11 Aug 2017: BILAY by Lokkrishti: A presentation of Swami Vivekananda on Stage



Swami Vivekananda’s life was a chequered one, a short span [1863-1902], dotted by vicissitudes, clash between belief and unconditional devotion, between strong will and Providence, hard struggle, personal loss and ongoing conflict in himself. His undying life has never been the topic of any Bengali playwright so far. Either Swamiji’s life has been put on stage as snippets related to that of Sri Ramakrishna, Maa Sarada Devi, his spiritual mentors or in connection with Sister Nivedita, his noted disciple. But, the most interesting feature of this play is that, it is not a drab, dull narration and performance but Swamiji is always accompanied by his own ‘child’ self, Bilay, whose parents are the namesakes of his own. Bilay, the little child, stays beside him all the time—questioning, commenting, arguing, consoling, appreciating his deeds, so on. Swamiji is seen to enjoy the wit-combats with this wisp of a boy, his namesake!

The play opens on a stygian black stage, where semblance of the mendicant stands silhouetted. The following scene is a pointer to the turbulent times that unhinged the stability of the nation, subdued and oppressed by the British. The nation was submerged in communalism, absence of proper education, superstition, so on. Thereafter begins the tale of the “Life Immortal” of Swami Vivekananda, with director Phalguni Chattopadhyay’s keen eye on details—right from the childhood of the Saint of Ramakrishna Order, the day of his lecture at Parliament of Religions, Chicago, to his last days when he was being torn by a contradiction whether to stay as a committed devotee of his Spiritual Guru, Sri Ramakrishna or to serve Mankind, as directed by his Guru. He fails to rejoin Sister Nivedita, befittingly, when she firmly opines that, “Without direct plunge in politics, India can hardly be freed from the shackles of dependence.” Swamiji is seen to be visibly perturbed and he confesses the struggle of contradictory forces that are in loggerheads with each other, incessantly. Truly Blake, the first Romantic poet, had said, “Without contraries there is no progression.” But, all paths of misgivings and contradictions converge at one ultimate philosophy: “Service to mankind is the ultimate way to salvation.” The last days in the life of Sri Ramakrishna, the chalk-out of plans for setting up of Belur Math, the demand of the last remains of Ramakrishna by Kankurgachi Yogodyan committee members and Swamiji’s acceding to their request – all these have been touched upon by the director, quite efficiently. But, it would have been more appealing if Swamiji’s trials and tribulations abroad and his winning of hearts of the Western disciples could have been dealt with in a little more detail. As in the brochure, the group Lokkrishti has claimed that they are about to unfold the “phenomenal vision” of Swamiji on the stage, all momentous events of his life should have been brought to the fore, meticulously.

The audience were won over by the winsome, unparalleled acting of Debshankar Haldar as Swamiji, Phalguni Chattopadhyay as Sri Ramakrishna, Monalisa as Nivedita, and, last but not least, Bilay, played by Guddu, a wisp of a boy, with loads of talent. Hope this play would be able to win more and more theatre-enthusiasts in the forthcoming shows to be staged. Lokkrishti is a group with a long history of stage-performance, winning considerable plaudits. And, no doubt, ‘Bilay’ is a successful production (first staged in 2012, on the 150th birth anniversary of Swamiji), that must be given a big hand. It was really heartening to find numerous young boys and girls in the audience, who came to explore the unknown nooks of Swamiji’s undying existence on earth for just 39 years!

Reported by: Dr Ketaki Datta, Associate Professor (English), Bidhannagar Govt College, Kolkata

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