15th September 2019
The Bhavan, London
Reviewed by Sulochana Sarma
One often hears Rabindranath Tagore referred to as being ‘ahead of his time’, and Chandalika bears this out. A major artistic figure of British India, Tagore wrote with an unflinching gaze on issues such as class, discrimination and wealth inequality. Tagore’s poetry, essays, plays and other works have occupied the imagination of the public and the artists who continue to interpret his works more than a 150 years after his birth. Notable amongst his dancedramas is Chandalika, the story of a Chandal (untouchable) girl Prakriti, who falls in love with Lord Buddha’s disciple Ananda. He is the first person outside her caste to treat her as an equal. Hopelessly in love, Prakriti appeals to her mother to practise black magic to win Ananada’s love.
This latest interpretation of Chandalika comes from Suchismita Ganguly, an established London-based bharatanatyam dancer. The performer gives a new twist by taking on all three characters herself, in a break from the dance drama tradition. To portray both the mother and daughter characters vividly and to show the transition between the two clearly is a real test. This is more so for audiences unfamiliar with the text and the language. The dancer succeeds in the challenge through the control of technique and abhinaya.
Props are deployed effectively for the most part (though occasionally they can be distracting); and Arjun Sen’s animation evokes the era and the themes of the play admirably. The original musical arrangement by Subrata Babu Mukherjee underscores the Bengali roots of the original text, though occasionally it loses the opportunity to build on the drama in some heightened moments.
Chandalika will be welcomed both by audiences with prior knowledge of the text and those seeing it for the first time, although those unfamiliar with the story might find it a little challenging as it stands. An ambitious project for the artist, Suchismita Ganguli’s performance carries her vision, passion and sincerity.