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An intellectually engaging encounter between Tagore and a modern writer
- Dr. S D Desai

June 17, 2019

The idea in Deep Kamal Theatre's Ekla Chaalo Re (Thakorbhai Hall, June 9) is to dramatically examine Rabindranath Tagore's women in his novels in the light of radical changes in the attitude of women and of men toward them now a hundred and fifty years from his time. By getting him on stage and a pretty popular modern fiction writer alive and kicking in conversation with him right there in heaven, the stage was set one would have apprehended for a confrontation. Instead, the scriptwriter with her right perspective and the director with the restraint not always associated with his theatre magically transform the imaginary encounter into a fond dialogue between 'Gurudev' and 'Sakhi'. In the process, the potentially assaultive edges get pared off and finally the Nobel Laureate celebrated for his compassion and universal appeal emerges unscathed and triumphant.

Literary works and their characters get shaped by the time of their creator - its strengths, ethos, inhibitions and the writer's vision of its evolution. In Chokher Bali, Tagore has Binodini, a widow condemned to a secluded dark corner from childhood, only express her desire for physical pleasure. This was revolutionary enough. As the Tagore of the play says, if he got that desire fulfilled the very idea would have died. Kajal Oza, the modern young writer who has hastened to be in heaven, says impetuously, 'To hell with your society and acceptability!' On a serious note she adds, 'Truth is not universal. It belongs to the moment.' She earlier began on the note that Tagore had done injustice to his female characters.

Devangi Bhatt has brilliantly developed the script even while being on the razor's edge. Leaving out a couple of Tagore's fictional characters, she has selected Bimala, Chandra and Sharada besides Binodini. She manages to remain steady on the razor's edge by extracting the core of the respective character relevant to the theme from a much wider context in Ghare Baire. While sketching Bimala, for example, she steers clear of the complex themes of nationalism or love and worship. The sketches reflect her complete familiarity with what happens in the novels and her skill in pouring into the characters' major, essentially Bengali, traits.

It is an intellectually stimulating debate between Rabindranath Tagore and Kajal Oza Vaidya that gives character and spine to the play Ekla Chaalo Re unique in concept in the history of Gujarati theatre. Both the actors, Kamal Joshi and Kajal Oza on getting into their roles with the right aharya, make portraying their characters look effortless with particularly their voice and interaction. Kajal, who returns to the stage after many years, is at ease in her role and yet essentially the modernist person with bindas radical views and uninhibited speech with a glint in her eyes. There is no other dimension to her character except that even while questioning and accusing Tagore she develops sweet harmony with him in conversations. Kamal's role is a challenge and for the specific purpose the script has assigned him, with his demeanour, stance and limited movement, he becomes a credible and something of a sagacious Tagore. No mean is his contribution to a good-humouredly developed harmony with the person uninhibited in her accusations.

What lends abiding charm to the dramatic performance however is the milieu Devangi conjures up through the sketches of multiple characters from Tagore's novels. They spring from the recognizable Bangla soil and at the same time give glimpses of the power Tagore's women hold even today decades and a century later. A mere appearance with a six-yard sari worn in a particular style and a blouse with puff sleeves and ornaments of the time would have been only theatrical. With the magic of her acting skills, particularly with a glowing expressive face, Devangi captures within the space a sketch offers the core of the five characters, each subtly different emotionally and in mood - a yearning Binodini, a daring Bimala, a self-immolating Chandra and a crafty Sharada. Under Kamal Joshi's direction, she brilliantly emerges as these characters in the dramatic episodes she has shaped in the text based on the novels. Among the young men bringing these episodes and one from Kajal Oza's novel to life are Dipen, Mihir, Vishal, Bimal, Jayraj and Randhir. The music (Akash Shah), including the title song (Rajoo Barot), reflects taste, the light design and set design (Kanu Patel) a dramatic sense.

Madhyabindu is Kajal's novel, whose heroine Priyam, gushing like a stormy river, who with no inhibitions loves two men at the same time, her husband and also a lover. Saying that a person is different at different times, she tells her lover, 'The one who loves you is not Aditya's wife.' Playing Priyam's role, Kajal sensually clings to the lover like a creeper would to a tree. In words and suggested behaviour they are violent. 'I seek adventure,' she asserts, 'not security.' In a letter to Aditya before dying in a car accident, she tells him, 'I haven't loved you less.'

The play ends on a foregone conclusion. Tagore and Kajal hug with a smile. Tagore's women have substance in their own subtle ways and have acceptance across time and place. Inhibition makes it possible as much for individuals as society to evolve. A Priyam does not find universal acceptance even in her own time. Love is a cherished finer feeling that need not be flaunted. Fans' Vah, vah! and Kyaa baat hai! disturbingly for over thirty minutes in the beginning, significantly, gets muted during the concluding thirty minutes or so.

A juxtaposition of the two sets of values in relationships reaffirms universal significance of Tagore's portrayal of them in his novels.

Dr. S.D. Desai, a professor of English, has been a Performing Arts Critic for many years. Among the dance journals he has contributed to are Narthaki, Sruti, Nartanam and Attendance. His books have been published by Gujarat Sahitya Academy, Oxford University Press and Rupa. After 30 years with a national English daily, he is now a freelance art writer.

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