Tagore revisited in new contexts, formats at NSD festival

January 13th, 2009 - 8:19 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Jan 13 (IANS) Participants in the ongoing 11th Bharat Rang Mahotsav, the annual theatre festival of the National School of Drama (NSD), revisited classics by Rabindranath Tagore to take them to a wider cross-section of people.Three plays - “Bidushak” (The Jester) directed by Koushik Sen, “Dak Ghar” (Post Office) by Heisnam Kanhailal and “Rakto Korobi” (The Red Blossoms) by the Kolkata-based group Pathasena - re-interpreted the Nobel laureate over the last week in experimental formats against the backdrop of urban realities and contemporary socio-political issues.

The idea, chorused the directors and actors of all the three plays, was to convey the social relevance of Tagore even though most of his plays were written in the first half of the last century.

“Bidhushak”, adapted from the Nobel laureate’s collection of short stories “Galpa Guccha” (Bunch of Stories), narrates the tale of the king of Kanchi who tries to impress upon a bunch of mischievous village children the glory of his victory over the king of Avanti.

As the king decides to teach the children a brutal lesson to drill the victory home, the court jester parts ways saying he will soon forget how to make people laugh because “he does not know to kill, he only knows how to make people laugh”.

“The play takes a detour from the original story written by the Nobel laureate. It becomes a comment on the political situation in Bengal,” director Kaushik Sen told IANS.

“While we were planning to stage ‘Bidushak’, something terrible was happening in the state. The intellectuals were raising their voices against the CPI-M (Communist Party of India-Marxist) for its arbitrary handling of land acquisition imbroglios in Nandigram and Singur, the controversy over the proposed special economic zones and displacement of villagers.

“I turned the jester’s rebellion into a symbol of the common man’s resentment against the system and his apprehensions about the future,” he added.

“Rakto Karobi” - a tale of exploitation of miners and their crusade for freedom - was staged Sunday by the people’s theatre ensemble Pathasena. It carried its message to the masses in the form of experimental third theatre under the guidance of post-modernist stage personality Badal Sircar.

“Rakto Korobi” is the story of Nandini - a girl decked in red and white floral ornaments whose wilful spirit spells freedom to a community of gold miners at the Yakshapuri gold mine commanded by a tyrant of a king.

The play re-modelled in the style of the street theatre or the alternative third theatrical format made popular by Sircar in the 50s is true to the script.

However, it breaks down the barriers proscenium drama and interacts directly with the audience through a simple story-telling format that forms the essence of Sircar’s third theatre.

This theatrical genre was a hit among students during the Naxal uprising in Bengal during the 1960s and the 1970s, explained members of Pathasena.

“People are our sets, characters and props - we have used strong body language to convey the sense of time, place, set and the drama. The movements are deliberately fluid to show changing situations,” said a Pathasena actor.

While “Rakto Karabi”, with its strong pro-people theme, evolved as an embodiment of modern-day freedom struggles across the world, “Dak Ghar” - the story of a 12-year-old boy Amol in his death bed - became a stylised drama of a tortured human spirit in a medley of languages and folk forms that included Bengali, Manipuri, Rabha, Bodo and Assamese.

Amol, confined to a darkened room after being diagnosed with a terminal sickness, befriends a man selling curd, a postman and flower sellers as he strives to escape his drudgery.

Directed by veteran stage personality Heisnam Kanhaiyalal of Kalakshetra Manipur, one of the oldest theatre ensembles of Manipur that was formed in 1969, the play staged Sunday de-constructed the conventional aesthetics of the Bengali stage for a pan-Indian appeal.

As a result, Amol attained a universality by transcending age, sex, language and creed with the skillful body language, expressions and dialogues of 64-year-old Heisnam Savitri from Manipur, who does not speak Bengali or Hindi.

“I wanted to capture the essence of the character and so I used a 64-year-old woman to portray the emotions of a 12-year-old-boy, which is the innate innocence of humanity and playfulness of a child,” said Kanhaiyalal.

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