25 Mar 2016: Balmiki, a flawlessly performed play

Balmiki is a new production of Nandimukh, a theatre group of Kolkata, originally founded by the renowned thespian and actor Ajitesh Bandyopadhyay, who is still remembered and revered for his innovative thinking and histrionic revolution.  This new production, the brainchild of Ashok Chattopadhyay and Sonali Chattopadhyay, captivated the audience for a couple of hours on the day of Colour Festival (Holi), the 24th March, 2016, on the spacious stage of Rabindra Sadan, Kolkata. The reason is not far to seek. Coupled with the brilliant performance of the actors and actresses on the stage, the deft management of light (Badal Das), Acoustics (Kalyan Chakraborty & Biswajit Sarkar), the even movements of the dancers on-and-off-stage (among the audience), the chiseled, witty dialogues of the politician, the hesitant attitude of a shelter-less village bumpkin-turned-criminal, the riots that were manouevred for political mileage, the occasional appearance of the flawless singer, alias the impeccable alter-ego of the criminal which rendered him ultimate support by absolving him of all sins by the river Kopai – make us feel that the society, which has gone rotten to the core with the inordinate ambition and greed of political leaders, the selfish aims of the lumpens who hang around with masks held tight above their faces, has every chance of redemption. The message rings loud and clear through the well-conceived and flawlessly performed play.

The title is quite befitting. The criminal, Ratneswar, who was undergoing  change for the better, tardily, under the benign influence of a selfless rustic wayward traveller, Nitai, blessed  with a gifted singing voice, met with serious peril when he charged the political leader, Ramenda, with bullet and killed him. Though at the insistence of Nitai, he went to Jaipur to see his wife and exonerate himself by confessing all his crimes to her, he failed to come clean. He was arrested by the cops in charge of murder, arson, smuggling across the borders, surreptitious, illegal transfer of cache of arms and ammunition, so on, so forth. When he was about to change into a better leaf, his wife Manju left him for good, clamping the charge of betrayal on him, and his son, Bobby, who had been off to Bengaluru, came to claim an exorbitant amount from him for his imminent journey to Australia and for manipulating his final result in the engineering examination. As he failed to extort that from his father, he, too, disowned his father in a huff. Ratnakar the dacoit, alias Ratneswar, got transformed into Valmiki and, like the saint, his son and wife, denied to take a share of his sins.

Interestingly enough, the whole play unfolded on the backdrop of a film which was about to be made by a lady filmmaker, played by Sonali Chattopadhyay. The scene with which the play opened was a dance-sequence of the robbers from Tagore’s celebrated play, ‘Balmiki Pratibha,’ which the film-director intended to dovetail into her film.

In gamut, the salubrious message disseminated through the play has surely stirred the audience to think and re-think, demanding more of such thought-provoking plays from Nandimukh.  Give them a big hand, please!

Report by: Dr Ketaki Datta, Associate Prof (English), Bidhannagar College, Kolkata

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