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Portrait of genius

DIWAN SINGH BAJELI
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Bharat Rang Mahotsav The National School of Drama's exhibition brought out the significance of Tagore as a great theatre practitioner. DIWAN SINGH BAJELI

THE accessible monolithAt the exhibition “Where the Mind is Without Fear”, held at NSD.Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar
THE accessible monolithAt the exhibition “Where the Mind is Without Fear”, held at NSD.Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

Astage production is here now and gone in a couple of hours. The plays performed at the National School of Drama's 14th Bharat Rang Mahotsav-2012 that concluded this past weekend remain only as memories. But such need not be the case with exhibitions. A case in point is the exhibition on Rabindranath Tagore, “Where the Mind is Without Fear”, that was put up during the festival. Well thought-out, it ought to be provided a permanent space in NSD keeping in view Tagore's significance as a theatre practitioner and his spirit of constantly exploring ways to give greater dimension to the theatrical art.

The huge portrait of Rabindranath Tagore at the entrance to NSD lawns was the starting point, and as one began viewing various other photographs a whole fascinating world of Tagore's theatre opened up. In fact, Tagore's personality as a poet is so overwhelming that people outside Bengal do not know much about him as a theatre director and actor and the renaissance he brought about in Bengali theatre.

Each of the eight panels displayed rare photographs of the great humanist and philosopher. He wrote 58 plays and himself directed 41, acting in most of his directorial works. As a theatrical genius, he went on experimenting both as a playwright and director, constantly in search of new expressive means. His family home atJorasanko and Santiniketan became theatrical laboratories where he staged his plays.

The material for the exhibition came from various sources such as Rabindra Bhavan Archives, Vishva Bharati, Santiniketan, Natya Shodh Sansthan, Kolkata, National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, Marg Publications, Mumbai, and personal collections of Mrinalini Sarabhai and Sunil Kothari. The research and text were by Amitabh Srivastava and Vipul Jain. “Quotations have been used extensively as notes to augment the visuals so that the viewer has an opportunity to gain a deeper insight into the philosophy behind the theatrical renderings of the different plays,” explained Amal Allana, chairperson of NSD, who curated the exhibition.

One of the panels displayed a photograph of Rabindranath Tagore as Valmiki and his niece Indira Devi in the female lead. The play was premiered on February 26, 1881 at the private theatre in the family residence. This was his first directorial venture. Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, the great novelist, said, “….nobody who had witnessed it, could ever forget Tagore's depiction of the birth of poetic inspiration of Valmiki.”

Another interesting photo showed him acting as Raghupati in his play “Visarjan” and his 12-year old niece Pratibha as Goddess in 1890. According to a newspaper report she was the first girl from a respected family to act before the public. At another production of the play at Empire Theatre Kolkata in 1923, he played again the role of Jai Singh. Commenting on his performance the critic of Anand Bazar Patrika wrote, “…his awesome beauty took my breath away. And then after he had entered the stage the quality of his acting used to leave me dazed. What wonder! What sheer beauty! It was as if he opened an inner world of beauty and truth.”

There were two photographs of “Phalguni” in which Tagore played two roles at the age of 62, as the young poet and mendicant. Also on display were visuals of the River Padma and simple life around it. The Padma and the houseboat of the same name had a deep impact on the genius of Tagore. Another interesting inclusion was a beautiful picture of Mrinalini Sarabhai as a student of Santiniketan.

In foreign countries

The exhibition also highlighted Tagore's plays performed in foreign countries. These included a Russian production of his novel “Nauka Doobi” and another of the play “Raja”, besides a Chinese production of “Sanyasi”, a German production of “Post Office” (“Dak Ghar”), a British production of the same play and French productions of his plays “Kach” and “Deviyani”. His photographs with George Bernard Shaw, Anand Coomaraswamy, Helen Keller and Albert Einstein were eloquent testimony to his international eminence as a creative artist.

From the photographs and the written material we get an idea that through his theatrical journey as director, Tagore's approach to theatre underwent different stages of transformation. First, it appeared that he was influenced by European Nationalism and then by realism. He became disillusioned with these forms and found that through dance, music and stylisation the symbolism and deep meaning of his plays could best be conveyed. He kept on his search for a perfect genre. The exhibition also displayed photographs of his plays presented as dance-drama by Little Ballet Troupe, Darpan Ahmedabad, Rukmini Devi Arundale and the legendary Uday Shankar.

Shambhu Mitra was the first contemporary theatre practitioner who brought to the fore the dramatic richness and universal meaning of Tagore's plays which were once considered verbose and not good enough to be staged in a modern theatre. Scenes from “Bisarjan” with Shambhu Mitra and Tripti Mitra in the main roles, besides scenes from “Raktakarvi”, “Char Adhyay” and “Dak Ghar” were on display.

Solace in tragedy

“Dak Ghar” occupies a significant place in Poland. In her paper at the seminar that was part of the Tagore focus, Polish scholar Elizabeth Walter said that a number of productions of “Post Office” were staged in Poland, translated from English. While she was in Santiniketan she translated into Polish from the original Bengali. She said that during World War II it was staged by Janusz Korczak several times for the children condemned to live in Warsaw Ghetto. In the powerful language of the play, its imagery and the agonising captivity of Amal, the children living in miserable conditions in the ghetto found an echo of their own tragic fate. Four days after watching the play the children and Dr. Korczak were sent to the gas chamber.


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