Tungabhadrar Teerey – Assessing the present through history

Posted by Kaahon Desk On September 15, 2018

Sharadindu Bandopadhyay is one of the best and most popular writers of Bengali literature. His historical novel ‘Tungabhadrar Teerey’, published in 1959, brought him the Rabindra Puraskar award. The historical information of this novel was originally taken from the book ‘A Forgotten Empire’ published in 1900, authored by the British historian Robert Sewell. Although the context of the novel actually made way for the historical characters, the basic storyline is thoroughly unique; which is why Sharadindu designated the novel as a Historical fiction.

Previous Kaahon Theatre Review:

The theatre group Kristi has brought the novel ‘Tungabhadrar Teerey’ to the Bengali stage as their latest production, dramatized and directed by Sitangshu Khatua. On last 8th September they staged the eighth show of this production at Minerva Theatre. The story dates back to the mid-14th century and is set in the erstwhile predominant Hindu state of Vijaynagar, situated in the banks of Tungabhadra. The story begins as the princess of Kalinga, Vidyutmala(Vidyunmala in novel) sets sail on Tungabhadra to marry Debaray, the king of Vijaynagar, accompanied by her step-sister Manikankana, uncle Chipitak, handmaid Mandodari, chief physician Rasaraj and a naval army of three hundred. The marriage between the princess Vidyutmala and the king Debaray was fixed as per a condition in the peace treaty between Bhanudev, the king of Kalinga and Debaray, since the former lost a battle to the latter. So the purpose of this journey is marriage but Vidyutmala has no desire for it. To her this is, ‘not a marriage but a mere move in a game of chess!’ Due to Vidyutmala’s prompt decision upon noticing a drowning Arjunvarma, he was saved by Balram, a soldier in the army. Arjunvarma, to save himself from a foreign ruler’s tyranny, had jumped into the Tungabhadra and intends to go to Vijaynagar expecting a change of fate. With the help of the medicines prescribed by the chief physician Rasaraj, Arjunvarma recovers soon enough and gets enlisted in the naval army. In the fag end of the journey, close to Vijaynagar, the boat capsized due to heavy storms. Amid the darkness of the night, Arjunvarma rescues Vidyutmala who was already drowning and they both end up in an island. They share their past with each other and the princess feels drawn to Arjunvarma. The next day all of them arrive at Vijaynagar fairly well. Since Vidyutmala has been in touch with another man, the preceptor of the king instructed that the wedding shall be postponed for three months and as penance the princess would have to bathe in the Tungabhadra and worship in the temple of Pampadevidaily. In the mean time Arjunvarma succeeds in acquiring the king’s favour showing his secret skills and also saves the king’s life from his brother Kampandev. Hence the king appoints him as his General. Meanwhile Vidyutmala keeps meeting Arjunvarma repeatedly and expresses her mind and thus they fall in love. It was certain that the king will never approve of this relation and so while trying to escape the state they were caught by the royal attendant Pingala. The king dismisses Arjunvarma from his rank but does not execute him since he had saved the king’s life once. Arranging the marriage between Arjunvarma and Vidyutmala he exiles them both to a cave on the condition that nobody will ever hear of Vidyutmala again. On the other hand, the king announces throughout the country that Vidyutmala has killed herself by drowning in Tungabhadra river. Later while Vidyutmala is pregnant, the Bahmani state attacks Vijaynagar and on the minister’s advice the king persuades Arjunvarma to go to the war. He goes to war to save Vijaynagar and upon returning victorious finds Vidyutmala mentally unstable. He comes to know that the king has killed their newborn baby. Infuriated Arjunvarma then rushes out and confronts the king Debaray…

It is quite perceivable that Sitangshu Khatua has succeeded in adapting the textual form of a novel into an act meant for the stage. The first part of the play has closely followed Sharadindu’s storyline but in the later part the director has put in his own thoughts and therefore the play has deviated from the novel’s course and posited itself as a unique narrative. But he has kept all the characters from the novel. When a dramatist adapts a novel or story he enjoys the complete freedom to brew his own understanding into it but the debate whether to call it an adaptation or simply a work inspired from the original account depends on to what extent it differs from the original one. Here the director has kept the vibe of originality unaffected throughout and has presented a universal truth in the later part of the play, which is highly applicable in the present as well. The story might be seven hundred years old but the face of the ruler has remained the same, something we can still relate to. The dramatist Sitangshu Khatua, by changing the storyline, has been able to add certain dramatic elements which are necessary for the stage acting. Since he himself is also the director, there are chances that he was well aware of the dramatic elements that can give credence to dramatic moments, right at the moment of writing. Not only as a writer but also as a director his work has been highly commendable. He has laudably weaved this story, so teeming with numerous characters, into just an hour and a half long play. With the use of small dialogues and scene designs he has successfully presented so much in such a little time. The important historical information in the novel, that during this time in Vijaynagar firearms were in use, has been conveyed to the audience just by a couple of dialogues and a short scene. He has designed the play with small scenes and so the immediate changes in scenes helped the narrative to keep its pace up. Therefore it can be said that in giving the novel the form of a play and in applying it on the stage, Sitangshu Khatua has passed both as a dramatist and a director with distinction.

With an exception of couple of actors, a certain standard was maintained in the overall presentation by the other actors. But it cannot be termed as of being a very high one. Sitangshu Khatua in the role of the king Debaray has turned out pretty well but it must be hereby included that actor Sitangshu plays a second fiddle to the dramatist and director Sitangshu. Gandharvi Khatua as Vidyutmala and Sujayraj Mantra as Arjunvarma have done justice to their characters, the chemistry between them fared well which was apparent in their look, conduct and body language. Oindrila Ghosh succeeds in enthralling us in the role of Manikankana. Abhigyan Khatua neatly portrays the character of Balram Karmakar, although his voice somewhat questions the credibility of the character. The witty acting of uncle Chipitak and Mandodari seems quite enjoyable but the performance of the king’s preceptor appears rather ridiculous.

The stage setting of this play is compelling too. Neel Kaushik’s stage designing is pleasant; he has beautifully represented the boat, temple, royal court etc by using small cutouts. This type of designing is very useful for quick scene changes. As the curtain goes up, a peacock-shaped barge appears on the stage, represented just by two cutouts and two shreds of cloth, which creates such an ambience, that the audience feels they too are on the same voyage. Here light (Bablu Sarkar) plays a crucial role as well. Abhigyan Khatua’s song is worthy of commendation. Flute and Sarod blend with the sound of water in the introductory song and it notably sets the mood of the play in no time. Abhinjan, a young talent still, has naturally evoked an expectation of such commendable works in near future. Staging a historical play faces two vital challenges of make-up and dress designing, which has been convincingly dealt with by Muhammad Ali and Gandharvi Khatua respectively.

Kristi is a young theatre group and adapting such a prominent novel as ‘Tungabhadrar Teerey’ on stage seriously deserves an obeisance. The collective effort working behind the success of the production is really significant, everybody has played their part earnestly well. They have clearly kindled our expectation for such wonderful works from them in future.

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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