17 May 2016: Dharmashoke: A New and Fresh look into His/Herstory



In the later half of April, 2016, Rabindra Sadan, Kolkata, had been all abuzz with the shuffle of feet of the theatre-enthusiasts who had queued up to watch ‘Dharmashoke’, the new production of Rangapat, a renowned Group Theatre of Kolkata.

‘Dharmashoke’ is not a plain and simple enactment of authentic historical narrative, but even more. And, Rangapat, a theatre group which has already won the heart of the audience with its historical plays, is now out to analyze ‘history’ or ‘herstory’ from new perspectives. Research on the life and brave feats of Ashoke has been carried on by Amit Maitra and the screenplay, improved upon by Tapanjyoti, who is the founder – and life and breath – of Rangapat.

The transformation of Ashoke (played by Tapanjyoti) after the Kalinga War is a matter of history. But, this play takes a closer look into the man, whose proclivities, frustrations, weal and woe remain concealed under the veneer of the daily rituals and mandatory assignments of a King, who has lately taken refuge to Buddhism. He has embraced the teachings of Lord Buddha, and, even likes to see them impress his son and daughter, Mahendra and Sanghamitra, who go places to preach them. It is really intriguing to find Tishyarakshita (Emperor Ashoke’s wife, enacted by Senjuti Mukhopadhyay) nursing deep ‘love’ in her inner within for Kunal (brought to life on stage by Debshankar Haldar), the son of Priyadarshi (a handsome man with endearing looks) Ashoke, who could be her son as well. However, at the intervention of the inundating waves of Buddhist syllogism, such ‘love’ stood chastened and metamorphosed into a higher and purer feelings of ‘affection’ of a mother for a son. Can’t it be the tale of revenge, sin and reformation under the palliative intervention of Buddhism? How could the whole state which had been immersed in wild belligerence turn to a ‘meditating’ one, governed by the spiritual dicta of Lord Buddha alias Tathagata, preached by Bitashoken (Kamal Brahma), Upagupta (Shyamasish Pahari) and Yaugandhanarayan (Sanjib Sarkar)? This question finds its answer through the play while Emperor Ashoke wins the heart of the audience with his complete surrender to Buddhist ideology, transcending the materialistic and mundane attachments and calling. Of course, the stage appurtenances could be made less cumbersome, had Saumik Piyali, who manouevred it, made it shorn of the colossal structures which occupied the stage almost for the whole length of the play.

Kudos to Tapanjyoti and his team, who has brought history/herstory alive on the stage with diligent efforts, innovative application and nonpareil acting skills of the actors. Let us look forward to some more re-thinking of his/herstory on the stage in future, to be enacted by Tapanjyoti and his team.

Reported by: Ketaki Datta, Associate Professor (English), Bidhannagar Govt. College, Kolkata 

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