Sanskrit Plays to Modern Bengali Drama: Reciprocating Influences between East and the Western Plays

Article Posted in: Research Articles

Sanskrit plays to Modern Bengali drama: – Transformation of the reciprocating influences between East and West

by – Reeswav Chatterjee, Vol.II, Issue.XXIII, December 2016

Introduction to the Author:

Reeswav Chatterjee is a third-year student of English Literature at RKMRC, Narendrapur, Bengal. He is interested in writing and researching in the field of dramas, Indian as well as Western. Present paper is an attempt of the same quality.



As the western influences of capitalism, existentialism and individual crisis in the times of the world wars, flowed into the arena of Eastern theatre, adaptation of ancient, Elizabethan or modern works explored new vistas in the contemporary socio-political situation of 20th and 21st century India with the help of ancient ideas. This paper will try to access the development of western themes in front of the Indian backdrop in some Bengali adaptation. As “Poshukhamar”, an adaptation of Orwell’s “Animal Farm” hinted at the hypocrisies of the contemporary communist government, “Nandikar”s” production “Nero” in recent times plays similar role, in showing the censorization of freedom of expression by Nation, through the characterization of Seneca. The crowd desperately searches for the protagonist after her physical death in “sopnosondhani’s” production “Antigone”; symbolizing as a search for an individual who can revolt against the prevention of establishing individual rights by the nation. In this particular production, two men roam about among the awaiting crowd outside the theatre, holding a picture of a girl putting up her hands in the fear of gun, begging mercy. This doesn’t only break the fourth wall most brilliantly, but this picture from Palestine also hints at how national political power in the form of the gun threatens individual right of living and at the constant surveillance on freedom of people in the middle East. Two men wearing similar masks throughout the play enliven, in this modern era, the servile people of Athens, showing them as a continuing legacy.

Key Words: – Eastern and western theatre tradition, Ancient Indian drama tradition, similarities, Bengali drama, Western absurdist influence


Behind the established fact that Eastern and Western plays and theatre culture have been influencing each other over ages in theme, expressions and dramatic devices, a very interesting and astonishing fact often remains un-highlighted. And that is that there were striking similarities between East and West, not only in themes but even in the idea of “Drama and Theatre”, at a time when the existence of the East was a mere concept to the West and vice versa. Naturally, as the thoughts of the two cultures intertwined despite the distances of time, place, society and politics, this tradition of influence was destined to transform itself with time. This paper will try to access how those “similarities” transformed into strong ‘influences’ over time and how those influences effected the development of theatre in both the culture.

Today what is “drama” to us, to the ancient Indian society it was “Rupak”. “Rupak” in Sanskrit means “metaphor”. And this particular naming of theatre is very interesting, as theatre is where some people present a metaphorical parallel of the lives of others. This perspective makes us realize that Shakespeare comment that “All the world is a stage” (*1) was an indirect or rather an implied commentary of theatre itself. He thus depicted the stage to be a reflection of the world.

Dhanajay, an ancient critic of Sanskrit drama categorized Sanskrit drama into ten groups, on the basis of their unique specificities in theme, calling them “Doshrupak”. Among the others, “Ehomrigo” was a kind of play which revolved around the lives of residents of Heaven. This immidiately reflects the Mediaeval miracle plays in the western tradition. Now, Bhorot, who penned “Natyosastro”, observed that there are four rudimentary styles of drama from which those ten groups are developed. He termed them “Britti” and those four “Britti”, “Bharati”, “Swatoti”, “Koishiki” and “Arvoti”, have complete similarity with specific categories of English drama. In “Swatoti” there is no place for pain or disgrace and it celebrates the goodness, magnanimity, and heroism of the characters, especially of the hero. It is to a great extent, reflective of the idea of comedy in western drama. ” Koishiki” is identical to “masque”, as it deals with glorious costumes, dance and song, with love and euphoria as the central theme. “Bharati” on the other hand reminds of Dryden’s “Heroic Tragedy”, as it is about depiction of the Hero’s ideologies and masculinity expressed through dominance of lyricism. And last to come is “Arvati”, which with overflowing anger, battles, and intense crisis can be called as the eastern counterpart of the western idea of ‘Tragedy”. The theme being “Karun ros” and “Voyonkor ros”, “Arvati’ echoes the Aristotelian idea of “pity” and “Fear” associated with tragedy. (*2)

Now let us look upon some dramatic element of Sanskrit plays. “Probeshok” was a scene in those ancient plays where through the conversations of some minor characters, an idea about the central characters and about the milieu of the play is revealed. It reminds of the similar Shakespearean tradition evident in “Romeo and Juliet”, where we see Gegroy and Samson preparing the context for the arrival of the major characters. This tradition continues in English drama, as we find similar introductory scenes used for the purpose of exposition even in late 18th century in Sheridan’s “Rivals”. But, the only difference was that those expository scenes were annexed at the end of a scene in the case of Sanskrit plays.

