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Love is like a red, red rose
Photos courtesy: Aneek Theatre

September 4, 2018

Eternal love embeds time within itself and uses it as an element to build upon. That is what makes all love ethereal. And this ineffable love is fairy tale to some, a sacrificial saga to others. One seeking the other, finding consummation or distancing oneself unto eternity - these are the stuff folklores are made of: also longing without desire, attainment without fulfilment.

Giving "a local habitation and a name" to all the world's lovers are the Sufi and other esoteric legends carried down the ages. In our land of myriad cultures, they cover Laila-Majnu from the rugged frontier provinces, Heer-Ranjha and Soni-Mahiwal from the Five Rivers of Punjab, and Dhola-Maru from the desert sands of Rajasthan. If these heroes and heroines are marked by palpable divinity of the Upper Himalayas, they also bear the vigour of valorous river crossings of the fertile Doabas, and the treacherous sand dunes and formidable forts of the Western terrains. And, almost without fail, they ebb into sunset, reaching forlorn horizons from where no one returns.

Bukjhim Ek Bhalobasa (A Heart Brimming with Love), presented on August 23 by Aneek Theatre in Kolkata, is a similar yarn of tragic love in the backdrop of rural Bangladesh, set in the resplendent years the Mughal Empire of Akbar's era. Mansur Boyati and Chand Sultana, the principal protagonists of this tragic story are reminiscent of all the dramatis personae who populate the world of medieval romances. In this play, penned by the iconic playwright Syed Shamsul Haque of Bangladesh, the events occur on the banks of the mighty river Brahmaputra in the regime of the king Mohabbat Jung, whose terrorising reign maintains a prison from where none is ever released. His wife Noorjahan is particularly fond of Chand Sultana, her music loving sister-in-law. Quite from another world comes Mansur Boyati, the itinerant vagabond-singer, who strums his instrument sarinda to immerse himself in his private world of music. His poor tiller brother Hyder looks after him and his disciple Abul follows him everywhere.

Kawshik, Ananda and Kirtaniya

Chand Sultana hears Mansur's unforgettable riverine melodies and aches to meet him. Soon they chance to outside the female specific bowers of the palace and have a songful tryst. However, caught red-handed by the evil Mohabbat, Mansur is thrown into a dungeon after being made to drink a deadly potion to choke his voice, and Chand is drugged to unconsciousness -- only to be married off to the neighbourhood king Feroze Dewan. The gentle Feroze, a flautist himself, gets to learn of his newly wedded bride Chandbibi's love for Mansur and vows to retrieve Mansur from the jail, heal his choked throat and get the two besotted lovers together. Apparently, the poison in Mansur's body can only be countered by the venom of the deadly Trishira (the three-hooded serpent). How a snake charmer brings an untamed Trishira to bite Mansur, how Chand sucks the poison out of Mansur's limbs to revive him, and how Chand and Mansur leap into the turbulent Brahmaputra waters to end their accursed lives, is the rest of the story. The poignant saga ends on the note how, in the forlorn palace, the old Feroze is left only with the disciple Abul to sing him Mansur's swan song: Waters flow away, far into the distant sea…

The play is performed in the strikingly vibrant Palagan folk form, where the single narrator Mansur (enacted with aplomb by the versatile young actor Sraman Chatterjee, who also directed the play) carries the narrative on his shoulders. Barring rare appearances of Samadrita Pal as Chandbibi and the supplementary voice of Sarbajit Ghosh, it remains throughout a mono-acting in terms of its performative format and storytelling language. It is in this distinctive style that Syed Shamsul Haque had foregrounded his entire play. It goes to a great credit of the music composer Subhadeep Guha and his entire team of live orchestra that they very competently supported action on the stage.

Extracts from a dialogue with the Director:

Where does the inspiration of the play come from?
Shamsul Haque's narrative takes us into the world of Moimansingha Geetika of Bangladesh. Here we meet the characters of Mansur and Chandbibi who, like their counterparts in other romances, fall in love with each other, suffer the pangs of separation, and eventually die a tragic death. But what gives Bukjhim Ek Bhalobasa an added edge is the presence of people like Feroz Dewan and Noorjahan who defy the stereotypical villainous roles reserved for them in the world of romances and yet come across as powerful characters unmatched in human dignity.

What has been the special feature of your production?
Our production is a representation of the sensuous world of romance as created by Syed Shamsul Haque. My trial has been restoring Syed Shamsul Haque's exquisite language and projecting it throughout the narration. My act has never tried to fake the portrayal of the original Boyati culture of medieval Bengal, the environment in which the characters of this story belong. I felt that trying to copy the Boyati practice would be a mere mimicry and that is disrespectful, as we don't belong to that esoteric tradition of storytelling.

How were the music and stage-setting conceived?
Our music director Subhadeep thought in the same line as above. Hence the music also bears elements of modernity and tradition. So in a couple of songs, we have kept the schematic notations from Boyati music, but there is also an elaborate use of banjo and guitar elsewhere. Haque's language is our true determinant, hence the setting is very simple. In fact, we have kept the main reliance on the language to create the images rather than create any stage design. I only hope we succeeded in our effort!

Dr. Utpal K Banerjee is a scholar-commentator on performing arts over last four decades. He has authored 23 books on Indian art and culture, and 10 on Tagore studies. He served IGNCA as National Project Director, was a Tagore Research Scholar and is recipient of Padma Shri.

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