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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Bhut Puran - The Ghost Testament

The maiden production of Noutonki after it was registered as a group, performed in an arena, it connects at least three classic texts: Girish Ghosh’s translation of Macbeth and two short comic plays by Kamal Kumar Majumdar, Sultana Rizia and Bhut Puran, in an episodic manner. Bhut can mean both past and ghost in Bangla. Our performance tried to find out the links between the two through whatever came in handy. We were trying to introspect the internalization of the structures of fear surrounding us.

The play is all about power, the pervasiveness and omnipresence of it. The performance text comments on the politics of corruption and greed, of identity and community, which pervade our daily lives. Macbeth in a nineteenth century translation acts as a prism through which the intimate audience and the players themselves look at things and explores fantastic situations like the interactions between a Hindu Brahmin and the ghost of the person for whom he has just performed the last rites, and Sultna Rizia’s throne which is possessed. The three witches of Macbeth act as the sutradhar, connecting the episodes and commenting on their inner significance. However, the mode is comic, Noutonki believes in comedy, and the witty dialogues of the original texts were retained, which themselves are replete with inter-textual references to cultural habits, history and politics. The performance begins with two songs sung by the cast as a prelude to what is to follow. The theme song, which we still sing in our daily workshops, comments on the helplessness of the performer stuck in the labyrinth of power. Yet, s/he has to continue playing the role s/he has chosen.

Rizia Sultana begins with the throne shaking as if it is haunted, and indeed, it is; it’s the ghost of public opinion which is against Rizia being the queen, as a woman. To ensure her sovereignty, Rizia sends out a spy to kill her stepmother and her son who are plotting against her, only to learn that the spy has spotted her somewhere else; therefore, she is either an imposter or a ghost. There is another very humorous episode when a nachnewali (dancer) comes to tell her that she has been killed. Just then, her stepmother appears and demands the throne; but Rizia, pretending to be a ghost, advances to kill her.

Bhut Puran focuses on the hierarchy in the domain of the ghosts. The Brahmin meets the old ghost on his way home, who wants to possess him so that he can taste all the delicious food cooked for his shraddha, which the Brahmin is carrying back, as is custom. His greed is compounded by the fact that he died of high blood pressure and had been prevented by his doctor to eat anything ‘rich’ (tasty) before he died. Just as he is about to possess the Brahmin, the young ghost enters; though he is young, he has been a ghost for a long time, and therefore he demands that he has a greater right to possess the Brahmin. Amid the crescendo of negotiation and insults, the old ghost realizes that he is being thoroughly insulted, and faints, thus closing the play.

Episodes from Sultana Rizia and Bhut Puran were interspersed with the three witches from Girish Ghosh’s translation of Macbeth, whose vigorous movements and songs greatly entertained the audience. With rigorous physical acting and no props, the performance was visually interesting as every actor became a human prop (trees, thrones, walls) blending it with their speaking parts. The live music, both instrumental and vocal, also played a critical part in moving the play towards its open-ended culmination.

Kata bhay ase jaygo
bhangane sashane bhay
seh bhaye dukhuram ghumay
bhay lal-o
bhay re kalo
nritya kare natabor
range range pala gay
se na jane bhayer bhasan

How many fears come and pass –
Fear of turmoil – revolt, fear of power;
Dukhuram the perennial loser slumbers in that fear.
Red fears,
Dark fears,
Natabar the actor dances,
Recites plays in colour –
Not knowing how to wash it away.


  1. नियमित मन्चभिनय, जूते की सिलाई, पटकथा की पढ़ाई, हॉल के गेट खोलने, नाटक के सेट जोड़ने इत्यादि समस्य गतिविधियों की उथल-पुथल के भागीदार बनने इच्छुक पुरूष, महिला, बूढे, कम-बूढे और जवान , सभी को आमंत्रण है। प्रोजेक्ट प्रारम्भ sइतम्बर २००९।

    उत्साहित संपर्क करें: ९९०३७३४९०७

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