According to Manmohon Ghosh, sudden revelation of a significant truth, proving itself pivotal in altering and deciding the destiny of the characters and the plot was common in Sanskrit plays. The greatest example is obviously of “Sapnobasobdattam” by Vass, where the protagonist suddenly realizes that the woman he is seeing for a long time is actually his lost wife who he was convinced to be dead. Kalidas utilizes this same technique to direct the plot to its culmination in “Shakuntola”, as the heroine suddenly sees her husband, lost for a long time. Needless to say, the requirement of such similar impact in plays were advocated by Aristotle in “Poetics”, calling this sudden realization “Anagnorisis”. Using Anagnorisis, in “Othello”, “Macbeth” and in “King Lear”, Shakespeare made himself a follower of not only Aristotle but also of his Sanskrit predecessors, probably being completely oblivious about it.

But in the treatment of female protagonists, Sanskrit plays place itself in stark contrast with Shakespearean tradition. In Sanskrit plays, presenting two female characters, belonging to different social class, and with contrasting characters and disposition was strictly prohibited. But Shakespeare exploited the possibilities of showing the clash of feminine emotions to its fullest extent both in comedy and tragedy. For instances: – “Olivia and Viola” or “Desdemona and Emilia”.

The idea of sub-plot was also dominant in eastern ancient culture, as some goals were achieved for the fulfillment of the central theme. In the play “Rabon Bodh’, Vali is killed by Rama, for acquiring Sugriv as a partner in the venture of killing Ravan. Sub-plot was indispensible to Shakespeare in almost all his comedies, for not only providing variety and a perfect culmination to the complexities of the plot, but also to create contrast and exploit wit, humour to create a genial ambience to its fullest extent. “Olivia- Sebastian”, “Caliban”, “Celia-Oliver” instances are present in abundance. But Shakespeare didn’t think sub-plot to be applicable to tragedies. And this goes with the Shakespearean idea of tragedy. His tragedies always happen in the extremely individual sphere they focus on one single them and one individual.

The idea of foil, which was implemented abundantly by Shakespeare in both comedy and tragedy, was a common phenomenon in Sanskrit play. “Ratnokosh” comments on this, “When a character’s presence is for the sake of the protagonist and when he is depicted as a substitution of the protagonist’s heroism, then he is “Pataka”—the Indian counterpart of foil. For example, Karna in “Benisonghar” is used for helping Durjodhon, but he is at the same time conscious about establishing his own heroic features. But the antagonist being a foil, as Iago to the moor, doesn’t occur much in Sanskrit plays.

Sagarnandi, a Sanskrit critic, recovered a book by an unknown ancient author, whose idea about the form and construction of the play reminds us of ‘Freytag Pyramid.” The anonymous author prescribes a play to be developed through five stages, “Mukh” (Exposition), “Protimukh” (Complication) “Gorvo” (Climax), “Obomorsho” (Catastrophe) and “Nirbohon” (Denouement). In the first stage, ‘Mukh”, a significant characteristic element is ‘Upokhep’, which suggests the happenings of the play later. Now, the supernatural soliciting in “Macbeth” plays the similar role. In Kalidas’s “Avvigan sakuntalam” through Anusuya and Priyonboda, the character of king Dussonto was elevated, which was called “Bilovon” in Sanskrit plays. Similar element is evident in Duncan’s speech about Macbeth. In “Rotnaboli”, protagonist Batsoraj disguises as the God and this disguise is used to increase the intrigue Which is called “Porivabna” in Indian Plays. Viola’s disguise creates the same intrigue in the audience. Expressing self-pride in Sanskrit plays is called “Babosay”. Macbeth boasting as “come to me as a Helican tiger” echoes the presence of this characteristic. A common feature in most of the Sanskrit plays is that the seed of all the complexities and also of the denouement is hidden in the plot itself. Shakespearean tradition follows this pattern. Viola’s disguise leads to all the complications and her revealing herself leads to the unknotting.

