On June 14, 2018 The Times Of India published an article or rather an advertisement that read, “Purba Paschim launches poster, set to stage new play.” And three days later after that, on June 17 the same news paper alluded, “Purba Paschim pays tribute to three doyens of Bengali literature.” They are: Manik Bandyopadhyay’s Diba Ratrir Kabya, Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay’s Hasuli Banker Upokotha and Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s Athoi Jol. A paradigm of an excellent marketing, indeed, I’d put it that way, as the play was going to be premiered on July 22 at Academy of Fine Arts. Added to that, the novel was scripted by Ujjwal Chattopadhay, with editing and direction from none other than Bratya Basu. The adaptation holds actors like Debshankar Haldar and the founder and director of Purba Paschim himself, Soumitra Mitra. Though it has taken me months to finally get around and see the play eventually.
The day, it came. On the last Sunday I finally got around to see Athoi Jol. A plot that takes place in the time of pre-WWII Bengal. The story revolves around the protagonist of the play, Shashanka Mukherjee (Debshankar Haldar), a dignified doctor as well as a moral guardian of the village, who tends to be a contestant of the forthcoming Union Board Election and is planning to buy a new car. He believes he can only be in love with his wife Surobala (Rajeswari Nandi) and doesn’t find pleasure in music and literature whatsoever. However, all his stereoscopic notions (as portrayed in the plot) take a dramatic turn when he meets and falls for a dancer named Panna (Koyel Roy) and decides to runaway leaving the established and revered life behind. The name Athoi Jol/Unfathomable Water thus implies Shashanka’s plunging into an unfathomable water of love and lust that is extramarital and goes against his stereoscopic morals.
Looking from a perspective, Athoi Jol, as it appears, has been no exception than some of the groups that do not care about putting an ample amount of time and effort in making a standard product in some aspects whatsoever. The play is almost 2:30 hours long with a break of 10 minutes. And in this amount of time it offers nothing more than a mediocre production. One of the reasons can be: Athoi Jol is an unfinished novel in the first place. So in order to give the plot a completeness Ujjwal Chattopadhay had to stir and distort the overall plot (especially the second half) and it somehow ended up being a mess and they didn’t have enough time to compensate. One of the other reasons can be: the crew had the notion that the play is going to work out very well for the sake of the names on the placards. Another reason can be: The group started out with all the energy and effort that it needed to stage an excellent presentation but as the time went by they lost interest and energy and just represented it as it had been halfway through. Another reason can be time. The people involved could be too busy to give it the time it needed. Or, in the end, it could just be an overall incapability of creating something better as well. Which, in my opinion, is somewhere improbable. The dynamism of the play is something that makes it worth watching though. The light has been one of the key elements. The sound, score and costumes have been firmly settled as well as the sets, props and renditions. However, when it comes to the acting, everyone has been obtainable except the founder of the group himself: Soumitra Mitra. To put it in simplest words, his acting was heinous and terrible. Thanks to the plot; his time on the stage was petty. Rajeswari Nandi’s (Surobala) accent could have been better in some places as well. Overall, the presentation, in my opinion, has been a product of either lazy endeavor or rush or both. But this doesn’t discard the fact that the play has shared its glaring moments. The moral dilemma of Shashanka Mukherjee on whether or not to let himself lose to Panna has been one of the remarkable moments of the play.
The play gives away an impression of a winter night where you’re walking on a path and someone is burning garbage, rubbishes and woods on the side of the road in order to be warm and you feel the warmth as you walk past the fire. But it something that doesn’t add up because it’s brief. Likewise, the play has failed to make an impression that stays with you for a long time after leaving the auditorium.