“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Will Bhagwan acquiesce to the fierce storm that living a normal life unleashes? Will he go mad, or will he attain the enlightenment that has for long been eluding him? Ilhaam, the fourth production of The Nautanki Company, a theatre group founded by Xaverians Tejodipto Panda and Roshni Banerjee, answers some intriguing questions by universalising the inward journey of a middle-class man coping with the alienation from self which is so typical of a post-modern existence. Directed by Harsh Mahendru and written by Manav Kaul, this play was quite a challenge for the group which had never attempted to stage a script predominantly in Hindi. That they lived up to the challenge was substantiated by a mesmerised audience which offered a standing ovation to the production on the 23rd evening of February, 2016 at Gyan Manch, Kolkata.
We were thinking he was mad, and he was thinking the same about us.
The mood for the evening was set by Debayan Mondal, one of the most celebrated young faces of the beat-boxing scene in town, followed by which the plot unfolded in two spots on stage- a park bench and an Indian middle-class household. The stage was efficiently managed by Roshni Banerjee, while Calcutta Cacophony attributed to Ilhaam the right amount of publicity it deserves. Mrinmoy Chatterjee, a student of Biotechnology at Heritage Institute of Technology, Kolkata, did justice to the character of the protagonist Bhagwan, be it through his hair-raising performance or poetic monologues. Other scintillating performances were delivered by Tejodipto Panda (Mohan) and Rishi Raj Ghosh (Chacha). The supporting cast comprising Harsh Mahendru (Shukla), Julia Banerjee (Poonam), Sramana Ray (Pinky), Vishal Mudgal (Saurabh), Shubham Soni (Exorcist) enhanced the quality of the production with their soulful acting.
…and when there is no space for water in our well…. we say… this is quite normal!
Despite minor glitches in sound and pronunciation, The Nautanki Company outdid itself in terms of the content of play in its premiere of Ilhaam. Unlike their earlier productions such as ‘K?’, ‘Mind-Duck’ and Carcinogen’, the play at hand had a different director, and a philosophical theme that gave the audience much food for thought. The intermittent rounds of applause to the enthralling acting for a novice theatre group whose script was adorned with quotations ranging from Nietzsche (“Those who are dancing are always thought of as mad by those who can’t hear the music.”) to Ramana Maharishi (“Does the world ever come up to you and say- look here I am…”) stand for the fact that youth theatre in Kolkata is certainly a force to be reckoned with. Ilhaam-ed, as some theatre enthusiasts called their state of mind after having watched the play, aptly defines the contribution of The Nautanki Company to quality theatre in contemporary times.
Here are some visual remnants of the moments from Ilhaam as captured by Sourya Chakraborty.