In this age of global connectivity, nothing seems far away. From entertainment to information, everything can be accessed with a click. But is this true for theatre? How aware are we about the recent happenings in world theatre? “Unlike films, even in this age of Internet, we have little exposure to this art. The very nature of theatre — its live performance, immense logistics, limits its audience. The Bratyajan International Theatre Festival aimed to create this platform, where contemporary world theatre and Bengali Theatre could be performed together,” said Bratya Basu, West Bengal Minister of Information Technology and Electronics and convener of Bratyajon.
The recently concluded Bratyajon 6th International Theatre Festival, at the Academy of Fine Arts, saw a rather multifarious mix of International and Bengali Theatre.The most prominent among them was the Slovenian The Jewish Dogdirected byYonatan Esterkin. Based on Asher Kravitz’s 2007 Hebrew novel, it’s a unique fable which views the rise of Nazism and the history of the Holocaust through the eyes of a dog, Caleb.
Animals don’t profess, they don’t question, they only experience and Caleb in his long odyssey experienced the entire spectrum of emotions that only a human can associate. The “dog” who could understand human language but not speak it, conveyed dialogues factually, through subtle movements, clever space utilisation and minimum prop — leaving the audience to ponder upon the nub of this endeavour, “Why man kills man?”
Recreating such a challenging story in theatre is an altogether difficult endeavour. With a rather seminal treatment, Esterkin moves forward the process. The drama is treated as a monodrama with only one actor, Milha Rodman, playing all the 27 characters including the dog with equal élan, a feat only which an extremely talented actor like him can accomplish.
The clever and minimalistic set design where a single element is altered to signify a change is space complimented the treatment. “It was a different experience altogether, I have never experienced such clever use of the stage by an actor,” said Goutam Ghoshdastidar, a theatre veteran who prizes his association with theatre for more than three decades.
Preceding the premier of The Jewish Dog, Kabir Suman created an atmosphere of utmost serenity by regaling the audience with his Kheyal gayiki; interspacing puriya dhaneshri-puriya-kalyan-tilak kamod, was his inimitable polemics.
The other most celebrated performance was And why are you in a tailcoat? by the celebrated Russian director Iosif Raykhelgauz. Based on Anton Chekhov’s early one-act farce A Marriage Proposal, it’s a tale of a young man who, in his attempt to woo his beautiful neighbour, enters into a bitter quarrel with her over otherwise petty issues.
Raykhelgauz breaks from the traditional Soviet system of enacting Chekhov and instead treats the drama with magic, songs, circus, classical ballet and a live instrumental quartet to turn it into a mock-ballet, mock-opera with a loony set. The actors perform their antics on the stage with such finesse that the thin line between what they can do and what they can’t is obliterated from the mind of the audience completely.
Kolkata has seen other renditions of A Marriage Proposalin the past, but nothing so outlandish yet extravagant like that of Raykhelgauz. This international norm of breaking away from traditions is manifested in dramatist and thespian Bratya’s Banijyye Basate Lakshmi. In this play, which he himself labels as capitalist, Bratya breaks free from theatre’s well known baggage of anti-establishment, and instead boasts of a new vision to understand our present.
He juxtaposes the seemingly anti-capitalist stand of the Bengali bourgeoisie with the enterprise of Kolkata’s own Marwari community through the eyes of protagonist Arya Dutta. He aims to reposition our focus to rural India, which he believes is the key to the economic future of India.
A superbly crafted production, with intelligent and witty dialogues, excellent use of actors and refreshingly new world views, Banijye Basate Lakshmi proves once again, why Bratya Basu’s name features so prominently in the illustrious list of Bengali Theatre’s who’s who. For Sahitya Akademi award winner, novelist Amar Mitra, “it’s a brilliantly original narrative with insights to reinterpret our past and change round our future.”
The true find of the festival could well be Debasish Ray’s Hridipash(Theatre Platform) and as the moniker evokes, it begets its allusion from Sophocles’ opus, Oedipus. A short synopsis — Hriday Sekh may escape the 1946 Bangladesh riot to take up Hriday Ghosh and Hriday Lodha as aliases but “Oh Sinner Man! Where you gonna run to?”. The play dwells on the complexity of relationships arising out of Oedipus complex. Wrenching acting by Sumit Kumar Roy, agile manoeuvres, acrobatic martial imports, indigenous songs and dances, probes into the receptive psyche of the audience.
“We are entering a strange phase,” apprised Bratya Basu, “a time when virtual overrides reality, when sham reality eclipses reality; all the theatres in this festival are protests against this phenomenon.” The packed auditorium of the Academy of Fine Arts, throughout the festival, testifies that Bratyajon is swerving high and mighty.
Inputs by sudipto mullick