Browse By

Theatre || Boma (Alternative History on the offer)

In a society such as ours where controversy does not wait for the hat to be dropped, it is perhaps fitting that veteran dramatist Bratya Basu took the onus upon himself to script what may very well be the first Bengali drama dealing with alternative history.

Simply titled ‘Boma’ (The Bomb), Basu’s latest chronicles the transformative years in the life of Aurobindo Ghosh, the radical revolutionary leader turned spiritual guru, who had been accused of and tried for being the mastermind behind the fables Muzaffarpur bombing that took away the lives of two innocent British civilians and elevated Kshudiram Bose to martyrdom.

As the spiritually inclined Aurobindo Ghosh begins to distance his philosophy from that of the extremist elements belonging to the Anushilan Samiti, the reins of the association is unofficially grabbed by his younger brother Barin Ghosh (Krishnendu Dewanji), a megalomaniac of historical proportion whose lust for power is interestingly symbolized by Basu through a shamanic dance ritual on stage with the divine destructive feminine herself, Goddess Kali.

Principal to the plot are the ancillary characters that include Ullaskar Dutt, whose knowledge of manufacturing bombs is the key to the events that unfurled to Upen Banerjee and Hemchandra Kanungo, an idealist whose military and political training from the Russian emigre made him a major component of the revolutionary outfit. Central to the plot is the character of Kalpana (literally – ‘imagination’; portrayed by Poulomi Bose), who is not a historical figure but a brainchild of Basu and is the most prominent representative of the female militia that India’s war for independence gave birth to.

Employing modern methods of the art, including an on-screen projection of major events during the timeline concerned, Basu attempts to transcend his previous directorial attempts, even as one wishes the animation was a notch better.

A simple but effective stagecraft paves the way for a rather sketchy opening and a bland discourse on events of the day from a melee of British officers. The one who effortlessly makes a mark from the other camp is Satrajit Sarkar as Charles Taggart, an efficient officer of the British forces who is instrumental in capturing the revolutionaries later on.

Even as Poulomi Bose and Koushik Kar breathe life into Kalpana and Hemchandra Kanungo with graceful restraint, the highest praise must be reserved for Krishnendu Dewanji, who shines as Barin Ghosh, stealing the stage with a sparkling frenzy of a performance, his blind passion and tragic flaw of character making a lasting imprint on the minds of the spectators. Dewanji will be remembered for ‘Boma’, his performance has ensured that. Basu’s special cameo turn is as Chittaranjan Das, the ‘deshbandhu’ (friend of the nation) who, as a young lawyer, defended Aurobindo Ghosh during the course of the Alipore bomb case.

The billed ‘star’ of the show, Debshankar Haldar, has a notoriously small part to play but as the drama draws to a close, it becomes easier to understand why it was necessary to cast Haldar as the enigmatic Aurobindo Ghosh.

Although appearing misogynistic at first, it actually is strangely fitting that Kalpana, the imaginary betrayer among the revolutionaries turns out to be the one to question the method in which the rebel party operates itself in their service to the motherland,  paving the way for Haldar to deliver the finest lines the play has to offer.

The nature of political ideology, which exists in an inherently personal sphere and its tumultuous co-existence with the party, which demands unwavering loyalty towards its leader, who may be subject to the same consternations of fear, greed or the elusive bid for immortality as any individual might, has been beautifully enumerated by Basu through the often-revered and often-chastised figure of Ghosh, the rebel turned saint, who is more often than not seen as the leader that ditched the cause of his nation. The defense is a heartfelt treatise on individualism and the choices that have the right to be made.

Although lacking the bite of a ‘Winkle Twinkle’ or the transcendental quality of a ‘Ruddhasangeet’, Basu ends his ‘political’ play with a profound philosophical insight into the very workings of party politics. Let it be said that the play will run to packed houses as a piece of alternative history and magnum theatrical opus in its time, but might very well be analysed in the future as a defense of Basu’s ‘other’ identity. []

Drama: Boma
Group: Kalindi Bratyajon
Year: 2015
Playwright/Director: Bratya Basu

Language: Bengali

First Published: CultureCult Magazine, Issue One: October 2015