PLAY>> POSHU KHAMAR Directed by Arpita Ghosh 110 minutes
When Shaoli Mitra decided to stage a Bengali adaptation of George Orwell's anti-totalitarian novel, Animal Farm, she had no idea of the turn events would take in West Bengal."When we started practising, we talked about what (us president George) Bush was doing and the repressive government in Myanmar, but we didn't expect the same to happen in West Bengal," says the Kolkata-based theatre personality, referring to the state's repression of peoples' protests against land acquisition in Singur and Nandigram.
Mitra's group, Pancham Vaidik, held its first performance of Pohsu Khamar Bengali for Animal Farm) on August 22 last year, round the time the Singur issue was heating up. The initial feedback was lukewarm.But in the past few months, the fable-like story of animals on a farm ousting their oppressive human owners and declaring "all animals are equal" only to discover that exploitation doesn't really end and "some animals are more equal than others", seems to suddenly resonate with special meaning for viewers in this state. Mitra's group is now being invited to perform in several districts and even in battlegrounds like Singur.
The 110-minute production is bare bones. A box-like structure with a door that stands in for the farmhouse and a couple of signboards are the primary props. The animals' khaki uniforms with nametags stuck to their backs("hen", "pigeon", "goat" for the chorus speakers and proper nouns for those with meatier roles) are suggestive of the anonymity of the working classes, especially in the eyes of the elite. It's the "humans" who wear masks and dress in shirts and suits. And as certain animals on the farm start turning "more equal" than the rest, their outfits change from khakis to tailored trousers and button-down shirts, to suits, till finally there's really no difference left between them and the "humans".
The performance is somewhat colourless and leans heavily on dialogue. But that does not hamper the message from getting across. Mitra, who had initially chosen the play because she "thought Animal Farm was relevant because it speaks against fascism", is now facing both bouquets, from the struggling classes, and brickbats, from goons of the leading constituent of West Bengal's ruling coalition, (cpim). "I was threatened for speaking for Singur farmers and in some places our performance was banned," she says. For about two months now, her group has been trying to stage a performance in Singur's Beraberi village, but, says Debotosh Ghosh, one of the senior actors in the group, the conditions are still not conducive. "The cpi(m) people who have seen the play feel it's not good for the party's image," he says.
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