‘Bishadkal' was sailing smoothly till it went out of context.
Killing and the atrocity associated with such a gruesome act forms the kernel of Bishadkal a play inspired by Rabindranath Tagore's Bisarjan and Rajarishi. Motifs, imagery, juxtaposition of contradictory values, superstition and the need to ponder over certain inhuman traits around and within us were brought out vividly by Probir Guha. The actors, especially Tapan Das (the priest/sorcerer) and Tamal literally lived their roles, which were quite complex.
The lovely column in black with three eyes, a nose-ring and a lolling red tongue (cloth) forms the principal motif against which the story revolves. It represents the Mother Goddess (Devi) who is projected by the priest as ‘blood-thirsty'. The infertile queen is possessed with the seed of sacrifice (a goat) in order to overcome her past sins and beget an heir to the throne. Then we find the king and the adopted son, a weakling, falling prey to the wilful priest who demands raj rakht (royal blood) to quench the goddess' anger. The gamut of characters that pop in and out are two sets: those under the influence of the European (British) culture which shuns superstition and believes in human values; the second set of native Indians whose psyche is blinded by beliefs in their faith and vile ways of its proponents. The duality was wonderfully brought out on stage.
Tagore's play conveyed that the dark forces of evil will work as long as there are victims. This is applicable even today, if we look at all the mass killings in the last five years. To draw an oblique reference to this, a digitalised series of pictures of certain gory incidents and killings in recent times was shown as part of the drama.
Towards the end of the play, the weak succumbs in a manner so as to shock the very perpetrators of crime. If the play had been just this,we could have comprehended the crux, as we are all exposed, at some time or other, to atrocities. But where Guha went a little out of context, perhaps to prove his virtuosity, is bringing in the Hamlet story (Shakespeare). It was not just a vague reference to the Prince of Denmark, but a host of incidents interspersing the predominantly Hindi-Bengali dialogues with sudden bursts of English dialogues from Shakespeare. Bishadkal more than made sense to us without the Hamlet factor. In fact, the audience went back and forth, trying to make sense and only those familiar with the English play, were able to fix the jigsaw.
The drama was the second part of the national Sangeet Natak Akademi's ‘Natyanjali' festival celebrating 150 years of Rabindranath Tagore at Ravindra Bharati.