"Mozart Chocolates" staged at Ranga Shankara: Play Review

The Bangalore School of Speech and Drama staged Mozart Chocolates’, a play written by Dr.Ketaki Kushari Dyson and directed by Dr.Zulfia Shaikh, who also took on the role of the main character, Ila. This was the premiere of the translation of the Bengali play.

cast mozart chocolates 200109 RS

The synopsis of the play goes thus:

Play Synopsis:

On a rainy day which has brought floods, Ila, a Bengali woman living in England, is folding and re-arranging the saris that have accumulated over the years in her wardrobe. Her friend Lipi arrives and they discuss an eclectic range of subjects including the hollowness of academic jargon, the state of women in ancient and modern times and chocolates !

Lip leaves while Ila continues to tidy her saris, and through this act of re-ordering, relives the stages of her own diasporic life while re-visiting her past and the history of her native land. Aspects of Bengal’s social and political history in the mid-twentieth century are evoked as she speaks to figures from her past who emerge from behind her wardrobe.

Her reveries are interrupted by Prabuddho, a doctor who brings the news of a neighbour’s death. In the last scene Ila, her husband Rojot, and Prabuddho are in Calcutta, where on an evening of a bandh, Ila discovers that the house where she had spent crucial years of her childhood has been demolished for the erection of a highrise. Face to face with life’s unexpected losses and uncertainties, chocolates become a symbol of life’s comfort. They conclude with philosophical humour that they must scrounge what comfort they can from such small but precious things.

Here’s a scene from the play:

scene from mozart chocolates 200109 RS

I spoke to the playwright and found her a very interesting person; here’s the BSSD writeup about her:

Ketaki Kushari Dyson is a bilingual writer of the Indian diaspora who has been based in England since her marriage. She was born in Calcutta in 1940 and was educated first there and then at Oxford. She has degrees from both those universities and a doctorate from Oxford. She writes in both Bengali and English, and is the author of more than thirty titles, covering all genres from poetry, fiction, and drama to essays, criticism, literary translation, and research-based scholarly books, besides authoring a stream of publications in literary magazines, both in print and on the Internet. She came into prominence in the sixties, and is regarded as a major Bengali writer of her generation, with readers in India, Bangladesh, and the global Bengali diaspora. She received the Ananda Puraskar from Calcutta twice, and her translations of Tagore’s poetry received the recommendation of London’s Poetry Book Society. She is well-known for her scholarly researches on Tagore, and also for her translations of the poetry of the post-Tagore poet Buddhadeva Bose.

I went to the play with a lot of expectations;some of them were met. The humour in the play was very real-life and not the forced or slapstick variety; and a gentle vein of humour underlay the whole play.

The stage properties were really excellent, and as women, my friends and I really loved to look at the various sarees that were brought out through the duration of the play! The music, by Kallol, was minimal. The dialogue, for the most part, was very natural, and it felt as if we were watching real-life people on the other side of the footlights.

I also liked the acting of Zulfia Shaikh a lot; she brought an unforced, lifelike quality to the character she portrayed.

The lights (Raghu) were well-handled, so that one did not see the various relatives emerging to the stage, for example. The makeup by Jairaj was excellent, as was the sound by Gylasten. The backstage people, Azia and Hasnain, ensured that things such as changes of costume/sarees were smooth. The coordination by Sankalita Das was also quite good, and that must be a difficult job.

Having said these things, I have to regretfully say that the play, in my opinion, could have been shortened a bit. I could not see a cohesive narrative between the saree-metaphors and incidents, and the neighbour’s death, or the destruction of old buildings in Kolkata. I feel that the play could have closed with the saree incidents alone, but that is probably my subjective opinion. But when you see members of the audience looking at their watches after an hour and twenty minutes have gone by, you feel that the play is dragging on, much as the sarees, one attached to the other, were dragged out by Ila, as she confronted her varied emotions and experiences.

The lack of command over the production also showed in some fumbling of lines and cues. Sambrita Basu as Lipi could, I think, put a little more life into her role; perhaps it’s only that she needs a little more experience with the role. The exchanges between Prabuddho (Nilanjan Chaudhury) and Ila rang true and witty, but I think he had a sore throat while singing the translation of “Majhi Re”.

The meandering of the unconnected incidents of Ila’s life may be true to real life, but it certainly made for a lack of engagement on the part of the audience.

In all, though, it was an evening of fairly enjoyable theatre, with good production values; recommended to be watched. Though the story and the references are Bengali, it is very much an English play, and credit goes to whoever translated it from the original Bengali; I think it probably was Dr Ketaki herself.

1 Comment so far

  1. radman on January 25th, 2009 @ 9:49 am

    nice review, thanks.

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