The evolution of the idea of proscenium stage was generated in the western arena (in 17th and 18th century) as Shakespearean playhouses structure was being transformed to make the playhouses look like a one side open box. Behind the stage there would be a fitting backdrop. As the actors were present on the stage, to some people the structure was more two dimensional, instead of three dimensional and this made them call proscenium stage to be like a ‘picture frame-stage’. This western influence was later to be proved as the first development of theatre as aa unique form of art, as this significantly drew probably the first discerning line between the popular ‘Jatra” culture and theatre in India in the 19th century. Now people don’t sit surrounding the ground level stage in an open field like ‘Jatra’, rather they feel to be part of a make-believe world, detached from the world outside — a world which is unique and complete in itself. Here curtain rises at the beginning of a scene to introduce the spectator with the happenings of the stage, and it close the world on stage at the end of the scene. The audience, as if, eavesdrops into the secret world of the characters. Later, a big pit would be created between the audience and the stage for the orchestra. Whatsoever, this particular influence of stage structure and more importantly of the complete metamorphosis of the identity of drama was the first step to prepare Indian people to Judge Theatre as a unique expression of artistry.

Researchers have observed that in the 19th century there were three ways of involving in the growing theatre culture, evolving under the influence of British plays and performances in India. Pobitra sarkar points out, “The first one was as a spectator—this was instrumental to lure Indian People to British theatre culture. (*3) The second option was to buy the rights of staging plays and the last one was as an actor.” But this involvement was very limited, as the option of buying tickets was available only for rich Indians. Prince Dwarkanathy Thakur introduced Bengali to the second role by buying Chowronghi Theatre on 15th august 1835. And it was Boisnobchoron addho who first performed as a native actor in British performance, and that too as the protagonist in ‘Othello’. But, in all three departments those beginners were not at all followed by numbers, as introducing natives for staging English plays, except using a black skin for the role of the moor, doesn’t seem to be a very favourable option for the British. But actually, the jealousy caused by the unattainable desire of participating enhanced the attraction of the Bengalis to the theatre tradition of the colonizers and most importantly to the proscenium theatre even more between 1775 and 1884. Gradually, productions with native investment, direction and performances of English Plays were starting to be staged by Hindu College, Boisnobchoron Addho’s “School Oriental Seminary” and by others. Apart from “Merchant of Venice”, “Julias Ceaser”, Othello, Henry IV, Adddison’s “keto” and Thomas Otway’s “Venice Preserved” were among the favorite choices. The milieu that all those instances create is of an incredible interest among the 19th century bangali for the western philosophy of theatre and for seeing life beyond the pages of the book. Whether that LIFE is imaginary, distant or even mythical was not important for them, they simply wanted to watch dramatized life, in Pobitra Sarkar’s expression, “…wanted to gain life through visual and audio.”

In the mid-19th century, the theme and content of plays in Bengal resembles the mid and late 18th century nouve riche drama culture of social comedies, with all its indulgences in satire, social portrayal of aristocracy, scandals, sentimentality and licentiousness. Both the cultures, despite being distanced by a century, had their shares of the sudden rise of affluent middle class through trade, excessive dominance of finance resulting into breaking down of all sorts of moral restrictions, rise of indulgence in manifold social and individual moral decadence and transgressions. From the twenties of 19th century, social satire on the hypocrisy and dubiousness of the riches was growing in stature, as a genre, through ‘Samachar Darpon’s’ “Babu upakhyan”, Bhabanicharan Banerjee’s “Nabababubilas”, “Nababibibilas”, and “kolikata Kamalalay”. The genre reached its pinnacle in Kaliprasanna Singh’s “Hutom Pechar Noksha”. Parychand Mitra’s “Alaler ghore Dulal” was also bordering on this aim of satirical portrayal of the rising ‘babu somaj’ of 19th century Kolkata. But the first play to introduce this genre efficaciously was Ramnarayan Tarkoratno’s “kulin kul sorbosso”. This particular play, though inherits some elements of the ancient Sanskrit plays, is based on the contemporary social structure and culture. The debates over polygamy of male and legalization of the marriage of the widow were also highlighted here. This influence of contemporary clash of social status and ideologies in the second half of 19th century proved to be hugely instrumental in giving birth to unique Bengali natok. The soul and body of unique Bengali play was formed by this contemporary social conflict between tradition and modernism, extending to the dealing of objects like literacy to women, alcoholing, whoring and decadence of the male, destruction of the lives of high-born women due to the hypocritical dominance of the ‘kulin protha’. In 1872, ‘Sadharon Rongaloy” was established by Amritolal’s “Bagbazar amateur Theatre” with the aim of reflecting contemporary life and society. And thus Bengali culture slowly but steadily rose above the mythical and epic world of ‘Jatra’ to feel the pulse of the present.

