Upal Bhaduri – A successful documentary theatre, both in craft and emotions

Posted by Kaahon Desk On May 23, 2019

A theatre which re-establishes the relationship between the actual and the fictional may be treated as one of the many definitions of Documentary theatre. A tale, reconstructed or retold through re-enactments out of various bodies of evidences is the main compelling pillars of this form of theatre. The secret lies within the additional paradoxical pairings between the history and the autobiography, the real and the representational or between the personal and the political that marks the success of any documentary theatre.  These pairings are either done by the interpretations of the director, or the script writer or if the play is autobiographical, then the protagonist through the lanes of his or her memories. Upal Bhaduri, the play reaches its parameters of success through such interpretations which the director/creative designer/script writer Rakesh Ghosh has decided to project.

Previous Kaahon Theatre Review:

Upal Bhaduri is a play based on the nearly eighty years of journey that the veteran actor Shri Chapal Bhaduri has traversed. Chapal Bhaduri acted in Bengali theatre and Jatra as the female impersonator. His fame as the female actor had reached to such heights that he could compete with even the female film stars of Bengal. But suddenly, time changed. The stage lost its need for male actors in female lead roles as women tamed the social taboos and entered the Bengal theatre and Jatra stage. Chapal Bhaduri, faced the challenges of unemployment and most importantly the chances to present before a hall of audience his much precious craft of acting which once mesmerized almost the entire population of Bengal. But this chapter of looking back at Chapal Bhaduri’s life is not so simple.  His life had once been captured through the lens of a camera, which focussed that part of his emotions, harnessing which he could enact so spontaneously the role of a woman in various characters. That part of his emotion, which made him believe in himself as to be a woman and not a man trying to wear a woman’s lens to see the world. Now, naturally this raises a simple question that how Chapal Bhaduri negotiated with his sexuality?  This question rules every audience’s curiosity, suspicion while accepting Chapal Bhaduri while he as an individual, as an artist, his struggles of ascending the spiritual ladder of the art, becomes secondary.

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This is where, the introspective intrusion of Rakesh Ghosh that changed the politics of representation of the real life of Chapal Bhaduri needs acclamation. The script is the main focal point of this play which juggles hard to keep the unfortunate keen curiosity of the audiences regarding the personal sexual choices of Chapal Bhaduri at bay and brings in the artist in himself at the forefront. This play also narrates the journey of Chapal Bhaduri, as a woman soul residing in the body of a man, who falls in love with men, gets hurt by them. But the strength of the script lies in the fact that it narrates the story of that woman soul which is truly of an actor. That woman soul, who has won fame and respect through mastering acting capacities of portraying woman characters and is so embalmed in that self, cannot accept rejections in personal life arising out of love and relationships. When the play ends, the audience becomes empathetic to Chapal Bhaduri who wins love, respect, power, aspirations as an actor who enacts women characters and then with the waves of time, loses them and gets trapped within the distress of humiliation, poverty and pain of losing the vessel to float across the spiritual journey of an artist.

This transgression into the life and soul of the artist Chapal Bhaduri could have been possible because of the majestic performance of Shri Chapal Bhaduri himself and also by Ranjan Bose who acted in the same role parallel with him. All other actors in every major and minor role convincingly exhibited the characters in a believable way. Bablu Sarkar in light design, Atanu Sarkar in scenography, Abhijit Acharya in music were the key persons who created the perfect framework for the performance of the autobiographical journey.

Documentary theatre is generally created from a specific body of archived material such as interviews, documents, hearings, records, video, film, photographs etc. But here, in this play, the time travel takes through the performative design and the choreography. The genre of the play is melodrama. The high strung melodramatic quotient gets mellowed down by the smart creative design of the play. The acting style may be found to have more closer affinity to the high strung Jatra form, but if it can sway the audiences while connecting the inner emotional pressure points of the audiences, then it smashes all criticisms. The set, light, choreography is so in tune with the modern visual styles that no audience will have to preoccupy an old viewing practice to enjoy the play. Though some dialogues or events which could be edited to avoid minute distractions occurring because of repetitions.

In conclusion, the play is an experience which acts as a motivational tool to fight the severe struggles of life. The journey of an artist, Shri Chapal Bhaduri who never leaves his inspiration and eagerness to perform before the audience becomes a lesson for the audiences to never lose faith and hope in life which is always pregnant with surprises.


Srijayee Bhattacharjee
A postgraduate in film studies from Jadavpur University, Research Project Assistant in Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies, a thespian, creative producer and a writer.


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