Usha Ganguly’s production of Chandalika by Tagore is brilliant and illuminating. It was staged in the International Theatre Festival of Kerala 2012 at Thrissur on 5 February 2012. The Hindi version of the Bengali text by Tagore is sensitively conceived, choreographed and richly presented with the total involvement of trained theatre persons of Rangakarmi from Kolkotha.
Light design, props and costumes are fabulous and apt. So is casting and percussion music. The play projects the anti caste and anti Brahmanic human thrust of the story, originally adapted by Tagore from the Buddhist Pali canon. The Buddhist philosophy of human equality and fraternity are accented in the production. The interpretation also humanizes Prakriti and her mother considerably. The mother played by Usha herself is powerful and unforgettable. The production itself can be compared to her earlier adaptations from Mahasweta Devi in theatre.
The play which is a cultural and political statement against untouchability, caste and elitism in India is very much contemporary and relevant in all locations of regional linguistic culture all over the country today, where caste inequality is still on the rise. It is also remarkable that poets like Asan in Malayalam had also reinvented this tale from the Buddhist lore in early 20thcentury. Asan’s Chandalabhikshuki deals with the same theme in poetry. Usha also hinted about the similarity in cultural tradition and identity among the Kerala and Bengaly people. She was aptly pointing towards the Buddhist past of Kerala and Bengal.
The play also provides striking parallels to contemporary plays like Molagapody that raises the caste question in present Tamil cultural contexts. It is also interesting to note that writers like Asan and Tagore began to address the issue of caste and untouchability in early 20th century and even in early 21st century writers like Bama are struggling with worst material conditions of exclusion and naked violence associated with caste and cultural elitism.
It is also hopeful to note that theatre and other cultural forms of writing and performance are addressing and focusing on this ancient curse of India in a concerted way. Let us also hope that cultural politics and artistic creativity and imagination could do some transformation and emancipation in the socio cultural realm through such expressive and imaginative ventures.