17 Jan 2017: Bidehi or Ghosts on Bengali stage

A Rare experience of Translation/ Adaptation on Stage                                          

It was a socialite evening at Uttam Manch on the Jan 14, 2017, while the mercury scale was dipping low, making the Kolkatans pull out woollens from their wardrobes and wrap themselves up. The Cricket Club of Dhakuria, Kolkata, met there for their annual function, where Mr Biren Mitra, the President of the Club was to hand a cheque worth a handsome amount to a young, needy footballer, Samrat Sen. Speeches from the powers-that-be followed by loud applause lasted for half-an-hour. The authority also announced that the ticket-costs for this show would be sent for charity too.

Hence, witnessing the play, Bidehi (Ghosts), sent a philanthropic feel-good thrill down my heart. Curtain was raised on a dimly lit stage with pieces of furniture arranged orderly on it. Even on the right side of the stage a flight of steps could be seen to have been built, facilitating scaling of the same for going upstairs and coming down. As the play started off with élan with characters with English names and demeanours, I was forced to believe that it was an adaptation of Ibsen’s Ghosts. But as the play progressed, I was firm in my belief that it was more of an adaptation, it was a Bengali translation of Ghosts, with the characters and the dialogues being kept intact, verbatim. A slice of Norwegian milieu could be tasted by the audience and the playgroup succeeded in creating it.

Bidehi, a production of a theatre-group of Kolkata, Mukhomukhi, has been directed by Kaushik Sen, a noted thespian and actor, and performed by three generations of noted septuagenarian actor, Soumitra Chatterjee (Jacob Engstrand, the carpenter), his daughter, Poulami Das Chatterjee (Mrs Helene Alving) and Poulami’s son, Ranadeep Bose (Oswald Alving, Captain and Helene Alving’s son a  painter). It is a direct word-to-word adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts, in which he attacked the profligacy of the 19th century aristocrats. This play also introduced a rare sub-text of Euthanasia, as well. This idea was yet to gain ground, but, Ibsen had tried to make it popular. When he had been asked by the-then King, Oscar II of Sweden and Norway, the reason of writing such a disturbing play like Ghosts, Ibsen replied, “Your Majesty, I had to write Ghosts.

This play is a verbatim adaptation of Ghosts, in Bengali. Captain Alving is no more. But, his wounds of profligacy stand inflicted on the mind of his widow, Mrs Alving, who tries to protect her son, Oswald, from the ill-effects of his father’s proximity to him. Hence, she sends him far away to attend school. Oswald grows into a famous painter but he has to come back to his paternal house as he is not keeping well lately. Regina Engstrand, the daughter of Jacob Engstrand, a carpenter, is used to fetching and carrying in the Alving household. Jacob pays occasional visits to the Alving household, as his wife has to yield to the unwelcome advances on her, by Captain Alving. The result is the birth of Regina. All is going well, and Pastor Manders presence is even salubrious to the household. But, Oswald’s making love to Reginald on the sly and the burning down of the orphanage have made all calculations of Mrs Alving go haywire. At long last, Mrs Alving takes the onus of revealing the truth to Regina that she is Oswald’s half-sister as her mother had to satiate Captain Alving’s sexual cravings. As the truth dawns on her, Regina leaves for her father’s place to help him run a Sailors’ Rest House. And Mrs Alving, gets the shock of her life to learn that Oswald is suffering from Syphilis, a deadly disease inherited by Oswald from his father as a curse.

The deadliest part of the play is the administration of Morphine pellets to the son by an aggrieved mother, who cannot but euthanize her son to prevent his being drifted to a ‘vegetative state.’ The curtain comes ringing down on the saddened mother after her administering of the deadly medicine, and, the son who lies on a reclining chair, oblivious to the goings-on in and around the world.

The play is an epoch-making one, which till date can stir barrage of questions in the mind of the audience. The light, costume, ambience—all are apt to mark this play a class apart. It is Henrik Ibsen’s tribute to a decadent time, which stands translated in Bengali, a regional language which has potentials to transcend all barriers of Time and Eternity, Here and Now.

Report by: Dr Ketaki Datta, Kolkata. She teaches English at Bidhannagar Government College, Kolkata.
Email: ketaki.datta@gmail.com

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