On summer afternoons in the 60s, if you tuned in the local station, you could
listen to a radio-play, for an hour or so. They were well written; voices packed
with the right emotion, the readers professionals of the All India Radio and the
themes either contemporary, period or mythological. It was entertainment-cum-education
for the entire family - especially for an art-loving one like ours.
The dramatic reading of Anand Math re-created a similar experience. It had all those plus points, and a few more. The "more" was in the form of the impact that the participants made in their period costumes designed with meticulous care and in their make-up (they saved us the trouble of visualizing the characters), and through the mood of the scene visibly expressed on the mobile faces of the young and involved performers, with the Sutradhari (Geeta Shyamsundar) connecting the scenes unobtrusively and smoothly.
The readers took the cues well and often forgot that they were reading. In fact, the reading took away some of the naturalness of the dialogue with the 'not-so-familiar-with-the-script' additions of the cast. But then there were these experienced actors like Pooja Goswami who played Kalyani in this play, who had earned her kudos with a brilliant performance in the St Francis College play "I, Me And Sybil' earlier, and Alok Tiwari, a theater enthusiast who played Mahendra Singh with elan.
Bhavan (Md Asim Afzal) and Jiban (Jaideep Deshpande) carried us into the passionate world of the Ananda Margis. Swechcha playing Shanti asked for a critique. She just needed to get more under the skin of the character she was playing. There is a lot of time, Swechcha, for improvement. Noor Ali Sheik, the painter from Shantiniketan, played Mahatma Satya with interest and involvement. The raw actor, Saif Patel, played Captain Thomas with force.
The play itself, an adaptation from the classic Anandmath by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, was neatly structured by Supriya Karunakaran into readable passages, and brought out the 'love vs duty' aspect of the famine-stricken times of 1772 and the British rule. The Anand Margis were self-sacrificing individuals who were led by their leader Satya to protect their motherland. The conflict that these people face in the execution of their duty makes for a powerful theme, very dear to the emotional Bengali who started many a freedom and revolutionary movement.
In an attempt to recreate the mood of the time, the song 'Vande Maataram' was played at the climax scenes, interspersed by the slogan repeated by Jiban and Bhavan. So when Uma Raju, the event manager, asked the audience at the end, "Did we stir your patriotic feelings?", we all nodded. If Lata Mangeshkar brought our patriotic blood to the boil through her song, Anandmath by the Sparsh Group moved us into action - looking for the nearest enemy to slay.
A truly moving experience by this moving theater.