But Madhusadan Dutta’s treatment of mythology was completely different, with humanized mythical heroes, whose conflicts and crisis occupied the central arguments of the plays instead of the idea of establishing morality. “Krisnokumari” and “Mayakanon” reminds us of “Oedipaus” and “Antigone”, as it’s the destiny that controls all the happenings to which the protagonist, no matter how much larger than life he is, has to yield. A strong influence of Greek Tragedy on him is made evident here through his implementation of the idea of nemesis. Probably, “Sharmistha” which was partly influenced by “As you like it”, can be judged as an exception, in this case, that follows the Shakespearean implementation of the idea of Hamartia”. In his legendary satire “Ekei ki bole sovvota”, shadow of restoration wreck is prominent in the portrayal of the drunkard, whoring humbugs of the times.

Through Girish Ghosh, Amritolal and Dijendrolal Roy, when Bengali theatre reached its modern era, then the greatest western influence was of existentialism and communism. Interestingly, these two influences were to be clashed later, producing various progenies of “Ganonatyo Sangha”— the first attempt of turning the flow to focusing on the psychologically awakened individual and politically awakened common poor people. Bijon Bhattacharya’s “Nobanno” will strike the first note of this new beginning as the entertainment and commercial “sadharon Rongaloy” will be slowly overshadowed by “Ganonatyo”. From now on, important playwrights would write unique plays and transform contemporary western texts only for Group Theatre. From now on some educated middle class people, will dominate the positions of playwright, producer, director and actor, as a plethora of intellectual and meditative minds in the field of modern Indian Theatre will be produced in the forms of Utpal Dutta, Shambhy Mitra, Bijon Bhattacharya, Ajitesh Bannerjee, Tulshi Lahiri, Rudraprasad Sengupta, Shamik Bannerjee, Rittik Ghotok and many more. All these people were directly or indirectly involved with “Gononatyo and Nobonatyo” and after the breaking down of Gononatyo, those fallen stars would begin the tradition of Group Theatre in Bengal. The productions of Nandikar (Ajitesh and later Rudraprasad), Bohurupi (Shuvam Mitra), Calcutta Theatre (Bijon Bhattyacharya), Gandhorbo (Shyamal Ghosh), Rupkar clarified determinedly that they had no faith on the commercial perspective and had a strong ideology. This ideology was both political and artistic.

Ganonatyo not only had their political motivation in communism, one of their fundamental reasons of engaging in the theatre culture was to inject the political awareness of rights in the poverty-stricken multitude of the mid-20th century Bengal. Naturally western playwrights propagating communism including o casey, Brecht, odets, Arthur Miller hugely influenced Ganonatyo. From the forties to the sixties, when Communist party was being termed as ‘reactionary and sedative’ in India and was time and again being banned, captivated and tortured, these western playwrights ensured the devotion of the Bengali communist even more, with providing them with ideological support from outside the country. Ganonatyo was also banned as cultural propagator of communist party. And Bengal was the strongest pillar of the growing communist movement in India, other than Kerala and this political oppression of the Government ensured more determination and obstinacy in the members of Ganonatyo. They were now being engaged to theatre for giving expression to their political belief, which they want to establish and spread among the numerous people starving, which they are desperate to protect from extinction under the suppression of the Government. Theatre was not for its own sake; it was now for the establishment of ideology that led them to engage in theatre. Needless to say, how immensely those communist western playwrights influenced the movement of Ganonatyo and how they helped Ganonatyo to connect itself with the communist movement going on in the world led by Russia.

