonderfully alive. Sumit Chakraborty’s light, Debojyoti Mishra’s music (played by Anindya Nandy), Sanchayan Ghosh’s set, Piyal Bhattacharya’s choreography and Md. Ali’s make up combine efficiently to express the director/designer’s vision. (It must be clarified that not by having watched the play at Tapan Theatre, I missed out on experiencing the use of the revolving stage).

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But the play, as suggested in the beginning has problems, the crux of which is that Debesh Chattopadhyay, director and scenographer (I will use the term designer), has decided to not re-imagine and re-configure Ajitesh Bandopadhyay’s text. It seems Debesh Chattopadhyay, while conceptualizing his production, had taken a knife to the play, slicing it into two neat halves – one half being the text of the play and the other half being the theatrical production of it. The production half he decides to update by brining to bear upon it the technologies and protocols of contemporary light design, set design, music design and choreography. What results is a very pretty audio-visual product, packaged smartly; the forty-year old play is given a cosmetic make-over so that we are presented with a beautified Ajitesh. But the text of the play – the beating heart of any production, many would say – Debesh leaves completely untouched, allowing his designer self to completely subdue his directorial mind. There are at least three distinct aspects of the text that could have gained from constructive directorial intervention.

(i) The text could have been significantly edited. For example, sections of the many scenes that are expressive of Prasanna’s angst, portions that throw light on the dynamics of Prasanna’s relationship with his wife, the prolonged sequence where Sati and Asha for Prasanna to return could have been considerably compressed.At times the narrative crawls with agonizing sluggishness, weighed down by the flab of repetitiveness.

(ii) Ajitesh’s text is, in parts, a poetic play and as such bears the distinguishing mark of such plays – wordiness and verbosity. There are sequences that are so wordy that these play out like an audio drama; one can shut one’s eyes during these sections and just receive the sequences aurally, without losing much in the process. With way too much words comes a dependence on telling rather than showing. Thus it is no surprise that for the most part, the actors fall back upon the age-old technique of text-based acting heavily dependent on dialogue delivery, rather than performing the many shades and layers of the characters’ thoughts, feelings and sentiments. Debesh Chattopadhyay’s grasp, in theory and practice, of performance is beyond question, and thus it is equally baffling and disappointing that he, of all persons, should turn his back on performance.

(iii) A serious problem with Ajitesh’s text is that it does not so much engage with the crisis of a Jatra artist as it does with the passionate grief of an old man who feels being relentlessly pushed into the garbage bin of time. (This is probably because Jatra was still somewhat alive when the play was written.) There is hardly any sense of aesthetic crisis, a crisis involving his art form and practice, that Prasanna voices. That is why he canrun out, with a happy spring in his steps, not once but twice, to perform what he had always been performing. This is an aspect of the text that demanded substantial directorial mediation. In times such as ours when various types of screened entertainment and art forms, virtual and real, pose an immense threat to the very survival of live performances, Debesh Chattopadhyay’s decision not to transform the text to address this crisis from a practitioner’s point of view amounts to dereliction of aesthetic responsibility.

This is 2017, when Jatra as an art form is in the process of slowly dying an ugly, debased death and when government dole is attempting to bring theatre out of coma. And yet, set against this temporal context, the final sequence of the play has Prasanna, aided by a frantic play of light and a flourish of background music, unleashing amelodramatic clarion call to set sail once more on the boat of his art. The well-designed sequence has the desired impact on the sense of cultural nostalgia of the audience who clap and cheer wildly, allowing themselves to be emotionally swept away by Prasanna’s self-indulgent fiction. I hope, once they climb down from their emotional high, they will settle down to ask the really important questions – what boat is Prasanna talking about? Is it there at all? If there, has anybody checked whether it has a huge hole in its hull? And, speaking of boats, I also hope their cultural memory will conjure in their minds the image of another boat – the dead, beached boat in the final sequence of Jalshaghar, the one that causes the tortured life of Biswambar Roy (Cast: Chhobi Biswas) to come to an end. That boat is a director’s creation, our Saudagor’s boat is a designer’s trinket.

Dipankar Sen

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