Rangkole’s Bengali play, “Parash Pathar”, is a successful attempt to mirror human greed and social disharmony.
Rajsekhar Bose’s story, “Parash Pathar”, has clearly transcended time. In 1958, when Satyajit Ray adapted it into a movie, it was called one of his best works. Decades later, Kolkata-based theatre company Rangkole’s adaptation of “Parash Pathar”, one of the plays selected and performed for the 16th Bharat Rang Mahotsav, comes at a starkly relevant time. Directed by Shyamal Chakraborty, who also takes on the role of Paresh Dutta, the plot works with old and new meanings and metaphors and takes the audience on a two-hour ride into a Bengal that’s got one foot in the past and the other in the present.
On the face of it, the story is simple enough, with a dose of magical realism that is seamlessly tied into a plot that centres on middle class Bengali households with countless aspirations. Paresh Dutta is a humble court clerk, with mundane problems that plague him and money that’s running short. A chance encounter with a mysterious ascetic changes his life, and he finds himself with the sorcerer’s stone (parash pathar), which turns metal into gold, and transforms Paresh Babu’s life as well as those of his wife, Giribala. He moves from a small house in back lanes of Kolkata to a mansion crowded with gold bars. He takes revenge on his ex-boss Sudarshan, a self-important man who puts down a recently privileged Paresh Babu in front of the Calcutta club patrons. And then, with a crashing world economy as the backdrop, a number of factors come together to send Paresh Babu back to his old, small home, giving the stone to his greedless secretary and renouncing the golden world.
Of course, it’s the countless layers that lie under the superficial fairy tale plot that are the story’s true strength, and they become the play’s strength too. This is not a didactic play, and the messages, though strong, are not preached. A comment on the commercial, capitalist world with a skewed society, the play addresses issues like greed and social disharmony, but does so through a highly entertaining and engaging story.
Chakraborty’s Paresh Babu is endearing like only cantankerous old men with a kind heart can be. He is at once forgetful and vulnerable, intelligent and wise; a simple man who is carried away by his sudden good fortune. Playwright Tirthankar Chanda has infused the play with dialogues that flow easily, peppered with colloquialisms and humour. To someone who both understands and appreciates Bengali, the play can be a treat. The finer qualities of the language shine here, and the words are carefully chosen, but stop short of becoming laboured and overly dramatic. The conversations are timed perfectly, and scenes with a slightly farcical quality to them, for example the one that involves Dutta’s wife fainting when she hears of the extraordinary stone her husband has got home, are neither overdone not cloying.
Chakraborty is supported by a fine cast, and each character, whether it is the Bihari goldsmith who spouts a strange but highly engaging cocktail of Hindi and English, or his loving, nagging but always well meaning wife Giri, the actors keep their roles alive, never letting them lapse into cardboard cut outs. The subplot with Paresh Babu’s secretary, the poet Priyatosh and his failing love affair is tied up with the main plot in a way that feels justified. The delivery manages to stay free of that staged, halting quality that speak of amateurism.
The play doesn’t falter much, and apart from a slight feeling that perhaps it could have been a tad shorter, the end comes with satisfying resolutions and results.