"Antaryatra" at Ranga Shankara

India Foundation for the Arts today presented “Antaryatra” (“The Journey Within the Self”), directed and performed by Usha Ganguli, at Ranga Shankara.

The play was a self-referential one; Usha has led the theatre group, “Rangakarmee”, for about 25 years now. She spoke of her experiences as an actress (sorry, actor is the pc word to use, but here, the word has a specific gender meaning!)…and of her journey from the very first nervous day at the theatre, through the various roles she has enacted, as well as the many women she had come into contact with…all of which has shaped her life. As she said, “If I had learnt it in a school, I would not have learnt so much, or been moulded so much…”

Usha slipped in and out of the sutradhar’s part, and in and out of the characters of either the women in the plays, or the women in her life, effortlessly. Her mobile face expressed every emotion beautifully; that mobility allowed me to gloss over the couple of occasions when she fluffed her lines (and surely it must be a very difficult task to sustain a monologue for 75 minutes non-stop!).

The dramatization opened with memories of Kolkata…and being a Kolkata-childhood person myself, I empathized perfectly. Her training in classical dance informed her movements on stage, and they were fluid and graceful, and it was a delight to watch her for this reason alone, if not for her emoting!

She was Nora in Ibsen’s “The Doll’s House”, she was a Rudaali, weeping to order for others but unable to weep at her own bereavement; she was a character in a Brecht play; she was “kali (dark) Kamala” the maid; she was Afsari Begum; she was Mrinal the “majhli bou” (middle daughter in law) in a Rabindranath Tagore play; she was a character in “Mukti”, by Mahaswetha Devi, the renowned Bengali playwright; she was Keyadi, who shaped her thoughts and career in the initial stages, she was Mother Courage, Himmat Mayi. The characters came and went seamlessly.

Usha also slipped in and out of Bengali and Hindi with equal fluency. Her Hindi was the chaste version, but her Bengali moved from the “regular” to the literary, to the “bangal” dialect. She did not hesitate to use English words much as we would use them in everyday conversation in our native tongue.

Drenched in perspiration, she brough the dramatization to a triumphant close, and then, in Hindi, thanked Ranga Shankara, and introduced the crew members, Sashank on the lights, Partho and Vijay, who brought the novel, geometric set designs of Taposh Sen to life.

The three primal shapes…a triangle, a circle and a square…with steps under them, formed the simple yet effective set design. Usha moved between these shapes as she narrated how she herself was shaped by her career and her meetings with other women.


The props were very simple too…dupattas of various colours, and the red flag of Communism. The dupattas made and unmade some of the characters; the flag was used in the almost-certainly-to-be-expected May Day Communist march in Kolkata.

I empathized with the women who always knew that control, ultimately, rested with the men in their lives; so much so that the simple fact of having one of the keys to the house cupboards gives one oppressed woman a great sense of power through her travails! It was a sad statement of fact that marriage and men governed the women’s lives and their course of action.

The lighting was done to emphasise each mood of this talented actress, who, in the words of the writeup, “attempts to explore the Indian woman’s psyche”.

The only nit I had to pick was that though the play was supposed to be in Hindi,much of it was in Bengali, and indeed, a fairly literary Bengali. I do wonder if all the members of the audience were able to follow the dialogue. Certainly my friend, who came along with me and paid Rs.150 for the show, was less than enthused about this fact!

But all in all, an evening where a powerful stage presence took the audience along, and provided both entertainment and food for thought.

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