A GYPSY MOON
The strong women of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s path-breaking novel, Srikanta, set in late 19th-early 20th century Bengal, may not seem as bold as they did in 1917, when the first part of the book was published. But veteran theatre director Akash Khurana’s adaptation for the stage is a visual pleasure that charms despite some clumsy English and ill-considered gimmicks.
Part of Aadyam’s third season, Khurana’s Under the Gypsy Moon moves from Mumbai to Delhi this week for performances on October 7 and 8. The story is thought-provoking even today, amid the culture wars over the protection or restriction of women at Banaras Hindu University and elsewhere across the country. The production brings into focus several female characters who dared to live life on their own terms and who had a profound influence on the eponymous Srikanta, a dithering, educated young man who flitted “from one flower to another”.
Anada didi is fiercely loyal to her violent, good-for-nothing snake-charmer lover. The Dickens-quoting Abheya has a livein relationship with the friend of her opium-addict husband. Rajlaxmi, who takes lessons in English from Srikanta as a child, becomes a dancing girl in a kotha, but later leaves it for an ashram to become a Vaishnavite. In the same ashram is Komal Latha, who is having an affair with Gauhar, a Muslim man writing the Ramayan. The stage, dominated by a large full moon and several gnarled banyan trees, is imaginatively lit up in many ways through the play, in keeping with the changing moods of the narrative. Adding to the aesthetic charm are musical pieces from Bengal—baul , Nazrul sangeet, Rabindra sangeet—as well as the Awadhi thumri, all richly sung, and accompanied by dances that delightfully combine traditional and modern steps.
While the Bengali flavour of the story is skilfully presented through snatches of dialogue and costumes, most of the play is in English. It is here that it falters. Some of the dialogue is awkward, jarring rather than establishing characters’ identities. The gimmicks are bothersome too—the tiger and ghosts interrupt the story’s narrative and aesthetic flow.
That apart, Under the Gypsy Moon will appeal to those who enjoy emotional stories from a different era, revolving around characters in search of themselves through platonic, physical or metaphysical relationships.
The Bengali flavour of the story is presented skilfully via dialogue and costumes