Nature versus nature
18 May 2012
Shoma A Chatterji attends theatre group Sayak’s latest production, Pinky-Buli
Amar Mitra is one of the most gifted writers in contemporary Bengali fiction. His stories often speak of identity crisis among urban Bengalis. Meghnath Bhattacharya, founder-director of Sayak, is noted for choosing unusual literary pieces ~ period, classic and contemporary, and relocating them in a modern ambience that informs, educates, entertains and aspires to bring about social change. Indrasis Lahiri skillfully adapts this complex and dramatic story for a proscenium performance.
Sayak’s latest production, Pinky-Buli, is about two teenage girls, placed in socio-economic polarities, brought together by social necessity and how their identities clash, overlap, fuse, switch places and then bounce back to their original form albeit, mutated forever. Buli is brought into the urban apartment of Pinky, the only child of her upwardly-mobile parents, as a housemaid. She says she hails from Swapnapur in the Sundarbans and enthralls Pinky with her eerie ghost stories and talks about nature in all its splendour.
Pinky is pulled between liking and hating her at the same time because she entertains her and opens a window to a world Pinky has never known. She also surprises Pinky with her amazing grasping power and her knowledge about events and things Pinky has never heard about.
Buli often slips into Pinky’s school uniform and pretends to be Pinky, dancing and singing away, but breaks down when she realises this is just fantasy. Pinky dreams of “becoming” Buli and to go to Swapnapur to learn about the great banyan tree, about the flora and the fauna and the birds and the butterflies absent in the city ambience. Into this scenario, an old man – a banyan tree – arrives from nowhere – engaging the two girls in a lament on the absence of nature in their lives and thriving on the timelessness and the infinity of the great banyan tree that offers shade, refuses to die and infuses colour when life becomes dull. The old man/banyan tree is run over by a speeding train and is dead. But is he really dead? Or have our city-bred, insular senses turned blind to be able to see him?
Existentialist questions of life and death, of joy and grief, of bonding and separation, of jealousy and possessiveness are sharply drawn peppered with generous potshots at Bengali mothers who speak wrong English and take great pride in sending their kids to convent schools while the husband, a regular tippler, takes out his flask of whisky and corrects the wife’s wrong English from time to time. Barbs are thrown at the craze for hiring private tutors for every subject as mothers cannot teach and fathers are “too busy” to tutor them. Why Pinky’s grades begin to fall alarmingly remains a bit hazy. After the interval, the play moves on to a philosophical-ideological plane that places nature and nurture at opposite ends with the banyan tree/old man forming the centre of the endless debate.
The story is structured in two time zones opening with the felicitation of the adult Pinky, now a noted writer. She has written a novel on the strange friendship between Buli and herself. She appears like a metaphor suggesting a return to the present and the scenario goes back again to the past. Buli disappears into thin air the day she is commanded to leave Pinky’s home because her mother is insecure of this new girl and her influence in Pinky’s life. She has taken along, the sequinned pink frock the young odd-job man lured her with to step into a world where she can lie on a bed of currency notes. Did she go with him in search of that golden world? Or is her disappearance a rebellion against a world that rejected her because she posed a threat to their intelligence? Who is this young woman? Is it Buli who disappeared with that pink frock? Or is it Pinky who began to miss Buli’s smell in her school uniform? The closure challenges the audience to draw its own conclusion.
Swatilekha Sengupta’s musical score filled with lines and melodies of famous Tagore numbers. The last number Kothao amaar hariya jabar nei mana rendered by Meghnad is flush with layers of meaning. The single-set stage with the flickering light of the table lamp on Pinky’s study table, the dinner table, the living room with the sofa, the rear exit that transforms into a balcony reaching out to the world beyond, allows room for the actors’ fluid movement. The costumes are very imaginatively designed and characteristically appropriate. Every actor in his/her role has infused his/her character with a life of its own. But the highest marks go to Bhaswati Chakraborty as Buli in her lightning change of mood, her fun approach to life that makes living that much easier is brilliant.