Elements of mime, Odissi, Kathak and drama came together to interpret Rabindranath Tagore’s works at a three-day festival

The theatrical presentations of Rabindranath Tagore’s plays , short stories and poems featured in the three-day festival organised by Pratibha Sanskritik Sansthan, Delhi, in association with the faculty of performing arts, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, at Pandit Omkar Nath Thakur auditorium recently thrilled the large number of students of performing arts, faculty members and connoisseurs of the arts. Staged in a variety of styles, these pieces brought to the fore the intricacy, elegance, philosophical profundity and “essential humanity” of the “myriad minded” poet.

An artistic tribute to Tagore and Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, freedom fighter, educationist and founder of BHU, on the occasion of their 150th birth anniversary celebrations, the festival opened with “Subha”, a stage adaptation of Tagore’s short story of the same title in the form of mime under the direction of eminent mime exponent and teacher Niranjan Goswami. Presented by Indian Mime Theatre, Kolkata, the play was an innovative mime piece that marked a departure from conventional mime, which is mostly staged as a solo piece presenting minor comic and often satirical sketches. Niranjan brought novelty to the mime theatre by staging full-length plays, exploring new expressive dimensions of mime as an art form.

The performers wore costumes to reflect their characters and milieu, their faces not heavily painted white. Their expressive gestures, movements and expressions of the eye became powerful vehicles of human emotions, conflicts and societal apathy towards the hearing and speech impaired.

The central character is a girl named Subha, who is speech and hearing impaired. She is lonely and unhappy as the so-called normal children do not like her company. Her family considers her a burden. As she grows up, the family manages to get her married but, to their shock, she is sent back to her parents’ home after a few days of the marriage. However, in an angler she finds a sensitive person who shares her love for nature, especially river, green trees and animals.

There were four hearing and speech impaired performers out of a total 16 actors. Susmita Das as Subha and Kunal Bhattacherjee, the fish catcher on the bank of the river fond of Subha’s company, create sensitive portraits, illustrating that true human love can be conveyed without spoken words, bringing two people closer.

On the second day, the Institute of Factual Theatre Arts, Kolkata, presented the stage version of Tagore’s poem “Abhisar” in dance-drama form. Directed and designed by Debasish Dutta, Tagore was inspired by the story from Jataka, creating his own version of the interaction between a courtesan and a monk. With a view to give the story a dramatic shape, director Dutta incorporated thematic elements from other stories like “Patita”.

The production moves round Basabdutta, a courtesan, who is rich, beautiful and proud that the rich and famous of the town vie with each other for her company. In her arrogance the courtesan enjoys rejecting most men who seek her company. Once she sees monk Upagupta and, infatuated by his powerful personality, invites him to her palace to spend time in his company. The monk, however, rejects her proposal. After her persistent request the monk says, “Yes, I shall visit you when the time comes.”

Upholding his high principles, the monk once defies the king, and an infuriated king orders him to leave his kingdom. While wandering in a forest, he sees a human creature, abandoned, seriously sick and rotting in abysmal poverty. The human creature is courtesan Basabdutta. The monk says the time to visit her has arrived, gives her comfort and starts nursing her.

Despite loose ends and lighting flaws, the production gripped the audience. Krishanu Banerjee as Upagupta imparted to his portrayal serenity and spiritual strength to face a haughty king and to resist the temptation to accept the offer of a beautiful, rich and famous young courtesan.

Artists of Pratidwani, Varanasi, presented “Bhanu Singh Padawali” in the form of Ballet. An interesting experimental work that seeks to combine two classical dance forms — Odissi and Manipuri — it was beautifully choreographed.

The festival concluded with the presentation of Tagore’s play “Dak Ghar” by Pratibha Sanskritik Sansthan, Delhi, under the direction of Bhupesh Joshi, a Delhi-based actor-director. Internationally celebrated as a work of theatrical art with universal appeal, “Dak Ghar” was written in 1911 and was staged for the first time in English in 1913 by the Irish Theatre in London in the presence of Tagore. In its original version it was staged in Kolkata in 1917. In Germany alone it had 105 performances. During World War II it was presented in the concentration camps to reflect its themes of a zest for life and the universal yearning for freedom from captivity. In Hindi we have seen several of its productions, and most of them have followed a realistic style of presentation and generally failed to convey the metaphoric meaning of the play. However, Anamika Haksar’s production for Shri Ram Centre Repertory in 1989 left a deep impact on the audience because of its imaginative use of choreography, music and stylised design.

The significant feature of Bhupesh’s “Dak Ghar” is that he used minimal stage props. The confinement of Amal in a room was conveyed suggestively. His performers were loud at places. He should have used more performers in stylised costumes and movements to depict the flights of birds, symbolising humanity’s eternal quest for freedom — this element makes “Dak Ghar” universally significant. Shipra Gupta in the main role of Amal impressed the audience with her sensitive portrayal of the world of a sick child, his innate charm and naïveté. Another presentation by Pratibha Sanskritik Sansthan, directed and conceived by Bhumikeshwar Singh, is “Kach-Devyani”, noteworthy for its rhythmic movements, vitality and uninterrupted flow of action. Shipra Gupta as Devyani, the daughter of Demon Guru Shankracharya, revealed with telling effect the depth of love of a young woman as well as the extent of her suffering and revenge when her love remains unrequited.

Choreographed and conceived by Vidhi Nagar, the students of the faculty of performing arts presented a few passages from Tagore’s “Geetanjali” as visual poetry in the Kathak style. Remarkable for its striking postures, stylised movements and soulful musicality, it is unalloyed joy to watch this show full of vitality and elegance.