“Bogola Charit Manas”: Theatre Review

Bengali plays are not very common at Ranga Shankara, so I was quite keen to watch this Badal Sircar play, produced by Centre for Film and Drama (CFD), and directed by Nilanjan  P Choudhry.

For this play, a neat brochure had been prepared by CFD  and the write up described it as a “fast-paced comedy”.
Bogota(sic) Charit Manas depicts the journey of a young orphan, whose naivety and lack of self-esteem leads him to be bullied at every turn. Driven to the brink of suicide at the prospect  of having to become a “ghar jamai” at his maternal uncle and aunt’s behest, his chance meeting with a strange old man, and a saucy female djinn, give him self-confidence again, and he sorts out his problems with the help of these two friends, becoming independent and successful;
The audience consisted of quite a few children, and a light mood was set by the folk music that was playing before the play began. But alas, on several fronts, the play did not live up to its promise. 
In the first place, the direction seemed really lax, and the play definitely dragged a lot, taking up far more time than it needed to. Secondly, I could not believe that this was a play by Badal Sircar at all…the dialogues (including the cliched East Bengali accent) were so trite and tired, and the characters were caricatures, and not in a witty way, either. Nothing proved how jaded the play was better than the fact that the sounds olaughter from the audience were few and far between. There was absolutely no freshess at all.
To ridicule someone because of his name…and the other situations that occurred in the play…would now be expected at an age when young children are in kindergarten, and certainly not for a mature audience. In spite of all this, the audience sportingly gave Bogola a good round of applause when he sang.
Two sutradhars engaged the audience with a commentary of the action in pure, literary Bengali, with self-referencing jokes (“Ki jey line likheche Badal Sircar!”)  and even more jaded sallies. However, I must say I enjoyed tha literary Bengali (“matulaloy” for “maternal uncle’s home”, “griho jomata” for son-in-law who stays in his wife’s home; a traditional butt of ridicule) Both of them often appeared with placards underlining the dangers of smoking, (including one that says, in Bengalo, “Dhoomropaan deadly”) as many of the characters light up cigarettes on the stage, and Neel Pori, the lady djinn, smokes a hookah.
The stage design was quite simple, consisting of several white steps, and the line of the stage itself became the railway lines where Bogola decides to end his life, knowing that of the twenty eight rupees and fifty paise he ran away from home with,  only thirteen and fifty paise remain after the bus ride.
The sadly dated, uninspiring humour, the very slack progression of the play, the trite jokes about removing caps and people’s wigs…all these combined to produce a sense of both ennui and a wonder whether, indeed, this was a play by a noted Bengali playwright.  Do we still live in a world where “saalaa” is a word that can shock and make us laugh? Not any more…and so, repeatedly, I got the feeling that I was sitting in a play for very young children. And yet, if that was so, the message of being self-confident and independent was not driven home wittily or forcefully enough. The cliched drunken wobblings of college students and even of one Sutradhar were more an embarassment than a source of humour.
The costumes were quite lavish, particularly with Neel Pori, who appeared in a beautiful blaze and did a good belly dance. The lighting was a combination of violet and magenta; it was effective for the most part, and I did wish I could photograph the lovely tableaus during the play!
One was not sure if the fumbles with the dialogue were deliberate or just happened. It was all supposed to be funny…but succeeded in only increasing the boredom factor, and I was thankful when the play finished in about 90 mins (the “1 hr 20 min” announced at the beginning was written on the Ranga Shankara website as “120 min”, giving me pause about attending yet another long production!)
All in all, a very disappointing and sub-standard production…when one thinks of Bengali theatre, and that, too, the celebration of 10 years by the CFD, one was certainly looking forward to a far higher plane of theatre production that what one had to endure. The audience was good-natured and took it in good spirit, but a production of better calibre w
The cast was introduced, but the crew was introduced in such a sketch way that I had to take the help of a neighbour to get the names. (I give all the names below.)
CFD….we do hope you choose better plays, and step up your production values…Bengali theatre doesn’t come to south Bangalore all that often, and we’d like more Bong for the buck!
Bogola Charit Manas, by Badal Sircar (Bengali) (120 mins)
Directed by Nilanjan P Choudhury
Sutradhar 1: Ranajit Debnath
Sutradhar 2:  Nilanjan P Choudhury
Bogola: Aniruddha Roy
Mama: Shekhar Ghosh
Mami: Bidisha Ganguly
Chhele 1/ Bhodrolok: Amit Ray
Chhele 2 : Pavel Sengupta
Lecturer: Arunima Choudhury
Briddho: Dipankar Banerjee
Neel Pori: Swati De
Lights: Arun Murthy
Sound/Music: Kallol


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