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Brilliant monologue of a woman's journey

THE STAGE is bare with minimal and interesting sets and props - a triangle in red, a circle in yellow and a square in blue can be seen hanging from the roof. The sound of Dhaak (a big drum) fills the stage. The actress Usha Ganguli enters the stage and begins her monologue with the words, ``The sound of dhaak always reminds me of my childhood..." The artiste through her narration takes us through her childhood and youth. People, events - all find a place in her narration. The narration is not descriptive, but reflective at times and at other times giving a sense of having lived through those experiences and being influenced by the people. The narrator was on stage for 75 minutes describing her life, work and associations with other women. Can a single person hold the attention of an audience, even the patient and art-loving, Chennai audience for more than an hour? Yes, when the artiste is Usha Ganguli. She did it with her majestic presence, her intense and theatrical voice with all the variations, and electric movements ranging from walk to dance enhanced by the minimal sets and subtle light effects. The narration went on without an interval and the audience was so engrossed in the performance that there was a palpable stillness in the air.

Usha Ganguli struck an emotional chord with her ``Antar Yatra''. — Pics. by S. Thanthoni.

What were the striking features of this performance presented in Hindi and Bengali? The first striking feature was the script itself. It had three significant levels - the autobiographical notes, the passages recited by the roles that the actress had performed in the past, the images of the many women that she had come into contact with and moved closely. The narration moved from one to the other in a seamless manner, interspersed with dance, song and movement executed by the actress. In fact, it was a salutation to the three supreme aspects of theatre, the body of the actress, the space in which she moved, and the audience to whom she communicated. The narration took the form of creating images through sound and action. One saw Usha as a young girl, as an aspiring college student, as an actress who associated herself with the best in Bengali theatre, such as Sombhu Mitra, Keya Chakraborthy. And one saw Nora (The Doll's House), Sanichari (Rudali) and the working class mother (in Gorky and Brecht) and many others. Then there was an array of ordinary women, harassed and oppressed by society and patriarchy, who came alive — Kamala, Anima, Bimal, and Mrinal. It is to Usha's credit that without any serious costume change and with the effective use of a few props such as Duppattas and flags, she transformed herself into all these characters effortlessly.

The use of stage space was another striking feature of this production. Usha was moving all the time, breaking into dance movements at times, at other times singing and moving agilely. Even when the body was still or curled up in a foetal position, her voice vibrated and pierced the decorum and complacency of a well-arranged theatre hall. At all times, it represented not just the voice of Usha the actress or the woman, but the universal voice of the eternally suffering and yet strong woman. The narration was at no time, objective. In fact, the actress was seeing the world and people through her own perspective and her own experiences. This made the performance emotionally moving, striking a chord in every woman's mind and heart. The most striking aspect of her performance was her facility with words. It was a continuous and non-stop recital, with suitable modulations and variations. Young, aspiring theatre actors can learn a lot from the mastery this actress has over her recital (Vachika aspect). The lights designed by Tapas Sen and sets designed by Khaled Choudhury and the music composed by Usha herself enhanced the production greatly.


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