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SETU Debuts With Two Plays

Chitra Parayath

SETU (Stage Ensemble Theatre Unit) presented two plays Sanjib Chattopadhyay’s “Power to the people” and Vijay Tendulkar’s Kamala at Belmont on November 1 and 2.

Vijay Tendulkar’s Kamala is one of those few theater masterpieces that appeal to just about anyone, because it touches on virtually all our lives. Kamala is an indictment of male society in which women are mere stepping-stones in a man’s quest for power and fame.

For those unfamiliar with the background of the play, it was based on journalist Ashwini Sarin's path-breaking investigative series in 1981 on the flesh trade in Madhya Pradesh. Sarin “bought” the woman, Kamala, for Rs. 2,300. The journalist then wrote a series of articles exposing the prostitution trade and involvement of bigwigs in politics and police in early 1981.

The original play was scripted and directed by Tendulkar and staged 150 times in 32 cities and in seven languages and it was made into a film with Deepti Naval playing the role of the tribal woman Kamala.

From Kamala’s endearing naiveté to Sarita’s doomed resignation, to Jaisingh’s macho bravado to Kakaji’s tired wisdom to Meera Bai’s wise acceptance of the way things are meant to be, the cast of the fledgling theater group SETU (Stage Ensemble Theatre Unit) brought Vijay Tendulkar’s play Kamala to life, Saturday and Sunday night in Belmont.

The play lays bare uncomfortable truths of modern day India. It depicts stifling social obligations, the ruthlessness of media, of the helplessness of oppressed women, and equally of women in high society, who, on the surface, seem to have it all.

Kamala highlights the complexity of human relationships, and contains a critique of modern Indian society, mainly middle class and lower middle class; and reflects a large social evil, the moral subjugation of women, which prevails even today.

The SETU production of Kamala was directed by Subrata Das and Rita Sengupta.

Subrata Das breathed life into Jaisingh, the brash journo. It is a testimonial to Das’s talent that most of the women in the audience (and men too, I suspect) hated him by the time the curtains came down. Lakshmi Rao turned in a mature performance as the hapless Kamala, who, in all her naiveté and innocence mouths the most poignant line in the play when she asks Sarita, Jaisingh’s wife, “ And how much did he buy you for?”

Jayanti Sen as the long suffering wife of the tyrannical Jaisingh was the epitome of a typical patient Indian wife, who tries desperately, to hide her identity and intelligence in her husband’s shadow. Managing to avoid shrillness, her nuanced performance lent her character rare dignity and poise.

Debashis Roychowdhury was the quintessential Kakaji, quietly outraged by Jaisingh’s callousness and sympathetic to his niece’s predicament, he was the perfect foil to the Jaisingh’s brash bravado. The audience that broke into wild applause when Meera Bai took her bow was clearly charmed by the performance of Swati Sinha as Sarita’s loyal maid servant, who despite her loyalty to her mistress, understood who calls the shots in the household. Amitabha Lala as Jaisingh’s pal, who brought to mind a typical Delhi journalist, completed the cast.

We asked the cast for their feelings about SETU and Kamala.

We as a SETU team started with a lot of enthusiasm, but were unsure how it will all end up in the debut performance. The encouragement from all the well wishers and the audience, have provided us the confidence we needed. At the end of the day, we had a lot of fun and we connected with those who came to see our performance. It just feels great!
Debashis Roychowdhury

I loved depicting Sarita because she is the epitome of the modern woman. The teamwork, talent, dedication, and sincerity of the SETU members inspired me to apply the whole of me into Sarita.
Jayanti Sen

With the opportunity that SETU's open platform provides, I felt obliged to portray the evil male chauvinism in Indian society via the Jaising character, for which I had to dig deep into my subconscious mind to acquire instances for my method acting.
Subrata Das

It was difficult in the beginning to relate to the character as she is so different to what I am in real life. But thanks to our director and the team as we started breathing life into our characters slowly but surely, I came to understand her better and this helped me become one with the character I was playing!
Lakshmi Rao

"With the opportunity that SETU's open platform provides, I felt obliged to portray the evil male chauvinism in Indian society via the Jaising character, for which I had to dig deep into my subconscious mind to acquire instances for my method acting." Subrata Das "Jain" (a fellow journalist) exhibits a supporting character who believes in different social norms or values than his friend Jai Singh. This in turns brings contrast between 'Jain' and 'Jai Singh' , the lead character.
Amitabha Lala.

Power To The People, a farcical skit was an original SETU production based on two short stories by the Bengali writer Sanjib Chattopadyay.
A tongue in cheek take on the global energy crisis, it had a panel of leaders, politicians, scientists, beurocrats and thinkers scrambling to find a solution.

Directed by Debasis Roychowdhury and Deepak Deb, the cast comprised of Deepak Deb as the Minister of Energy, Sujoy De as Mr. Nayar, Sanghamitra Roychoudhury as a TV reporter, Kanishka Bhattacharya as IT Krishnana, Rajeev Dixit as V. Gyan Singh and Deven Atnoor as Biplab Kumar.

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Photos by Ashok Ghosh

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