He promised he’d return tomorrow.
And I wrote everywhere on my floor:
The morning broke, when they all asked:
Now tell us, when will your “Tomorrow” come?
Tomorrow, Tomorrow, where are you?
I cried and cried, but my Tomorrow never returned!
– Vidyapati (Translated: Azfar Hussain)
Shastha Ritu (Fifth play staged at the Vodafone Odeon Theatre Festival on 5 December, 2009 at Star Theatre) revisits the Bhakti cult with Vaishnav padavalis of Vidyapati and Govinda Das. The play sketches life of performers entrenched in the fear of losing ground in the age of bioscope and theatre. The more they try to hold on to the tradition, the more distant they become.
Had there not been the wonderful recital of padavalis, the playwright, Atish Chanda, and the director, Biplab Bandopadhyaya, would have got a fainter applaud. The essence of the play was its melody.
Protagonist Krishnabhamini’s fame attracts visitors from far away places to Nawadwip during the month of Magh ~ the season of palas. It is not the spiritual power of the ragas alone that pulls the people but also Krishnabhamini’s being that doesn’t take much time to transform itself from Krishna to Radha and vice-versa. In such palas she earns admirers such as Bhattacharjee moshai who accompanies her during ‘off-season’ and finds comfort in her youth (who later loses interest in Bhamini’s avisar and desires Radha’s sringar ras) and also, Khuro, the rickshaw puller who follows her just to see her perform again and again and finds salvation in her recitals. Krishnabhamini adopts an 8-year-old orphan to fill the gap her husband left behind. The girl is also her hope of keeping the tradition of pala kirtan alive.
Radha is different. She doesn’t see love for Krishna in the eyes of the men leering at her or Krishnabhamini at the palas. Call of the rivers and the mountains pull her more than Bhakti ras. And so, she runs away with the man of her dreams. It is then that Khuro comes and lays out his unconditional love before Krishnabhamini. What kept the audience at their seat were Krishnabhamini and Radha singing and also Khuro’s lovelorn eyes. Other characters were nothing more than shadows of disjointed subplots.
There could have been many other angles to the play which perhaps even the director desired but some seemed too hastily wrapped off to leave any impression and others were misfits. Even instances where Krishnabhamini could have been jealous of Radha was played down to such extent that it was completely stubbed out. Dreary life of Krishnabhamini and her helplessness in filling Malipara, where even spring can’t get birds to sing, with music is subdued by the exaggeration with she vents her anger on all and sundry.
However, the audience could be heard humming the padavalis along with Krishnabhamini. She may have failed at a pala with her faltering voice but when it comes to the play, she certainly made it worth watching or perhaps listening.