Theatre: performance of art forms rooted in Bengal; A return to tradition

Theatre: an open-air showcase of art forms rooted in agrarian Bengal

Anshuman Bhowmick


Posted on 22.01.22, 02:50

Cultural consumption is intimately linked to the society in which we live and the way in which we are brought up. When it comes to appreciating the performing art forms rooted in agrarian Bengal, a city dweller struggles to connect, often finding himself a fish out of water; while the villagers do not hesitate to negotiate with them. Having attended Shal Piyal (December 24-25, 2021), dubbed by the Birbhum Blossom Theatre, organizers, as a “Festival of Folk Dance, Music and Drama”, this reviewer feels the time is right to start erasing categorical distinctions when it comes to Aboriginal performing arts.

The two-day outdoor program at Theater Cottage, Daranda near Santiniketan, has been designed in such a way that performances can take place in three different spaces, one after the other. The larger space, where audiences sit in an earthen gallery overlooking a large performance hall, brought together veterans of a wide range of performing art forms rooted in Birbhum, showcasing their traditional skills .

Anathbandhu Ghosh radiated authority over the floor music as he sang the opening verses of “Geeta Govinda”. Skillfully supported by Nitai Das on srikhol and Kangal Khepa on dotara, Ghosh continued to paraphrase in Bengali and explain the subtle nuances. The theatrics that comes from an organic association with the offering of song was unmistakable in every article he and his followers presented. Laltu Patua from Itagaria presented an excerpt from Behula-Lakhindar Pala. It was sung to the rhythm of a drum which he played while his wife continued to unroll the ‘pata‘ illustrating the age-old narrative embedded in the worship of the serpent. Sitting cross-legged on their hips, the Bauri women of Mohammad Bazar presented Chhad petanor gaan, a way to ease the monotony of beating the newly laid roof with wooden bats. Although the tradition was rapidly dying in the age of mechanization, the lyrics that included references to visits to Kalighat and clandestine meetings facilitated by a “missed call” sounded remarkably fresh.

Lyalar Biye of Sri Durga Leto Asar [Birbhum Blossom Theatre]

A separate space has been set aside for string puppet shows presented by Maa Shitala Putul Nach Party from Barbaria, Nadia. The whole staged Behula-Lakhindar Pala and Bhakta Prahladboth inspired by jatra 1960s. The comic prelude that establishes rapport with the audience was downright sexist. It was also a commentary on the anxiety of traditional puppeteers who switched to Nadia after the partition of Bengal. In comparison, the leto the artists of Sri Durga Leto Asar, Mohammad Bazar, did not seem discouraged. Led by the Venerable Hara Kumar Gupta, the ensemble, which included female impersonators, featured Lyalar Biye (photo, left) with lots of bawdy humor. Accompanied by a full orchestra with trumpet, clarinet, harmonium, table and brass cymbals, it was a riot of laughter that lasted almost an hour.

The festival’s contact with the aesthetics of modern theater came to the fore with a brief staging inspired by Dakghar (photo, right). Presented by the Birbhum Blossom Theater and conceived by Partha Gupta, it is Tagore’s third work in their repertoire. Rather than words, this time the focus was on suggestive movement and musicality. A more complete version would be appropriate. The Bisargo Theater, whose mobility according to the principles of the Third Theater wins admirers everywhere, presented Bagh Chal under a tree with the audience seated in a semi-circle. This satirical take on rapidly expanding social media networks, embraced by Dwoipayan and Nibedita, has succeeded in disrupting the composure around us.