Recreating Satyajit Ray’s ‘Patol Babu’ on stage

Human ambition, unfulfilled dreams and undying hope were portrayed with finesse in ‘Taramandal’, a theatrical representation of Satyajit Ray’s short story ‘Patol Babu, Film Star’ at the India Habitat Centre.

Performed by the Tadpole Repertory, the play delved into the subject of human aspiration in all its complexities and styled it with a curtain of comedy in the background.

A constellation of dreams…unrealised
The series of events unfold as we see enter into the dreamscape of the protagonist, Patol babu, occupying the centre stage of the play with the spotlight on him. With a king’s crown resting on the head and subjects’ circumference in position of supplication, Patol babu develops cold feet as he is about to deliver his monologue in the opening scene.

This is where the scene breaks and Patol babu wakes up with a jolt only to find himself amidst the hustle bustle of the morning with a list of household errands already assigned for him to act upon. This transition from a dream of witnessing the self as an actor to an ordinary family man caught up in the web of everyday domestic demands, is a defining moment. The pathos of a 50-year-old man and his thwarted ambition of making it big as an actor is manifest in Patol babu’s reminiscences of childhood about performing on stage and working hard to get the expressions and lines right.

Unable to find a foothold in theatre, Patol babu may have been discarded as an insignificant entity but his personal love and dedication for art does not suffer a dent. His spirit and resilience help him overcome his failure as an actor.

Theme and Direction
Directed by Neel Chaudhuri, the play poignantly foregrounds an individual’s, especially someone contemplating ‘acting’ as a career choice, recurring battle against societal norms, pressure, sanction and rigid theories. The parallel narratives that surround Patol babu’s story also lead to the same conclusion of failure, lost dreams and awaiting moments of glory that the latter grapples with everyday.

A Beatles enthusiast’s hoarse rendition of ‘Eleanor Rigby’ in an audition can only confirm him a seat in the ‘Lights department’ of the musical drama, a theatre-lover born to a family of doctors cannot fracture the professional lineage in pursuit of ‘acting’ declared ‘unworthy’ an option by the most ‘civilised’ form of the human species, and a model’s meaningless existence as the ‘face’ of an obscure phone brand for eight years – all of them meet with a fate similar to Patol babu’s. Pushed and rejected to oblivion, the play brings these hapless characters to the centre stage, the coveted ‘spotlight’ of which has already betrayed them.

Hope, faith and belief
However, an opportunity to act in a film does come Patol babu’s way…But the happy tidings are not to last long. The role that he is offered is of an ‘angry pedestrian’ who runs into the hurrying lead actor on a busy road and exclaims ‘Oh’! Yes, to a man so in deep admiration of ‘acting’ was to barely mouth an exclamation in a film. Nonetheless, the kind of preparation and background study of the character that Patol babu delves into only to get the intonation of the exclamation perfect, leaves the audience in splits.

While Shitolokanto Rai (the name Patol babu picks for himself for the celluloid) gears up to essay the short tempered pedestrian, he is wrapped by yet another reverie. Clasped in a frenzied media, Patol babu lives his moment of glory. On being asked by a reporter “What sets you apart from the crowd?” Patol babu says “Nothing…I am the crowd.”

Not a tragedy
This is the realisation that informs the trajectory of all the ‘failed’ artistes in the play who long for that distinguishing moment that never comes their way. The play here is just a step away from being called a tragedy but it does not completely descend into one. Moments of laughter, quirky dialogues and a light-hearted atmosphere lend the play a touch of humour.

Sadness comes alive only in ‘lightness’ and therefore the play can be classified as a melancholic play where the audience laughs at the human condition but is also aware of the pain every character goes through in his/her pursuit of stardom. Hope and faith keep them going till the end.

May be that’s why the play begins with a nightmare and ends in a dream…

Story link: Recreating Satyajit Ray’s ‘Patol Babu’ on stage


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