But, when ‘Ganonatyo’ transformed into “Nabonatyo’, a sense of dissociating from the completely political basics was evident and to experiment with various eastern and western texts for betterment of drama, as a form of art was the central aim. But, it should not be missed to notice that in the initial productions of translations and adaptations of western texts performed by “Bohurupi”, community life, questions about the wellbeing and existence of collective mass were not at all minimized. Staging of “Dosho chokro” (Ibsen’s “An enemy of the people), “Putul Khela” (A Doll’s House) all these productions talks about the crisis of community. The influence of Marxism in Utpal Dutta was clearly evident in almost all his plays. His own “Angar” talks about the life and struggles of the community of the miners, “kollol” talks about the fight of the Indian Navy under British Rule, and probably his greatest creation “Tiner Talwar” highlights his deep nostalgic compassion for the 19th century theatre culture. He adapted Stiphen Heimar’s Novel as “Shrinkhal Chara”, a depiction of Marx’s life, Gorki’s “The Lower Depths”, and Simonof’s “The Russian Question”.

Chittoranjan Das was for a long time a part of the “Gononatyo” movement and his plays thematically rely on the struggle of a community in National and international sphere. His ‘pala bodol’, ‘joseph Stalin’, ‘Roktakto romeo juliet’ faithfully generated power to the Gononatyo movement. Pobitra Sarkar depicts, “The theme of Gononatyo was basically ‘anti-establishment’ and revolutionary, aiming at the exploration of the suppressed questions regarding society and life.” Ganonatyo organizing seminars, trying to communicate with the audience gives a definite hint about their intense desire of spreading their artistic ideologies. Their motive was to awaken people politically and psychologically about the larger problems of the day.

The influence of existentialism came mostly through the staging of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godo”. This play was one of the initial executions of western absurdist movement. Such plays are reflective of the rising individualism in 20th century Europe, as the focus from society shifts completely to the self-questioning and analysis of one individual. Such plays question the very existence of an individual by asking him whether his consciousness, his soul is alive or is his mere body is living? Whether he is psychologically alive from within, and able to express ‘the man within’ to go beyond the social and physical existence? And this inability of expressing and establishing the conscious identity of an individual often happens because of the oppression and demand of the society. These existentialist plays pose individual against community, and shows how the pressure of community engenders his crisis, psychological decay and destruction. Naturally, this too much emphasis on individualism, and that too posing against community, considering community as senseless, uncompassionate, though some thinkers in Gononatyo, it angered most of the communist member. People who take theatre as a weapon to change the society and fulfill the requirements of community, this is quite natural. This debate reaches its zenith when Nandikar produced “Natyokar er sondhane choti choritro”. Interestingly, Rudraprosad Sengupta, at that time was an active member of undivided communist party, and the playwright of this particular play, Pirandillo’s closeness with Mussolini and his belief in (obokhoybadi) philosophy must be definitely known to him. But despite this that they were attracted by the goodness of the text shows the rising emphasis of play over political ideologies and how western influences ensured preferences to art over political ideologies.

This disagreement in “Gononatyo” probably echoes a conflict, existing from ancient times, between two different ideologies regarding the role of arts. Plato, though despised art as a twofold or even threefold imitation of truth, thought that it has its only significant role as a toll for the betterment of the society. He was more supportive of the idea of implementing art for people’s sake. But, his greatest student Aristotle saw art as a liberal form of expression, detached from social happenings. His aim and analysis of tragedy as an ideal form of art reflects his emphasis on aestheticism.

This emphasis on individualism seemed to the devoted communist of the times be the first step of asserting capitalism on Bengali stage. Sekhar Chatterjee severely criticized Nandikar for staging reactionary plays while giving a speech. Sekhar performed his plays at Maxmuller Bhavan that was an organization of West Germany. Now, it would be interesting to know how he could create a bridge between the reactionary Government of West Germany and his leftist ideologies. Whatsoever, Nandikar later staged another reactionary play—Sher Afgan, an adaptation of Pirandillo’s “Enriko Karto” but this production had behind itself an urge of staging good play breaking the shackles of political ideologies and a desperate requirement of rescuing the group for its perishing. After some important members left Nandikar, Ajitesh selected some plays which he decided to perform in moments of crisis. Significant to note is how the tradition that began with establishing its political ideologies as one of the major aims, is now compromising its political ideologies for keeping the tradition alive. It can’t be denied that the ideas of Absurdist Theatre and existentialism played a major role in this context. In fact, there was no definite idea among the Marxist about which play is progressive and which one is reactionary. When Nandikar staged “jakhan Aka”, an adaptation of Arnold Weskar’s “Roots”, one leftist called this to be a very progressive one and the other termed this reactionary.

