The Rights of Man

Bhaskar Dasgupta

Ashoknagar Natya Anan's latest production *Apabitro had all the ingredients of a dramatic spectacle. Adopted from the Jerome Lawrence, Robert Edwin Lee play 'Inherit the Wind', based on the famous 1925 Scopes "Monkey" Trial, the play contends the right to think. This Bengali version retains the original milieu and the characters intending perhaps a Verfremdungseffekt to bring off the audience's reflective faculty. But the playwright appears to overburden the director Chandan Sen. Sen as playwright is an enigma. In his last few plays he is either teasingly cerebral (Chhayabaji) or devastatingly didactic (Yugonayak). This time Apabitro emerges too faithful to the original to evoke any contemporaneity.

However, even with sparse resources, Sen, the director, led his team admirably through other aspects of the stagecraft. The use of rostrums to utilise the entire space of the stage, his handling of crowd scenes and placards are in the line of best of Calcutta theatre's tradition. Goutam Ghosh's music does a splendid job by using the lilting melody of Pete Seeger's 'Solidarity for everyone' and setting carols to the tune of Army March songs to underline the crisis.

Sen as E K Hornbeck, the reporter, demonstrates his skill from the very entry. As a newcomer to the town, Sen, sauntering from downstage left to right, creates the imaginary cityscape, out of nothing just by his commendable gestus. But the stars failed him miserably. Much vaunted Sabysachi Chakraborty as Henry Drummond, the defence counsel, was diligently forgetting his lines in the dramatic court scenes and made an unpardonable offence of assuaging it by ad-libs. Someone should tell him that 'The Scopes monkey trial' is no monkey business. It appeared all the more outrageous opposite the thespian Asit Basu as Mathew Brady. A brilliant player in his own right and perhaps one of the few remaining great actors groomed by Utpal Dutt, Basu's pitching of voice and physical fitness would put to shame many a present-day performer. These fits and starts goings-on throughout the performance, marred the vitality of the play. As one began to appreciate Brady, the motivated statesman, one is vexed by the hollow representation of Rev Jeremiah Brown. Shantilal Mukherjee with his stock performance was as flat as pan cake. It would do him good to see Louise Fletcher's Nurse Ratchet in One flew over the Cuckoo's nest to contemplate what passive aggressive tyranny is. Sen, most unobtrusively, created sparkles and mattness, throughout the production. As one was about to rejoice at Arunabha Midya's portrayal of radio-man, one felt pity for Panchanan Banerjee portraying the judge, who could not even ponder that the character was stooge within, justice without and failed to evoke, rounds of laughter, conspicuous in the text, during his interplay with the media-man. But then, the play is a success in the sense, its leitmotif—the right to think— has evoked the conscience to dissent. The original playwright had clearly noted, they had used the storyline as a parable to castigate, the then rampant American McCarthyism and defend intellectual freedom. There are so many things to defend during this interregnum of better day (achhe din). You have the right to revel at the discovery of plastic surgery in Puranic regime which created the elephant god; you have also the right to rebel against tendentious manufacturing of history. Which side are you on boys! The production shows tamed diffidence; least expected from a theatre group praised for their political courage and integrity.

[*APABITRO produced by Ashoknagar Natya Anan, 6th October, 2018, Academy of Fine Arts. Direction and play: Chandan Sen, Music: Goutam Ghosh, Stage: Madan Haldar, Lights: Kalyan Ghosh]

Vol. 51, No.20, Nov 18 - 24, 2018