When I was in standard six, few young men, who were our neighbors, decided to stage a drama.
In our village, every year, we used to watch one and sometimes two play acts as one of the events of a cultural function organized by elders. But the one which was planned by our neighbors was very unique. The play act which they had planned to stage was written by one among them. That was the first time we were going to watch a drama on the stage which was written by someone whom we knew personally, plays that were staged before were the published works of renowned play writers.
Even though in any cultural function a play act was the crowd puller still it used to be the final event of the function, the first presentation always used to be ‘Rabindra Sangeet’, songs written by Rabindranath Thakur, a Nobel laureate Bengali writer who also composed many lyrics which are very popular among Bengalis. The format of those cultural functions had remarkable similarity with the lunch menu of a Bengali family. A lunch always starts with something very uninteresting and in most cases it starts with fried bitter gourd. Any cultural function always started with those songs, it was a ritual. For children, listening to those songs was like a punishment. In fact it was used in that manner. For example if children got impatient and started making noise the organizers threatened them by announcing that there would be more songs of Rabindranath Thakur if the children did not stop making noise.
Immediately after those ear torturing songs, sung by people whose Bengali pronunciations were awful there would be recitations performed by small boys and girls, coached by elders. There also used to be dance performances performed by small girls, coached by elders. The final presentation used to be a play act for which everyone waited all evening. Had there been no play act probably there would have been no audience.
When our neighbors had decided to stage the drama nobody took them seriously in the beginning. Soon they roped in one gentleman named Shanti Mukherjee as a director of the play act; he looked very serious with his prescription glasses and looked even more serious when he smoked. They used to rehearse in a desolate house. Very soon we saw another gentleman named Khajol Banerjee, a close friend of the director started coming. In no time everybody realized that this new gentleman was a talented actor who acted in many plays before. We had never seen anybody who could speak so clear, articulated words in a way nobody had heard before and above all so funny, people used to burst into laughter hearing his jokes. This gentleman and the director used to come from the city riding on bicycles.
We heard a story about this gentleman. It had happened few years before when he was acting in a lead role in a drama. According to the script, he would be in the very first scene of the play and started by saying few words when another actor would appear on the stage and they would engage into a conversation. As soon as the curtain was raised he was seen on the stage, started speaking as per the script but he found no trace of the other actor. He realized that something went wrong but had no clue what that could be. He realized that if he went back to the green room the audience would not throw soft tomatoes but hard stones. The director was also not able to help him much but with a gesture of hand asked him to stay on the stage. Out of his presence of mind he started talking in such a way that it not only kept the audience engaged but also made them spell bound. He did that solo act, without any preparation, for not less than fifteen to twenty minutes when the other actor joined him on the stage. Later he was told that the makeup person had used a wrong makeup on the second actor which was realized only after the curtain was lifted.
After Khajol Banerjee had joined the drama team every actor was energized and the difference was perceived by people who had been watching the rehearsal every night. In the meantime the play writer had also modified his original script by introducing few more characters based on the request of the director.
Very soon the goddess of good luck also smiled on them. They were provided with tiffin, the responsibility was shared among few families in the neighborhood. One member of the team, who was given a very important role in the play, had some misunderstanding with another person. Most probably he had misunderstood some comment, but instead of asking the person to clarify, he carried it in his heart, discussed it with his family members who did not have any knowledge of the context but misguided him completely and he decided to quit. He announced his decision only few days before the drama was supposed to be staged. It was decided that the play had to be staged. Many young men and few not so young men wanted to act in the role which was left vacant by the quitter. A young man was soon identified and he was immediately inducted into the team. The director and the other actors spent lots of extra time to bring him up to speed.
One or two days before the drama was supposed to be staged, false hair, false beard, false mustaches, markers, brushes, paints as well as few costumes were procured.
On the night of the final rehearsal, just one day before the drama was planned to be staged the entire village thronged to watch the event.
The play could not be staged on the scheduled evening because of rain and thunderstorm. But it was staged on the following day. It was highly appreciated. No stage act in our village was more successful and more spoken about than that one. The story was based on real issues like unemployment, poverty, poor quality of education, &c and the dialogues touched everyone’s heart, few even cried while watching the drama. Everybody started saying that the person who wrote the play was a talented writer. Everyone’s act was so perfect and so well synchronized that nobody realized that there was a last minute replacement for a key role. The quitter appeared on the evening of the play and requested if he could be taken back to act on the stage but he was politely excused. From the beginning of the rehearsal till it was staged, everybody in the neighborhood used to talk about the drama. Small boys and girls used to recite the lines of the play, nobody in our neighborhood had ever seen anything so exciting. It was the best time our entire village had enjoyed together.
The night after the play was staged suddenly everything looked dull and uninteresting. During the day few of my close friends and I started walking into the same house where the team used to rehearse and we used to sit there and discuss within ourselves how the rehearsal was being done, how those people used to talk, sometimes we tried to talk like them. We decided that we would preserve few artefacts like cigarette butts, pieces of papers having the handwritings of those actors &C. Soon one of us discovered impressions of bicycle tires on the soft mud under a pomelo tree where the two actors used to keep their bicycles; we realized that we had discovered something which was priceless. We all started looking at the boy with great admiration who first noticed it. We decided that we would carefully collect those impressions when the soil would become dry and store them forever like fossils in a museum. But before the soil could dry there was a heavy downpour. I collected few fragments of false hair and false beard of makeup and stored them as highly valuable possession but after few years lost track of them.
Khajol Banerjee, when he was not acting, used to look after a big departmental store which his family owned. The store was about one mile away from our house. I walked couple of times beside their store just to have a glimpse of him. Many years later when I started going to college, I used to take a detour in order to walk on the road where there store was and tried to find out if he could be seen inside. He looked much older and probably had stopped acting by then.
The play writer had pursued a career in engineering and few years later started working for an engineering company.
Few months later another effort was made to stage another act similar to the first one. The same gentleman who directed the first play started coming. But after few days the idea was dropped.
Author: Mintu Ghoshal
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