Needless to say that most of the famous productions of 20th century in Bengal were adaptations of western plays. While adaptations of western plays satisfied the quench of Bengali for connecting themselves with the International thinkers and kept the theatre groups busy in progress, those adaptations also served to fulfil the drought of new unique plays by Bengali dramatists. Among those adaptations, Chekhov’s “The proposal”, and “The wedding”, Eugene o Neill’s “Where the cross is made”, Ionesco’s “The lesson” and “Rhinoceros”., Brecht’s “Three Penny Opera” were significant.

In the very recent times, Indigenization saw a great implementation in “Minerva Repertory Theatre”s “Mumbai Nights”, an appropriation in its most truest sense of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”. As the backdrop shifts from Illyria to underworld of Mumbai, the city comes alive at the very beginning of the production with all its attachments with cricket, fashion and glamour, Bollywood and shooting of films, and most importantly with underworld. Those passing visuals as a kind of prologue, one after another Bollywood song that will return time and again to exploit the emotional elements of the plot, all these devices firmly announce at the very beginning of the play that the production is actually using the plot of the Bard’s play with the central aim of picturizing the socio-political scenario of India or Mumbai, to be more specific. The captain who saves Viola in the play, slips into the costume of a narrator for adjusting the audience with the shift of time, place and milieu from the Bard’s play. Some universal elements of the age come alive in one of the initial short scenes, or visual rather, as they were all speechless. All the people talks over mobile, busy in their own lives, without slightest concern, knowledge or care about others’ life. This is a perfect portrayal of excessive individualism, self-indulgence, absence of any community life and complete unconcern about fellow people’s life, which is so typical of 21st century. The narrator saying that his brother has become such a big man that now he can’t even recognize him. This all the more emphasizes the loss of emotions and human relations under the mechanical shadow of money and power. The adaptor, Bratyo Basu moves forward, even more, to change the initial threads of the plot to suit the political world of Mumbai and India in the large scale. No Elizabethan shipwreck throws Viola amidst an unfamiliar world, she is broken touch with her brother because of a bomb blast, which immediately refers to the political scenario and social life of after 1990 Mumbai. It immediately connects the plot with the futility of human life in a world where power, money and commerce are everything and humanity nothing. Viola and Sebastian facing problems in India being Pakistanis, refers to the communal enmity leading to the military sphere between the two neighbouring countries. And when the depiction of Rakesh Maria comes, it ensures that the basic aim of using the Bard’s play was to present The life of India, the country, with all its social, political, individual and psychological perspective. And the culmination of the plot of the play matches the utterance of the adaptation of communal friendship. In the unison of Viola-Orsino and Olivia-Sebastian here lives an implied hint of the communion of Indians and Pakistanis through the way of love.

On the other hand Noye Natua in their “Fagun raten Goppo,” an adaptation of the Bard’s “A Midsummer night’s dream” uses Bengali folk song and hindi song for showing the celebratory ambience of all Shakespearean comedy to initiate the Indigenisation. The fairies become the ghosts of the native Indian fairy tales, with fitting attire and behaviour of the Indian Adibasis. The presentation of the uproarious and celebratory world of Shakespearean comedy is done through intellectual usage of the Bengali language and its rural dialect. Wit, humour and pun, exploited in abundance, were perfectly suiting to the demand of the language. It’s a treat to see how the adaptor wedded the Shakespearean theme to the Bengali language to create a perfect Indigenisation.

When Bottom says, “I will tell the audience that I am not dying, I am simply acting. “it becomes a statement of the ‘illusion of reality” that drama creates on stage. This is an affirmation of one of the rudimentary uniqueness that drama has as a form of art. And this direct statement to the audience during the performance also breaks the fourth wall and urges the audience to enjoy the essence of the play with full knowledge of the ‘make-believe world’ that they are creating on stage. This is not only a commentary on theatre but also an attempt of urging the audience to be mature enough to discard any dreamy conception of the stage and enjoy it as it really is. This is a commentary on the development of the basic ideas of theatre. Moreover, Bottom saying, “I will write ‘wall’ on a man and say the audience have to take him as a wall.’ is ridiculing the weird usage of props on stage after the development of Proscenium Theatre, which Rabindranath also loathed. He disliked strongly the usage of painted background, artificial things and expressed his opinion of emphasizing more on “Chittopot” than “Chitropot” on stage. By “chittopot” he meant that unnatural props should be replaced by fitting dialogues and acting.

