Sima Mukhopadhyay’s talks about identity crisis
Director Sima Mukhopadhyay on “Anahuta”, a pulsating thriller that looks beyond the obviousby S. RAVI
Having directed several successful plays, including “Boli”, “Shunyapat”, “Maayer Moto”, “Chhayapath”, “Kobi Kahini”, “Bhul Swarga” and “Bombagarh er Raja”, noted Bangla director and playwright Sima Mukhopadhyay is known to experiment and venture beyond her comfort zone.
This was evident when the Kolkata-based group Samstab, staged “Anahuta” (The Uninvited), a psychological thriller written by Snehashish Bhattacharya and directed by her, at the ongoing 21st Bharat Rang Mahotsav organised by the National School of Drama, recently. Holding the audience in rapt attention, it drew repeated applause.
This taut thriller sees the contented life of Nirupam Goswami, an ex-Army man turned entrepreneur who lives with his wife Sujata and son Debopam, turn upside down when a stranger intrudes into their house to claim that he is the real Nirupam. With the stranger presenting several proofs, the couple struggle to fight against all odds.
In an interaction, Mukhopadhyay, talks about the play, it’s subtext, and the challenges she faced directing it.
What attracted you to direct “Anahuta”?
I have known playwright Snehashish Bhattacharya for a long time and have directed his play “Gobhir Asukh”. Besides the story line, what greatly appealed to me was the sub-text which talks about love, victory, defeat, success, etc. I knew only by directing the play, will I be able to know more about the layered narrative. Moreover, I have always tried not to repeat myself in my productions and challenge myself by trying something new and novel. Having never directed a psychological thriller before, I found this play, an apt opportunity to do so.
What does the play intend to convey?
On the face of it, the storyline appears very simple, that of an “uninvited guest”, claiming to be the husband of a woman, who is leading a life with her husband, an ex-army man. On delving deeper, you find that it reflects philosophy of life. It raises and explores some vital questions of life, like what is truth and falsehood, what is legal and illegal, what is victory and defeat, bringing into sharp focus grey areas of life. The story conveys the message that nothing is permanent, neither success nor defeat and that in life, victory or defeat have no value. What we see or perceive is not necessarily true.
It also talks about identity and asks if documents like identity card and papers, truly show who we really are?
Tell us about the challenges you faced while mounting the play
My earlier plays were either socio-political or biographical. This was the first time I was doing a thriller. So that itself was a challenge. The most important challenge was to ensure that the actors effectively played their characters without revealing the truth or the climax. In order to get the actors immersed in the play, we had several readings, discussing each situation and character thread-bare, enabling everyone to understand the story and the personalities.
Repeated rehearsals ensured that hand, body, facial and eye movements became an integral part of acting. We conducted several workshops to help actors to modulate their voice effectively to bring out the finer nuances of the characters.
How did you sustain the tension?
Creating a tempo and sustaining it is primary for a thriller in order to keep the audience engaged and on the edge of the seat. The content itself was good and I edited some portions and made some additions. For example, instead of the scene showing the wife (Sujata) dreaming of her husband (Nirupam) in the original, I brought them face-to-face in the play. Likewise, the scenes involving the lawyers, were trimmed to sustain viewers’ interest.
Does being an actor help in becoming a good director?
Definitely, it does help. It helps in visualising the play, its scenes, characters, their movements and gestures. This translates in being able to brief the actors effectively about the scenes and emoting. I can see what I want and show it to them.
Does this curtail the spontaneity of the actors?
I allow actors to understand the character and situations, and enact and improvise accordingly. Having said that, not all actors are able to deliver what is expected on their own. I step in to enact, only when required.
How does stage design, lighting and music enhance the viewing of “Anahuta”?
Stage design and lighting are crucial for any play and essential in a thriller to accentuate the mystery and suspense. We coloured the walls in military green and grey, as the main characters are from the armed forces. Likewise, grey also depicts Sujata’s life as she is confronted by a person claiming to be her husband. We used orange, red, and violet lighting to portray conflict in the couple’s life. Music was confined to build the sequences, and heightening the suspense. We avoided its overuse lest it distract viewers’ attention.
How do you see the present state of Bangla theatre?
Theatre can never have a mass appeal. It is heartening that despite the proliferation of television, films, and digital entertainment, people still like live performances, and throng at the theatres to watch plays. Theatre enables actors to share emotions with the audience, then and there. We have young talent and audience for theatre, which is a good sign.
Does Bharat Rang Mahotsav help regional theatre to have a pan-India presence?
The Mahotsav gives an opportunity to connect with people knowing Bangla language outside the State and also meeting and exchanging views and suggestions with theatre personalities from other parts of India and the world. This is necessary to improve one’s skill.