It is rather a sad fact of life that though we all pay tribute to one of our great Nobel Laureates, the multi-faceted Rabindranath Tagore, most of us do not know too much about him, whether about his artistic and educational endeavours, or his personality. As part of the ongoing celebrations of Tagore’s birth anniversary, there, “Key Tumi?” (“Who are You?” was staged on August 30, at Chowdiah Memorial Hall, by Maam Entertainment.
The play was in the form of a soliloquy, written by Amit Ranjan Biswas, who also handled the direction of the production. Amit Ranjan Biswas is a psychiatrist as well as a theatre enthusiast.
In the production, it was the personal life of Rabindranath that was handled….the relationship between him and Kadambari Devi. Kadambari Devi came into the Tagore extended family at a young age, as the child bride of Jyotirindranath Tagore, one of Rabindranath’s elder brothers, was a complex and deep one. Rabindranath was the fourteenth and youngest living child of his parents. Jyotirindranath was thirteen years his senior. Kadambari Devi and Rabindranath, who was close to her in age were playmates and companions ever since her marriage.
A little after four months after his wedding, Kadambari Devi committed suicide. Tagore wrote in 1917, to a young Amiya Chakravarty: “Once, when I was about your age, I suffered a devastating sorrow, similar to yours now. A very close relative of mine committed suicide, and she had been my life’s total support, right from childhood onward. And so with her unexpected death it was as if the earth itself receded from beneath my feet, as though the skies above me all went dark. My universe turned empty, my zest for life departed.” It is obvious from this that Kadambari Devi had a tremendous influence on Rabindranath’s life.
Kadambari was Rabindranath’s fiercest critic…and, in the opinion of some, his inspiration and his muse, too. This young girl became his soulmate, and remained so for the rest of his life.
The script is a fictional exchange of letters between Kadambari Devi and Rabindranath Tagore.The soliloquy also took the form of a musical production. The lead role was played by the famous movie actress, Sharmila Tagore.
The London-based director says, “We wanted to depict three women in Tagore’s life. I wrote the script based on Kadambari’s open letter to Tagore. But nowhere is there a mention of this due to the controversies surrounding the relationship.” The director also wanted to explore another angle – that of Kadambari’s womanliness. “A woman has emotions and this is her journey. it can be the story of any woman.”
He says, “Some have chosen to interpret this as a play based on the relationship between Rabindranath Tagore and his sister-in-law, Kadambari Devi, but I would like to clarify that she is never named…the protagonist is a woman who is timeless and transcendental.”
The musical soliloquy also deliberated on the beauty and depth of Rabindra Sangeet. Sharmila Tagore emoted the solo, spoken part, which is an open letter that she enacted on the stage. The action of the play was interspersed with songs written by Tagore, known, collectively, as Robindra Sangeet. These were rendered very soulfully, by two of the finest Rabindra Sangeet vocalists from Kolkata: Lopamudra Mita, and Paromita Bandophadhyay.
The play had earlier been performed before an 8000-strong audience at the Netaji Indoor Stadium in Kolkata. The production at Bangalore was the second show.
For Sharmila Tagore (formerly the chairperson of the Central Board of Film Certification ), it was the first time that she was performing in the city. The surname of Tagore was one of the reasons the director chose her for the role, but definitely, one of the other reasons was that he wanted, not just a reader, but an actor who acted through her voice. The emotions she depicted were moving and genuine. There is a world of difference between acting on stage and acting in a movie, and Sharmila proved that she was adept at both. “She is well-suited to play the role on both counts. She has imbibed Tagore’s teachings and at the same time is a powerful actress,” said Biswas.
In tune with the emotional context of the script, as if to communicate Kadambari’s state of mind and thoughts musically, twenty famous songs were rendered by the vocalists. While Mitra is a very well known modern Bengali singer, Bandopadhyay is just stepping into the Bengali cultural scene. The songs included well-known ones suchas “Ek Loboney Purno Pran”, “Tomar khola hawa”, and “Ore bhai phagun legeche”. There was an English summary for those who did not follow Bengali.
The stage setting was very simple, with a portrait of Tagore dominating the stage. Three chairs placed on the stage for the three women, and the instrumentalists sat behind. Jayashree Thiagarajan, who went to watch the production with a touch of nostalgia, says that in her opinion, the three women could also have worn more similar sarees.
In spite of every effort on the part of the director to involve a non-Bengali-speaking audience, however, the majority were definitely Bengali; and certainly I felt that it would be very difficult for one who did not understand the language, to follow the nuances of the lyrics. But for those who speak or understand the language, and would like to explore the depths of Tagore’s personal life and the wellsprings of his creativity, the production was an excellent one.