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‘Technology has infected theatre as an ideology’

Actress, director and playwright Sima Mukhopadhyay, who currently heads Rangroop, talks about her associations with different drama troupes, the plays her organisation is going to stage, and much more.

Shoma A Chatterji |

Rangroop, a dedicated theatre group based in Kolkata, is celebrating 50 years with a fitting festival of a rainbow of plays in Kolkata. The festival will be on from 2 to 8 October. Poet and critic Sankha Ghosh will be inaugurating the festival.

Actress, director and playwright Sima Mukhopadhyay who currently heads Rangroop, talks about her long journey through theatre in general and on the plays that will be staged in particular. She is an honourable member of Paschim Banga Natya Akademi and a recognised script writer of All India Radio.

She topped the university in her Masters from Rabindra Bharati in drama. She has won many awards for her acting, direction and as a playwright all of which she wears very lightly on her slender shoulders. Excerpts:

Q. How did your journey in theatre begin?

I was born into theatre because my father, the late Ajit Ghosh, who was founder-director of Natyayan, made me play the little Chaitanya in the play Sri Krishna Chaitanya. My father then placed me in MG Enterprise, a theatre group headed by Molina Debi and Gurudas Bandopadhyay.

I was groomed by them for several years and did several plays in which I worked with legends of Bengali theatre though I had no clue how great they were at that time. Among them were Ahindra Chowdhury, Rajlakshmi Debi, Deepak Mukhopadhyay and Thakurdas Mitra. They laid the foundations of my training in theatre which is now my life.

Q. When did you make the shift from traditional theatre to contemporary theatre?

This began with Kuntal Mukhopadhyay, who was the founder director of the group Sanglap Kolkata. I also worked with other groups such as Chetana, Gandhar, Anya Theatre, Pancham Vaidic, Pashchim Banga Natya Academy and Rangroop.

Q. Which was your first play with Rang- Roop?

I joined the group in 1979-80 under the wings of Goutam Mukhopadhyay who was founder-director of the group. My first play was Kanthaswar, directed by Mukhopadhyay whose son I later married. I had some of the best teachers when I was doing my Master’s. Among them were Kumar Roy, Tarun Roy, Rudraprasad Sengupta, the master of mime Jogesh Dutta, Gourishankar Bhattacharya, Bishnu Basu and Manoj Mitra.

Q. How and when did you take over the reins of Rang-Roop from Goutam Mukhopadhyay?

My father-in-law fell very ill and passed away from cancer. I had to take over the reins of the group. Bikalpawas the first play I wrote that was staged by Rangrup directed by Goutam Mukhopadhyay. Bikalpa, meaning replacement or alternative is very close to my heart because it dealt with surrogacy focussing on what would happen to TW countries like India if surrogacy were to become rampant here. Outside Rangroop, I worked with Saoli Mitra and Utpal Dutta in Chaitali Raater Swapnoadapted in Bengali from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, then Hochhheyta Keewith Bibhas Chakraborty adapted from a Dario Fo creation and so on.

Q. After 45 years in Bengali theatre, how do you look at the way it has evolved?

It has evolved to a great extent in terms of technology and its application in theatrical performances. At the same time, the space for innovation has been going down at a rapid rate and the goal of doing a given play is vanishing. But this is a reflection of how technology has impacted on our social environment too which has been consumed by material power and greed. This has infected theatre as well, as an ideology, as a performing art, as a journey to reach a certain destination and so on.

Financially, theatre alone cannot support a decent lifestyle for a theatre person even today and so, artistes, technicians, directors and playwrights keep freelancing instead of sticking to a particular group. I have stopped freelancing because my responsibilities as director of Rangroop are too many. Freelancing has its merits so far as earnings go and also, sometimes challenges come up. But the drawback is that the ideology of a given group takes a bad beating when people within the group cannot give enough time and effort to a single production because they are also working outside with other groups.

Q. Rang-Roop is presenting around nine plays at the festival. Readers would love to know which ones they are and what they are about.

We have chosen plays presented over the past 10 years in chronological sequence according to what we felt are important. We chose Jolchhobi(The watercolour painting) one of the three plays we did by Mohit Chattopadhyay. This is a Bengali adaptation of Beauty Queen of Leenane by Marleen McDonagh. It was a comedy translated by Teerthankar Chanda. I acted in the play alongwith Chitra Sen, Bimal Chakraborty and Jayanta Mitra.

The play can also be read as a social satire. Maayer Moto (Like Mother) is written by Chattopadhyay based on a work by the late Kobita Sinha. It is a story in which two old women, who were freedom fighters, look back into the past and looking at the present situation, try to find answers to the question – what does freedom really mean? Neel Ronger Ghoda(The Blue Horse) by Chattopadhyay is an exploration into the depths of the dual identity all of us live within — the real and what reaches beyond the real.

Q. What about the other plays?

Tokhon Bikel is a play everyone will be able to identify with easily. There are just two characters, a doctor, who is a man and his patient, a woman and the dialogue that happens between them. Sonai Bibiis a period play highlighting a piece of fictionalised history in one part of Bengal happening when the Moghuls were just entering the country. It is inspired from a novel by Sunil Gangopadhyay called Keertinashar Epar Opar. The most challenging play in the festival is Rakta Kalyan based on a play by Girish Karnad.

The play talks about a poet from Karnataka who believed that “work is the only religion” and the community he had founded called Shoron Sampradaya kept caste away totally. It comprised of Brahmins, Chamars, cobblers, manual scavengers who lived in harmony believing in Marxist ideology in place. But the Establishment destroyed this community entirely and it does not exist anymore. Jayanta Mitra has directed the play authored by Sounava Bose who also wrote our play Abyakto.

Abyakto is a play based on the life of Mahendralal Sarkar who founded the Cultivation of Science Association and was helped by Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar in his commitment to trying to establish whether science and religion can exist together in people’s lives.

Q. There is also an audio play. Tell us a bit about it.

Yes, it called Sruti Saanko – conceived, created and directed by noted theatre person Ashok Mukhopadhyay. “A Bridge to Listening” could be a rough translation. He will also perform it solo. Another play Bhashailo Rey, scripted and directed by Susmita Pan will be performed on the last day by the pupils of Jagabandhu School. The performances will be scattered around the Academy, Madhusudan Mancha and Tapan Theatre. The seminar on the first day will be held at the Conference Room of the Academy of Fine Arts.