M.A.D.ness and an Honest, Wanting Love
“Are we afraid to ask the questions that scare us?” This question brought together a group of young theatre enthusiasts from various colleges in Kolkata in December 2011. The one common link that connected them all was their passion for meaningful theatre and their united disappointment and disapproval of the existing socio-political system. Thus they decided to unleash a wave of M.A.Dness on a dead society and a corrupt system through theatre that presented reality through art.
Time and again, countless attempts have been made to immortalise, elevate, disparage, and preserve in prose, poetry, and play the cauldron of culture that is Calcutta, or the kitschy-sort-of-wonder that is Kolkata. Much has been written about its indomitable spirit and unique beauty. Therefore, how does “With Love, Calcutta”, presented by the City’s very own M.A.D, stand out in such a scenario? The answer is simple: It does not. In spite of the genuine, sometimes bordering-on-the-desperate effort, “With Love, Calcutta” misses the mark by some distance.
Inspired by the narrative style of the movie, “Paris Je T’aime”, “With Love,” attempts to weave into “a whole” several “short plays” in two-and-a-half-hours. The end result is an all-too-familiar montage of a beloved city, accompanied by the occasional brilliant spark.
The major highlights of the production are the individual performances of the actors. One cannot help but applaud the talented cast for slipping in and out of the skins of myriad characters with remarkable finesse. Soumendra Bhattacharya as the tenaciously typical life insurance policy agent (amongst a plethora of other characters portrayed by him with equal aplomb) and Soumya Mukherji as the embittered former stage actor and father to a more successful son (portrayed by Ayan Bhattacharjee who holds his own) are commendable. But the most memorable performances of the show are delivered by the three ladies- Najrin Islam, Sharmistha Pandey, and Sreeja Ghosh. Posh society women obsessed with clicking selfies, a naïve yet determined village girl lost in the big bad city, or simple, foul-mouthed, and warring slum women- they effortlessly navigate through the varied characters with stellar skill. Soumya Mukherji’s madman tramp in the second half is striking, but too long and monotonous to generate the deserved interest.
Of the few glaring issues with the play, the lack of balance between show and tell is numero uno. Bold, blatant, yet sometimes bland dialogues leave little to the imagination and assault the senses without proving a point. Too frequent monologues invoking diverse variants ranging from Sartre to schizophrenia and quite brilliant in themselves , disrupt in bits the otherwise perfect rhythm of the performance. The disregard for subtlety is apt for certain scenes and wanting in others. The narrative further suffers due to some excessively dragged out and unnecessary plot lines. The play would definitely have benefited from a more polished and better-edited script. Out of the several “short stories”, special mention must be made of the conversation between a mostly-drunk former stage actor and his son, who has been more successful financially in the same profession. Intense and tragically reminiscent, it was the stand-out of the evening. The only recurring plot line involving two friends- each in love with the other, each bound by the city they love- sustains the structure of the narrative adequately.
Special mention must be made of the superb live music score (a mandolin player, perched in the heavens and observing all mortal proceedings) and compelling light effects which complement the narrativeconclusion, “With Love, Calcutta” is a composition of both highs and lows. It is an honest venture to describe how a beloved city can move hearts, distort souls, affect happiness, love, and every other emotion under the sun and kindle the dull flame of saudade. Not quite the “love song”, but perhaps more than a mere “elegy”. It is, after all, a mammoth task to put into ideal words the spirit of Calcutta- the city of haunting inherent contradictions.
By Priyanka Sen