India Today - - LEISURE - —Al­pana Chowd­hury

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

Photo Cour­tesy AADYAM

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