THEATRE- Macbeth in Mamata’s Bengal

Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ continues to attract people with the interplay of power, ambition and violence. Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Throne of Blood’ comes to mind. There is another version in rural Bengal

THEATRE- Macbeth in Mamata’s Bengal
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Anit Mukherjea

Tepantar is a theatre village and cultural centre 175 kilometres and a four hour drive from Kolkata, at Satkahonia close to Santiniketan. Spread over four acres of lush land and locally made thatched huts for the community and the growing number of tourists, one of the chief attractions of the village is the repertory ‘Ebong Amra’ and the theatre community comprising many local tribals and people from economically disadvantages sections.

The community, a brain child of Kallol Bhattacharya, maintain the theatre village, rehearse in the afternoon and put up performances in the evening. Visitors can also attend theatre workshops.

Bhattacharya, supported by the Prabha Khaitan Foundation, brought his interpretation of Macbeth to the city before a select audience at the campus of Alka Jalan Foundation. Accompanied by Baul songs, the show was curated by writer-filmmaker Dr Sangeeta Datta.

“I attended the Shakespeare mini festival in Tepantar in December and found the experience magical,” she recalled. Members of the repertory company did the cooking and housekeeping and fed the guests. They had rehearsals in the afternoon when musicians and dancers were also groomed, she gushed. Theatre, she felt, was transforming society.

On the board of British Shakespeare Association, Sangeeta is constantly on the lookout for innovative adaptations using local theatre forms, props and techniques. It was, she felt, important to hold a show in Kolkata to make people aware that theatre could indeed flourish in rural areas outside the city.

Bhattacharyya, a post graduate in Mass Communication, established the repertory in 1994 and drew actors from peasants and bricklayers from neighbouring villages. He mobilised them into a community earning its living from farm and poultry breeding and practising theatre the rest of the time.

A playwright, director and actor Bhattacharya has written and directed 27 plays and has worked with several eminent theatre personalities like Ratan Thiyam, K.N. Panikkar, S. Ramanujan, Harrold Fuhrman, Terry Converse and Pillar Echabaria among others.

While busy conducting theatre workshops, managing national theatre festivals, seminars, training programmes and organising cultural melas, he is also engaged in children’s theatre and experimental theatre.

Why did he choose Macbeth? “Macbeth has political overtones which are still relevant. Many theatre and film directors have adapted this play and I too was inspired to present it to a rural audience with Baul songs also adding to the local flavour.”

While his use of bamboo sticks and matted jute coils that covered the face of the witches, did add the local touch, purists in the audience felt the acting lapsed into melodrama, especially the sleepwalking scene of Lady Macbeth. Others felt the Baul songs, basically spiritual in temper, did not fit in with the blood and gore in the Shakespearean tragedy. But all said and done, Shakespeare would have been delighted to see his play reinterpreted in a Bengal village to reflect today’s politics.

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