Drama Review: Nandikar's Madhabi - 28th National Theater Festival

Nandikar's Madhabi Bengali Drama (Bangla Natok)

Nandikar's Madhabi Bengali Drama (Bangla Natok)

Nandikar's Madhabi Bengali Drama (Bangla Natok)

Nandikar's Madhabi Bengali Drama (Bangla Natok)

Nandikar's Madhabi Bengali Drama (Bangla Natok)

Nandikar's Madhabi Bengali Drama (Bangla Natok)

Nandikar's Madhabi Bengali Drama (Bangla Natok)

December 27, 2011 (Washington Bangla Radio / Penning Creations): Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned!

Here we have a woman who is wronged, scorned, abused and yet there’s no hellfire to scorch her tormenters. We’re only left with a subdued sense of victory as Madhabi emerges triumphant, after what seems like ages of continuous torture. Willful submission to a father’s charitable wishes, a lover’s dutiful words and cursed by what was supposedly her boon, leads protagonist to a journey against her Self – till she finally manages to find her stand.

We’re talking about ‘Madhabi’, a masterpiece by Bhisham Sahni, adapted to Bangla by Swatilekha Sengupta, also the director of this poignant tale of a woman suffering at the hands of shallow pride, hollow duties and hypocritical values.

A little shaken, somewhat baffled, and majorly awestruck – such was the reaction of the audience who were treated with the 77th stage act of Madhabi on December 25, 2011, at the Academy of Fine Arts, Kolkata.

While the streets outside exuded a tireless charm of a chilled Christmas evening in the city, there was silence inside the Academy. An unspoken question that was possibly doing rounds throughout the time period of 2 hours and 15 minutes – is the story of ‘Madhabi’ only a Time Piece? Because there were ample evidences to make it look similar, sound similar, feel similar. The so-called-blessed sacrificial nature of womankind has been exploited time and again by the guardians of society, or so they are called!

Bisham Sahni’s trademark satirical treatment of a contextual social issue, gives ‘Madhabi’ a life beyond the ‘Mahabharata’ - an epic from where her character was taken. After Nandikar took the play under its wing in February 25, 2010, (the act’s premiere show in the Academy), it has gone places and received rave reviews for the remarkable performances put up, by the lead and supporting cast.

Nothing lesser can be expected for a play, which is enriched by performances of the Bangla theater’s stalwarts like Rudraprasad and Swatilekha along with their daughter Sohini Sengupta, nonetheless talented. Also a part of this memorable act are Debshankar Halder, Partha Pratim Deb, Samrat Basu, Anirban Roychowdhury, Swajan Srijan Mukhopadhyay and Sumanta Gangopadhyay.

“Madhabi is a theatrical gold mine”, admitted the director herself, and why not? Claiming to be a multi dimensional spectacle based on a particular episode of the epic, the narrative has been strewn with well-placed music and dance presentations, costume playing a significant role in bringing it all together.

The plot revolves around the Madhabi, who is Yayati’s daughter.  Famous for his charitable endeavors and having never denied a plea for help, he offers his daughter to Galava (Viswamitra’s disciple), who is in search of 800 Ashwamedha Horses, his Guru Dakhshina to his teacher.

It’s ironical that Madhabi’s two boons becomes the cause of her woes – first one of eternal virginity, the second one of always (and only) giving birth to Chakravarti or king of kings, in other words male heirs to dynasties.

Blessing becoming a curse - highly suggestive of the fate of women even today, isn’t it? Patience, sacrificial, generous, etc, etc., purported virtues that contribute in making her a scapegoat in the name of a shallow structure - but she always had the weapon of making her choice, a weapon more inclined to rust with want of use.

Madhabi also makes her choice – though quite late but finally nevertheless welcome – after she realizes the uselessness of her loyalty to either her father her or lover. A glimpse into her strength of will and determination, however short, is consolidated even more with Sohini Sengupta’s powerful portrayal.

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