In connection with the 150th birth anniversary of India’s first Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore (referred to as Robi Thakur by Bengalis), several cultural organisations in Bangalore held celebrations. One of these was Jagriti, the recently-opened theatre space in Whitefield.
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Jagriti’s line up for the week-long celebrations were very impressive. It consisted of the screening of several classic movies based on Tagore’s stories, such as "Kabuliwallah", "Chokher Bali", "Charulata", and a documentary by Satyajit Ray. Every evening, the play, "Crisis of Civilization: A Journey with Tagore" was staged. The play ran for 90 minutes, approximately.
It would not be really accurate, and far too limiting, to docket this performance as a play.
Ranjon Ghoshal, founder of the theater group, Forum Three from Bangalore, created this form of communicating some of Tagore’s many talents to the audience. Highlighting the main difference between the ideologies of Gandhi and Tagore: Gandhi was a nationalist, and people, in his view, were subservient to the goal of one nation. Tagore was a humanist; to him, the concept of a nation was not as important as the betterment of humanity as a whole. Though born into an affluent family, Tagore had a deep love for all of humanity, including the "teeming masses."
To bring out these points, and to underscore the theme of the presentation, Ranjon enlisted many aids from Tagore himself…his notes, his observations, his initiatives, his music….fairly intensive research has been done into the archives and writings of Tagore, who, luckily, was a good communicator.
The narrative was split into two, the dividing line being a small stretch of curtain. On the right-hand side, wearing a cloak, Ranjon was Robi Thakur himself….quoting his quotes, voicing his thoughts, and breaking into some of the most beautiful lyrics, that are, today, known as Robindro Songeet ("Music of Rabindra"). On the left-hand side, sans the flowing cloak, he was the Sutradhar…narrating various incidents from Tagore’s life, or analysing his views.
Ranjon made a disclaimer about his music…but the soulful way in which he rendered the songs from "Geetanjali" (which is more familiarly known as "Gito Bitan"), the way he stressed the beauty of the lyrics, lifted the singing beyond the mundane to the sublime. Of course, it was better understood by those who know Bengali fluently….even as I was moved by the word-images, I marveled at the scansion and rhyme in the lyrics. However, i feel that there were certainly some members of the audience who enjoyed the music just as much, without knowing and following every word.
Ranjon took us through the ups and downs of Tagore’s life and thoughts (including his refusal to accept the knighthood conferred upon him)..and also showed us the versatility of Tagore’s creativiity…as the well-designed brochure put it, " visionary, poet, painter, composer, lyricist, academcian, and educationist." Tagore was truly a Renaissance man in Bengal, and Ranjon, for that hour and a half, he took us into Tagore’s mind and heart. A truly remarkable performance.
A few old photographs, and clips from various movies, furthered the mood of the performance, setting the background of events against which Tagore’s views developed. The songs of Robindro were transliterated, and also translated, by Utkal Mohanty, Sangeeta Ghoshal, Mou Boral and Ranjon himself. This was the only criticism I have of the play: the translations were often not up to my sense of the lyrics, and only once did I feel they were really excellent…and that was when the translation was by Tagore, himself! However, the translation of "Hingshaye unmottho prithhi" by Sangeeta was good, too. The script, by Ranjon himself, was very fluent, and he was word-perfect in his delivery.
The stage setting was simple: a desk and chai on the "Tagore" side, and just a chair on the "sutradhar" side. The lighting and sound, for which credits were not given in the brochure, and were far too quickly announced for me to record, were both excellent, too.
I must specially mention the direction. The best direction of a play is like good make-up on a beautiful woman…hardly visible, but subtly enhancing the effect. In similar fashion, Jagadish Raja’s direction of the veteran Ranjon was with a light and sure touch….it was hardly noticeable to the audience.
I had also enjoyed the screening of "Kabuliwallah" earlier in the day, though it was punctuated by many breaks. How I wish I could have gone to see the screenings and the art show every day! But alas, for someone from south Bangalore, visiting Jagriti cannot be a regular outing.