The Maladies of the Common Man: A Theatre Review

Play: Hechki

Language: Bengali

Directed by: Sukumar Chakraborty

Duration: 1 and a 1/2 hours

Bengalis have the reputation of being hypochondriacs, and perhaps with good reason. Come winter and the city is covered with a virtual mesh of woollens, complete with proverbial monkey caps and mufflers, while outsiders- mostly those from places that actually experience some degree of arctic weather- laugh at us. The play Hechki, presented by the Kolkata-based theatre group, Drammar, exploits this truly Bong phenomenon and turns it on its head to present us a picture of a society drowning in maladies, within which the common man is snared every day.

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Let me begin by saying that Hechki is a funny play.

It certainly has an element of the didactic to it, if not a resolution, but it does not lecture or preach. Taking a cue from George Bernard Shaw, it sugarcoats its bitter pill and the message is struck home quite well in the meantime. The comic timing of the actors is wonderful: Sukumar Chakraborty, portraying the hapless father of a daughter in her early 20s and equally hapless husband of a rather eccentric wife, can elicit laughs at exactly the right moments, as can Sonali Basak, playing the wife. Each person within every scene adds a vital component to it; none feel superfluous, and thus a seamless harmony of intelligent wit is created onstage: an excellent achievement for a dialogue-heavy play.

However, the true strength of the play lies in its extremely accurate depiction of the Bengali middle-class.

Scenes that seemed to have been lifted straight out of my childhood dominated the play, involving exasperated family tussles over matters such as money and the very anti-Bengali aspirational quality of “showing off”.  The man at the heart of the family, Abinash Chakraborty, is shown as being a typical Bengali “niriho manush”, bewildered by the corruption he witnesses around him and by his wife’s and daughter’s attitudes towards financial issues. He is cautious in spending and vehement at home, yet ultimately gives way to his family’s demands and society’s incessant exploitation of his insecurities. The characters in the play are so very inspired that they are archetypes almost in danger of becoming stereotypes, but they never quite cross that line.

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Certainly, a feminist critic would object to the characterisation of the female characters in the play.

The mother, Madhu, and daughter, Mampi, seemingly entirely dependent on the man of the house for financial support, appear to have been created out of a distilled set of characteristics informing the stereotypical notions of what a girl in her twenties or a middle-aged woman ought to behave like. Two other characters, played by the same actress (Ananya Ghosh), are equally laden with implications, one being an English-speaking receptionist and the other a companion to a babaji. The introduction of the latter was especially troublesome, bringing in, as it did, immediate points of objectification of women by men in power. Equally disturbing was the scene in which Mampi, intoxicated by dreams of stardom in films, is advised to undergo cosmetic surgery so that she can become “more beautiful”.

The general concept of the play struck a hearty chord amongst the audience.

One could hear laughter at every alternate line. What the play sets out to do- expose the corruption in society through the troubles of one man, the archetypal Common Man- it does quite well.

The decor is minimalist in the extreme, the lighting is well-timed and well-tuned, especially noticeable in the scenes involving travelling in a train and a dream sequence. The background music could, perhaps, have been a shade subtler, but the songs that act as prologue and epilogues for the play are rich in their harmony, functioning almost choruses of the kind one finds in Ancient Greek theatre.

Hechki is a well-meaning, well-timed, well-acted comedy.

It serves as “infotainment” and the immediacy of its medium: the platform of theatre, gives it a sense of urgency and connection that no other medium can. Do watch it at Girish Mancha for an evening of enjoyment and thought-provoking discourse. Tickets are available here.

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