12:00 AM, December 07, 2016 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, December 07, 2016

Othoi: A 'cinematic theatre' experience

Indian troupe Natadha at BotTala Rongomela

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Shakespeare's “Othello” is a timeless literary masterpiece, and what makes any work 'timeless' is its unending appeal to the audience, and inspiration to generations of creative minds. Natadha, the reputed theatre troupe from Howrah, West Bengal (India) put on display the timelessness of “Othello” in their own theatrical adaptation titled “Othoi” on the fifth day of the BotTala Rongomela Theatre Festival in the capital's Mohila Samiti on Monday. 

Before the play, however, BotTala honoured a veteran thespian from Sylhet – Krishnakumari Sinha, as part of their festival's programme to honour one theatre activist from each division. Professor Syed Jamil Ahmed of Dhaka University's Theatre & Performance Studies department handed over the honours to Sinha.

Because it is based on “Othello”, there isn't anything in the story of “Othoi” that would be new to any connoisseur of literature and theatre. Set in a small village named Bhinsura and modeling the characters to fit in the backdrop are the tweaks to the original story that were done. But what made the play thoroughly enjoyable is the approach to the storytelling, and the aesthetic elements. Despite the production being far longer in duration than the Bangladeshi audience is used to, almost the entire house sat through the play up to the end, till 10pm. The play gets the audience to connect to it almost immediately with superb use of the fourth-wall-breaking narrator, and doesn't get boring despite its runtime. The use of dialogues and background music has a strong cinematic flavor, at times bordering on Tollywood-level cheesy (especially with one choreography piece that can only be described as an 'item number') but ultimately staying clear of that line. The stage is also used very much like a filming set, constantly changing, as is the oft-changing costumes making it more believable as a story. The use of props and lighting is spot on in most parts, and the overall production design is almost airtight.

But all of that are secondary in a play – it's the cast that makes or breaks that play, and that is where “Othoi” is outstanding: Arna Mukherjee (who has written and directed the play, along with music direction) is a rising star of Bangla theatre across the border, and his character of the titular Othoi is flanked by Anirban Bhattacharay (who plays' Anugro, the shadow role of Iago) and Turna Das (who plays Diamona, Desdemona's reflection from the original). Anirban and Turna are two of the highest-rated stage actors of the current generations in India, and with able support from the supporting cast -- most notably Arpan Ghoshal playing Mukul and Upabela Pal as Mili – the acting is top-notch.

The regular Rongo Adda (Q&A with the director) also took place following the play, after Cultural Affairs Minister Asaduzzaman Noor handed the memento of the festival to troupe members.

The 10-day BotTala Rongomela theatre festival began on December 1 and will close on December 10, staging plays by troupes from Bangladesh, India and Iran, along with various cultural events on the sidelines. The festival is supported by the Cultural Affairs Ministry, EMK Center, Prime Bank and Dhaka Bank.

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