Foreign troupes, plays mesmerise at Kolkata fest

A smorgasbord of mercurial emotions, powerhouse histrionics, realistic themes and a riot of colours painted the canvas of the second season of international theatre festival, organised by the leading Bengali play group, Kalindi Bratyajon.
Helmed by Bratya Basu, the West Bengal minister for higher education and an eminent actor-theatre practitioner in his own right, the troupe had set the stage for this year’s weeklong fiesta which shortly drew to a close. Held at Kolkata’s famous heritage Star Theatre auditorium, the cultural carnival was significantly dedicated to the noted thespian of Bangla natya-mancha — Noti Binodini Dasi — to commemorate her 150th birth anniversary.
The itinerary featured an array of thought-provoking scripts to enthral the intellectually theatre-literate audiences of Kolkata. The opening play was a must-watch entry from Manipur’s Chorus Repertory Theatre under Ratan Thiyam’s direction, titled Ashibagee Eshei.
Other state-based selections were culled out of Maharashtra, Kerala and Assam.
Notably, Kalindi Bratyajon’s much-illustrious presentation Ruddhasangeet, revolving around the life and times of the late distinguished Rabindrasangeet exponent Debabrata Biswas as usual proved to be a huge draw at the ticket-counters.
Through this annual international theatre festival, the organisers felt that Kolkata got exposed to a never-before experienced theatrical scene with a bulk of foreign invitees staging plays right in the heart of their city. For countries like Italy, Bangladesh and Nepal — besides several other nationally-reputed teams plucked in from various parts of the country participated at this variegated playfest. A major attraction of the festival this time was the Italian team touching down in town from far Naples. A popular theatre company Teatro Stabile Di Napoli was elicited to stage a modern adaptation of ancient Greek mythology — I, Clytemnestra: The Verdict.
Also on the list was Theatre Platform from North 24 Parganas which formed the only invited theatre troupe from the district level, this year. And from the adjacent neighbourhood — Bangladesh’s entry Shapath was performed by its National Theatre fold in collaboration with the national Shilpakala Academy.
The productions staged at the fest saw an amalgam of both national and international flavours. So there’s been a global angle appendaged to the whole line-up.
“Theatre is our focal point no doubt, but at the same time, we have always put an emphasis on other theatre-allied activities as part of our daily agenda,” informs Basu, the prime-mover of Kalindi Bratyajon.
“Performance is only an integrated part of theatre in its totality. Rest is circumnavigated by a myriad dreams, visions and passions for a project. Theatre is actually an aesthetic expression on a pulpit,” opines Basu.
Last time, if it was the coterie of young directors who was under focus at the theatre fest, this fiscal, the spotlight was shifted to the gallery of women practitioners. If the duration of the fest was four days last year, this time, it got extended to a seven-day carnival. Talking of the erstwhile theatre-actress from Bengal, Basu broached the controversial topic of Noti Binodini, ascribing it as a sore point in the history of Bengali theatre. “Sad but true, Binodini was attacked by the then patriarchal psyche of the theatrical society, mostly dominated by male actors and she fell a miserable prey to their narrow-minded politics and apathy,” he lamented.
“She had been a sole fighter for the rights of the Star Theatre auditorium which she wanted to get utilised as an ideal centre for staging plays. But her efforts was never given a due recognition by christening the theatre-hub after her name, as her inferior social status was cited as a deterrent,” he rued.
“It’s high time that now we should rectify this shame by reinstating the yesteryear prima-donna of Bengal’s stage to her former glory,” he further suggested.
Noted Manipuri dramatist Ratan Thiyam groused that “it has never occurred to the Union government or for that matter, the professional agencies of art and culture to hold a calendar of big theatre fests on a broader perspective with a view to springboard the centuries-old performing arts of India. One has to promote and develop the indigenous cultural crafts to sustain the country’s ethnic fabric for the posterity. Kolkata had a tradition of theatre even before the British colonial era had begun in India. However, this root could further be deepened, strengthened or enriched via the ties of improvement in cahoots with the commercial companies. Several powerful laboratories of theatre should have been already established for executing workshops, scouting and tapping raw talents, conducting grooming sessions and experimenting over revolutionary scripts. But this wasn’t the case despite there being a volcano of creative talents and artistes, spread all over.”
Adding further, he argued: “See, theatre-lovers will always expect a wide-scale theatre festival to be hosted or something along the lines of a Broadway musical to be staged somewhere. Even if we try and analyse this deficit from an economic standpoint, still it can’t suffice as a solid excuse for our failure to promote an elaborate theatre fest at least once a year. India is a vast nation and we do churn out some good quality theatrical productions annually to pride over. So given that scenario, more sponsorships and resources must be pooled in to nourish the cultural-health of India with a good projection of a theatrical-spectacle on a global plank.”
The veteran theatre-exponent also asserts that “holding theatrical renditions is like uplifting a mirror to the society. It’s a kind of social service, which positively affects the socio-economic-political-religious factor of a specific state by growing general awareness of massive proportions.”
Italian actress Christina Donadio gladly expressed her desire mentioning that “may be next time, a Kolkata contingent can be flown out to Naples to participate at a theatre festival over there.” As is the fact, the Italian stage is hugely famous for the great tragedies which are deeply instilled into the nation’s older traditions. So am just wondering if it’s possible to betray that convention and be a little unusual with an unorthodox theme this time.”
Christina’s directorial production I Clytemnestra, The Verdict is an out-of-the-box script from her kitty. And yeah, she’d definitely like to make a movie on Binodini’s lifestory. “What an inspiring woman she is. I’d love to read more about her and her works on stage. It’ll be a very beautiful venture for me from an actress’s point of view. I’ll start shooting some parts of the film here in Kolkata on real locations and then go back to Italy to pen the project script with further research work,” she revealed.
Having started her career 11 summers ago in 2002 with both proscenium and site-specific productions, Ramanjit Kaur of The Creative Arts said: “I always attempt to use theatre as a therapy. This particular production Baawre Mann Ke Sapne is a labour of love and pain. The actors are a mishmash of real housewives and working people and some of them have never even seen a play being staged nor ever visited a theatre-house in their lives.” Ramanjit has earlier taken her troupe on the trot around the world to Perth, London, Canberra and Italy.

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