Shob Charitra Kalpanik – A play replete with youth, vivacity and innovative excitement

Posted by Kaahon Desk On December 13, 2019

The Bengali play ‘Shob Charitra Kalpanik’ (‘Shob’ here denotes dead body) was staged on the 19th of November at Academy of Fine Arts’ Ranu Mukhopadhyay Mancha. Based on Parashuram’s story ‘Mahesher Mahajatra’, the play has been written by Kallol Lahiri, directed by Anamitra Khan and the production house is Beadon Street Shubham Repartee.

Rajshekhar Basu (1880-1960) aka Parashuram’s story is extremely popular and it was written more than 80 years ago. So when a contemporary theatre group decides to select this story, a lot of things need to be factored in. For example, whether the story should be brought to the taste of the modern times, whether there should be a change in execution or whether a new reading or interpretation of it should be looked at. Not all the decisions taken by young director Anamitra Khan and ‘Team Shubham’ in this regard have come out with flying colours but it’s visible that a lot of thinking has gone behind this and this thing precisely makes the play stand apart from the mediocrity of the rest.

Previous Kaahon Theatre Review:

The central conflict of the story revolves around the Philosophy professor Harinath Kundu who believes in ghosts and his dear friend Maths expert Mahesh Mitra who vehemently disregards ghosts. In Parashuram’s original story, Mahesh dies at the end and Harinath follows him during the last rites. This play starts right after that. Harinath while running, gets hit by a car and dies as well. The police arrive to investigate and by following the investigative thread and flashbacks, the whole story comes to light. This story, apart from few extra inclusions, mainly follows Parashuram’s original story. The difference here is that the story has been transported to today’s time. And for that a lot of contextual factors like changing behaviours and dialects of people have been kept in mind. That’s why this change comes across as rather believable. But we will come back to the structure of the play later again.

Now let’s come to the tone. Parashuram with the help of subtle exaggeration creates a parallel world where the eccentricity of the characters becomes compatible. In order to reconstruct that same world of Parashuram on stage, an out-of-the-box approach is needed in elements like stage, lighting and the acting. This dexterity is visible in this play. Manibhadra Sahoo’s stage design doesn’t go with a typical setup. A lot of things like rostrum, block, plastic chair and notation stand have been used innovatively. The flexibility of this stage is appropriate for such plays where multiple things are happening at different places. This dynamic stage design has been well supported by Subhankar Dey’s lighting. The innovative use of different light sources to depict scene changes and time shifts showcase clear understanding and a well thought out process. In the acting front as well, we can discern a bit more exaggerated gestures and pronounced dialogue delivery. On top of that, it uses mime, which is conceptualised by Shantimoy Roy. Overall, the world that has been created as a result of this, is quite consistent in nature. The tone that is set in the very first scene of a moving car, holds its shape till the end. We can’t really recall the advent of ghosts in such a controlled way in Bengali theatre before this. Especially the witch with long fingernails is really innovative. Sk. Israphil’s makeup also deserves a special mention. But we would have loved to see more numbers of traditional Bengali ghosts in it. Soumalya Pakrashi’s westernised music arrangement goes well with the mood of the play. Nabendu Sengupta’s costume design is also apt, watching Harinath in dhoti-panjabi takes some time to get used to but it has been thoroughly contextualised later. The organised proficiency of the actors are visible through their constant exchange of action-reaction. Souparna Roy in Mahesh’s character and the director himself as Harinath complements each other well. The presence of multiple Maheshs in a certain scene, multiple hanging knots, research notes as the backdrop – everything indicates towards the director’s ingenuity. With the help of quick overlaps of current time with flashbacks the director weaves his narrative with utmost swiftness while the actors provide their able support. That’s why as an audience, you are constantly kept in the loop. All in all, the dramatic execution is top notch and is appropriate for the story.

Medea – A relevant theatre that lacks the intrigue of the ‘Medea’ ideaThe makers here have shown guts by attempting to provide a new interpretation. The ghost of the story is not just another ghost; it is also man’s disgraced past that wants to consume his presence. And this is where our biggest regret about the play, lies. The ghost of this play could have become a political statement or a certain ideology where the non-believers are discarded and they become a part of the social corrective process (1). The play despite advancing towards that avenue, doesn’t go the full hog. The witch character manages to delve deeper but the story constructed around the student’s death is rather ordinary. That’s why, despite showing the possibilities of touching the larger sociopolitical background, the play stops before its destination. But it is nothing but a question of possibilities full of ifs and buts. Whatever the play has managed to achieve is already a lot. Meanwhile, there’s another Parashuram play ‘Lakkhir Bahon’ going on in the city (Kaahon theatre review – Lakkhir Bahon) . If we compare the run-of-the-mill execution of that play, then this play’s distinct style comes to the fore more easily.

Let’s come back to the structure of the play. Starting from the conclusion has been used way too many times as a way to deliver a familiar play with new twists. But in this way, the play has to carry the extra baggage of few unrelated scenes. Here, it is the police investigation scenes. They eat up a considerable chunk of time and as comedic episodes too, they are quite average. The humour has been tried to be evoked through dialogues and physical maneuvers. But Parasharam’s humour is more refined, not the one to be termed as boisterous. That’s why we can perceive the difference of quality between the main narrative and the investigation scenes. It’s possible to assume the difference as intentional but then what about the scene where Harinath and servant Parash meet after the death of Mahesh? Sudeep Dhara as Parash is excellent and that scene is bound to make you laugh but unfortunately, that tone of humour doesn’t fit with the main story’s narrative structure. The production could have been more daring by avoiding investigation subplots and by streamlining the main narrative to focus and explore the Mahesh and ghosts’ scenes in a more prominent light.

This play is being staged for more than 2 years and this was its 16th show. But with extreme sadness, the emptiness of the theatre seats was observed. Where did all the sensible viewers of Bengali theatre go? You may have seen a lot of incompetent dramatisations of Greek plays, copies of foreign films, frisking of famous actors, and plays dealing with safe politics, then why not go watch a play full of young energy and fervour as well? Give it a try, may be you will also start to be hopeful about Bengali theatre again.

(1) The closest treatments have been found in Sunil Gangopadhyay’s ‘Garam Bhaat Othoba Nichhak Bhooter Golpo’, Nabarun Bhattacharya’s novel ‘Herbert’ and Anurag Kashyap directed film ‘No Smoking’.

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- Biplab Mazumder

Read this review in Bengali.

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