Whatsoever, in “Fagun Rater Goppo”, the comical presentation of using a man with heavy beard as a woman, satirically hint at the unrealistic utilization of male actors as female in Elizabethan era. It also shows that how this can evoke hilarious laughter even in tragic moments of the play. This is not only a mocking of Elizabethan times but also of Indian ancient theatre where similar was the custom. This actually draws a parallel between the cultures of two different times and place on the basis of social structures and how it affected the tradition of theatre.

Utterance of a grave and meditative realization at the end of all euphoria is a common element in Shakespearean comedy. And puck takes this responsibility of evoking the needful truth, that this false world utters, through breaking the fourth wall, by appearing in the audience. Puck gives the message that amidst all this blissfulness and unison the chief realization that the play offers the realistic understanding of fantasy, shown through this dreamy world should not be missed by the audience. In case of “Mumbai Nights”, the fourth wall is broken by the narrator communicating directly to the audience saying that this is going to be a performance of an opera prepared for them.

But the only strange element regarding the Indigenisation is keeping the western names of the characters intact, while using Bengali language, its dialect and folk songs. And this creates some horrible mismatch sometimes, for example, Hippolyta saying, “aye porarmukho minshe Oberon” is something really illogical and ludicrous. But this fault is perfectly avoided in “Mumbai Nights”. Not only Indian but also names easily associated to Mumbai underworld are used. The adaptor furthermore contemporaries the plot as Viola’s confidence is established through her ability as a computer analyst. Interestingly, the aspect of homosexuality hidden in the plot of “Twelfth Night” was emphatically exploited in this production. Viola, dressed as Cesario, passionately hugging and kissing Orsino, Olivia saying with frustration, “O faith! I have rendered my heart to a homosexual!”, 6 or 7 same sex pairs dancing in a scene all these hint to the implied homosexual element in the play.

Olivia’s ambivalence is shown through her voluptuousness, as she says to Malvolio, “I am more interested in your physiology, instead of your psychology. “Malvolio, the social climber, is portrayed beautifully, through a beautiful use of the stage. While reading Maria’s message, Malvolio dreams of Olivia seducing him, as at this point Olivia appears in the balcony and Malvolio says, “If I get a LADDER, I would go up to her.”

“Sopnosondhani” contemporaries “Antigone” by showing a man reading out a newspaper reporting about the devastating situation in Palestine after the attack of Israel, and this gives hint to the theme of sacrifice of individual rights and freedom under the power and dominance of state. This places “Antigone’s” Greece and the present world at the same level and thus reminds us of the relevance of the text even in today’s world. This eternalizes the theme of state’s dominance over individual. Three people always wearing mask in front of Creon and always abiding by his orders without judging them reflect the spineless, servile people with complete absence of individual judgement available in all age. This production breaks the fourth wall most dramatically. Even Before the beginning of the performance, two men with a photo of a child surrendering with her hands up, hanging from their shoulder roams about among the awaiting audience. This immediately increases the intrigue among the audience and also connects them to the central theme of the play. The play ends with the people of Greece searching for “Antigone” among the audience, making the audience a part of their quest of finding an “Antigone”, a voice that has individual judgement and has the courage to scream against the oppression of the state.



  1. The quotation “All the world is a stage” is taken from Shakespeare’s “As you Like it”; P:- 73, The Arden Shakespeare
  2. There was an ancient idea in Indian drama tradition, called “The Navarasa”, depicting various emotional state of human beings.
  3. The quotation is taken from Pabitra Sarkar’s “Natmoncho o Natyorup”; Dey’s Publication


Select Reading:-

Aristotle, Poetics; Penguin classics

Sarkar Pobitro; Natmoncho Natyorup; Dey’s Publication

Dalmia, Vasudha; Poetics of Plays and performance

Trivedi, Poonam; We play Shakespeare in Asia

Trivedi, Poonam:- India’s Shakespeare

Sanders, Juli; Adaptation and Appropriations

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