29 Mar 2016: Phoenix’s “The Fire and the Rain”: Girish Karnad’s play in Bengali



Phoenix is an experimental theatre-group from Maldah, West Bengal, which has taken the present scenario of theatre by storm. Prof Anuradha Kunda, who is a name in the world of music, theatre and even films (her debut film is on the anvil) apart from her long stint in academics (HoD, English, PG Unit, Malda College) is at the helm of all affairs in this group. Perhaps, the bird has risen from ashes, to get a new lease of life in the barren wasteland of desiccated, depleted thoughts and hackneyed themes, to breathe a fresh life into the moribund tales of quotidian existence.  That is why, Dr Kunda, the director-cum-dramaturge, prefers to take a peep into the treasure-trove of  powerful plays by Girish Karnad, like The Fire and the Rain, and bring the characters to life, and the myth to reality.

Lately, Phoenix has come to dazzle the audience with a mind-blowing performance of The Fire and The Rain (by Girish Karnad) at Rabindra Sadan, Kolkata. Dr Kunda has successfully rendered the mythopoeia of Karnad on the stage, sans any loud filigree or cacophonic acoustics. As Karnad has refashioned the ‘Yavakrita’ myth, as narrated in the Vana Parva (Forest Cantos, 135-138) of the Mahabharata, keeping in view the contemporary Indian society and humanism, the actors and actresses , too, tried their best to bring the myth latent in each turn of the play. Raibhya (enacted by Mehdi Hassan), who was instrumental in killing Yavakri (Arka Das) and the prime source of all the evils in the play, like oppressing Vishakha (Manila Roy Chowdhury), his daughter-in-law (Paravasu’s wife), both mentally and sexually , ushering in Brahma Rakshasha, letting him float aimlessly in the universe  after putting an end to Yavakri’s life, deserve special mention. Paravasu (Dipankar Dutta), Chief Priest of the King, a domineering husband of Vishakha, a scheming brother, does not hesitate at all to clip all the wings of Aravasu (Kedarnath Banerjee) and leave him as a puppet to fret and fume at all failed attempts to unite with Nittilai (Arpita Saha), a low-caste damsel, for whom he had fallen head over heels, though destiny had some other plan chalked out for him. His father, Raibhya, had been abruptly killed by his elder brother, Paravasu, while his fatal appointment with Nittilai got missed, and it was forever.  Though, the character, Nittilai, was not there in the original myth of the Vana Parva of the Mahabharata, Girish  Karnad’s addition is apt , driving home the message of the caste-distinction in India, still rife in the modern times. Nittilai had to die a tragic death, as her clan had found sheer sacrilege on her part.  And at the close of the play, when sacrificial fire sends wisps of smoke to the welkin, and,  Aravasu gets caught on the horns of a strange dilemma, his reverence  for human values is tested by Brahma Rakshasha. Aravasu prays for his redemption and the earth’s ablution in rains. Purification of souls, a journey from Knowledge to Wisdom – the whole circle stands complete.

The lesser roles played by Tiasha, Moon and Partho, too, call for attention.

The use of theatrical devices , like props on the stage, the controlled histrionics of the characters, the appropriate display of masks (reminding us of Noh plays in Japan), the dulcet music and vocal rendition by Anuradha Kunda created a perfect ambience of mystical aura, captivating the audience successfully till the curtain came ringing down! Translating the play into Bengali (though interspersed with English version quite often, adeptly) is a credit to be enjoyed by Dr Kunda, once again.  Kudos to Phoenix, with an expectation of witnessing such mesmerizing performances in near future.

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

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