Staging Ron in Kolkata : Part 1

Kolkata has been always acknowledged as the theatre capital of India. The rich tradition of modern Bengali theatre that started more than two hundred years ago is still revered by the cultural elite of the country. Hence, an invitation from Ganakrishti (one of the top tier theatre groups of Kolkata) to perform at their seventh annual theatre festival came to me as a major challenge.
It was during the 2005 Bangasammelan in New York, when Bratya Basu, the then champion of Ganakrishti made me the offer. And I accepted, without thinking too much about the consequences. It has been a dream for me as well as all serious Bengali theatre workers in this country, to be able to showcase our work in front of the Kolkata audience. But we all know that when the rubber actually meets the road, not too many rises up to the occasion, especially when it meant taking leave from work and then travel to India spending your own money. Ganakrishti admitted that they will not be able to pay our air fares, but they will take care of us and cover all our production related expenses the moment we arrive in Kolkata. I had some faith in my core group members and I knew that they will not pass this opportunity under any circumstances.
I did not even have any play in mind that we can take to Kolkata. Although our repertory had couple of good short plays ready at hand, Ganakrishti preffered a full length play. I had a full length play script ready and waiting to be produced, but I thought I’d like to take something to Kolkata that is contemporary and truely reflects some of the fundamental conflicts that we encounter as immigrants to this country.

The basic idea of “Ron” was in my mind for sometime, and I thought, why not develop this idea into a full length play? I started working on it (which involved quite a bit of research about the US Armed forces, the Iraq war etc) and by the end of 2005 I had the first draft ready. We had the first reading and Indranil is (one of our key group members) living room with most of our team members eagerly listening. The key decision we had to make that evening was to decide if we’d like to produce “Ron” (it wasn”t even named then) or to produce “Baanaprastha” (the script that I had written earlier). The team chose “Ron” primarily because of its relevance in todays world. I asked the group to find a good title for the play, and several suggestions started pouring in. It was only after few weeks, when I read the play to Tarun Chatterjee (the accomplished actor and director) and he suggested finding a short name, the name “Ron” struck upon me. Not only is my central character named “Ron” (or Ronobir/Ranveer), but also because “Ron” means war and that is what the play is about.
The next challenge was casting for the characters. We had one primary requirement for any actor accepting our offer was that he or she has to travel to India during peak summer season spending his/her own money. Although most of the key group members had no problem with this (many have been planning to go to India during that period anyway), casting some of the characters became an issue, namely those of “Nando” and “Bidisha”.
We started looking for Nando and few interested fellows showed up. One, Biswajit Das, came all the way from Poughkeepsie New York to try for the role. Being from Bangladesh, he was a perfect fit for the role. He was willing to come to the rehearsals all the way from Poughkeepsie, although I was a bit sceptical. But soon he informed that he has a conflict in July and won’t be able to do the play. The search continued, and after few disappointing auditions, I reluctantly planned to take up the role myself. It was not the best option at all, since directing and acting in the same play is a very difficult task.
Then I met Kaushik Datta at Lili Majumdar’s house. Kaushik had some early acting experience and was planning to go to Kolkata during July for a family vacation anyway. After a quick and surrepticious audition, I selected Kaushik for the role of “Nando”. The next task was to find Bidisha.

To be continued…….

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