‘Kaalpurush shows us the essence of an apolitical mass movement’ – Dr. Sitangshu Khatua

Kothabriksha meets Dr. Sitangshu Khatua, (Founder and Director of the theatre group Garia Krishti) for a conversation on the birth of Krishti and stories behind its highly acclaimed production, Kaalpurush.

Kothabriksha: So, what is Krishti and how did this entire idea of Krishti originate?

Sitangshu: Actually, right from my childhood days, the journey has been very interesting and exciting. I was raised in the quaint little town of Durgapur. I played the Sitar, did a bit of drama too in my college days. But those were out of my own interests, cultural fervor and very personal. However, I had this deep interest in theatre right from my early youth.
It is when we came down to Kolkata, here at the Sunny Valley Apartments, Garia, I was amazed to see the zeal and enthusiasm of the little kids, young girls and boys, and even elderly people. So, we started putting up plays like Sharodotsav, Lakshmaner Shaktishel, and the likes during the community Durga Pujo. The response from the community members was very inspiring indeed. With this experience and encouragement in mind, we embarked upon our journey in staging Tagore’s Tasher Desh with our meager means at the Aban Mahal CLT. The cast and crew were almost about 45 out of the 150 odd number of residents here in the community. We named our theatre group as Garia Krishti. Krishti means culture of the land, which includes everything starting from different folk music and dance forms to different kinds of folk theatre, music, agriculture, food and folk rituals of the land. The Tasher Desh production was a huge success wherein we had guests like the Thespian Arun Mukherjee, Elocutionist Bratati Bandopadhyay, eminent Musician Srikanta Acharya and others and everyone was all in praises with the production and the raw potential which Krishti harbours. Thus gaining in spirits and confidence the journey for Kristi as a theatre group started.

Kothabriksha: What sort or type of dramas did you want to put up?

Sitangshu: See, when we formalised our theatre group called Garia Krishti, we had one thing clear in mind that we will venture in plays or subjects which others haven’t explored. Greek plays like Antigone and the likes were very common and are being staged every other day by different groups. Even we have done it during our initial period. Then, We decided to work with Saradindu Bandopadhyay and his historical novels. We chose the historic Tungabhadrar Teere. I had no prior footprint or training in dramatics, but however, with this group of ours we all tried to contribute our best in all possible ways we could and this production too became quite a success. In fact we have our next show scheduled in September at Gyan Manch.

Kothabriksha: Krishti’s recent major production has been Kaalpurush. How has this philosophy of Kaalpurush drawn you and what made you chose this piece from the Naxal movement?

Sitangshu: I am not a political person and I personally think you can have a successful protest movement without having to resort to any political colour. What fascinated me about the Naxal movement was that it was led or headed by a group of bright young faces of the Presidency College, Govt art college, the Jadavpur University and several other educational institutions. They demanded equality and righteousness and parity among all the classes and creed. However, the movement grew violent with arms and ammunition and lack of proper leadership one of the many factors which led to crumbling of the Naxal movement here. Kaalpurush shows or makes us believe in a system of protest or a mass movement without the brand or a tag of a political party. The biggest weapon that Kaalpurush brings in is that of a political propaganda without having any political inclination.

Kothabriksha: How challenging has it been for you to portray Animesh, the male protagonist of Samaresh Majumder’s Kaalbela and how did you equip yourself to do that

Sitangshu: Indeed it was challenging and difficult to fit in the role of Animesh and I tried my best to portray this historical character in the best way possible. I read a lot about the lives of the Naxal leaders like Charu Majumder, Ashim Chatterjee, read Kaalbela many times. Moreover, Animesh in Majumder’s novel is physically challenged with both his limbs incapacitated. So to portray that more realistically I did method actings. Observed people with disabilities, practiced walking over with crutches and so on. It has been a process of assimilating into the core of the character with all these.

Kothabriksha: Tell us something about Madhabilata, the female protagonist from Samaresh’s iconic Kaalbela…

Sitangshu: Well Madhabilata is a surreal character. An extremely determined, strong on will power and intelligent lady coming from an affluent family. She was never into the Naxal movement philosophically but supported it only because she fell in love deeply with Animesh who was a staunch Naxal. She was the sole source of strength for Animesh and even had to bear oppression and torture in the hands of the police only to safeguard Animesh. She was very progressive and well ahead of her times. She conceived without having a registered marriage with Animesh. Their son Arko, first got to know and met his father Animesh when he was 5 years old. Madhabilata brought up the child as a single mother does (not an easy task in the 70s). She started dwelling in a slum with son Arko and single-handedly brought up the child with her meager income. The child started growing up only to feel the absence of his father. But Madhabilata tried bringing up the child in her best possible ways she could whilst Animesh still being in jail. So you see powerful, strong, sensible, undaunted in spirits, such were the qualities Madhabilata possessed. We are very fortunate in a way that the lady who plays the above role in our play actually portrayed the role of Madhabilata’s friend in Goutam Ghosh’s feature film Kaalbela and I must say that she is amazing in playing Madhabilata for our play. In fact, everyone acting in this play have toiled hard to make an impact and I’m very happy with my team.

Kothabriksha: What do you think of the protagonist Arko?

Sitangshu: Arko is a character which goes through a transformation in the play. He becomes a torch bearer of change for his community and then shows the way to a greater mass to bring in that change. Its a brilliant character and his transformation has to be witnessed in the play rather than a theoritical approach. A true leader, Arko is undefeatable. Its an ideology.

Kothabriksha: Thank you for your time, It was very nice talking to you Dr.Khatua, When is Kaalpurush’s next show?

Sitangshu: Its my pleasure. Next show of Kaalpurush is on coming Tuesday, 30th July at Madhusudan Manch and I would like all of you to please come and watch it. Support independent theatre, support our arts.

‘Kaalpurush’ is a cult production by Garia Krishti under the direction of Dr. Sitangshu Khatua. It is very unique in its approach and execution and has been highly acclaimed just after its opening show.

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