Theatre

Sowing evil

From the production   | Photo Credit: 11dfrNSDFinalYears

The stage adaptation of legendary Odiya writer Fakir Mohan Senapati’s novel “Chhe Maan Aath Gunth” in Hindi as “Chhah Bigha Zameen” presented by the final year students of the National School of Drama at Abhimanch recently was remarkable for stunning visuals and imaginative set design that provided a wider range of space for the actors and also captured the multi-layered narrative of the novel.

Dramatised and directed by Robin Das, a senior faculty member of the NSD who has achieved excellence in set design that captures the social milieu of a play and in the use of a variety of colours to enhance the richness and complexity of his productions. In one of his recent productions of Anton Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard” he captured the finer nuances of Chekhovian mood and the world Chekhhov’s characters inhabit with finesse. In “Chhah Bigha Zameen” Das appears to be more focused on projecting the external features of the novel rather than to impart a contemporary ring to a work set in colonial rural India in the early decades of the 19th Century.

The central character of the novel is Ramchandra Mangaraj, an evil landowner whose hapless victims are poor farmers. In the 21st Century India, radical land reforms have been undertaken. With Senapati’s characters we feel little immediacy. However, in the rise and fall of the central character there are moments of searing pathos, terror and villainy that engage the audience emotionally. At another level the production tends to be a moral parable.

The production moves round Ramchandra Mangaraj who rises from a bumble background to become the most rich, terrifying and crooked landowner appropriating others’ property. Champa, a woman with Satanic character, is his concubine as well as his accomplice in plunder and murder.

The more land he appropriates, the more his greed for land grows. Ironically, the land law promulgated by the colonial administration, which helped the landlord to appropriate the farmers land, becomes an instrument of his own destruction. The evil-doers get what they deserved but the wretched remain subjugated by a new oppressor.

The collaborative talents of choreographer Shikha Khare, music director Ajay Kumar lighting designer Souti Chakraborty and costume designer Shyam K. Sahni contribute to enrich the production visually.

The various sequences in the adapted version appear to be loosely connected. There is little effort to tie up loose ends. The action is enacted chapter wise. Superfluous elements from the novel should have been pruned to make the script tighter and more dramatically focused. Great fictional works of the past become relevant to our situation when these are recreated and reinterpreted to reflect contemporary sensibility. Placing the orchestra on a high platform upstage in full view of the audience has a jarring effect.

The appearance of several narrators frequently makes the viewing tedious. Das is one of our talented theatre artists. Now it’s time he concentrated on the inner conflicts of the characters condemned to live in an exploitative social and economic system rather than focusing on the production’s externall elegance.

In the production under review the oppressed hardly resist their oppressors. The poor farmers are portrayed as utterly passive victims of a heartless system. Through narrators the inner dilemma of the oppressed could have been conveyed. Narrating the story in a simple and straightforward way creates a dramatically feeble production.

The cast gives impressive performances. Jayanta Narzary as the evil landlord gives a powerful account of himself. Nidhi Sasthri as Champa, the concubine and accomplice of the landlord in achieving his evil designs is an embodiment of evil force. Niyati Praveenbhai Rathod as the wife of the landlord creates an image of humility and spirituality. Rajib Kalita in a variety of roles, especially that of Sheikh Dildar Miya, acts admirably. Sunil Kumar Bora and Regin Rose in various roles give noteworthy performances.

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2021 1:57:53 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/sowing-evil/article6196812.ece

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