Abanti Chakraborty is one of the most well known directors working in Bengali theatre today. She is among the very few directors who are not affiliated to a particular group; she works with different theatre groups and thus has the unique experience of working in different environments and with different actors. Some of her major directorial works include Mourning Becomes Electra, Troy, Nagamandala, Sakharam and Khandahar. A firm believer in the importance of training, Abanti has a diploma in an intensive, one-year course in theatre offered by Yale University. In the two videos, Abanti touches upon a host of issues – her working as a woman in theatre, the dynamics of her working with her actors, the market-driven nature of contemporary theatre.
Abanti Chakraborty firmly believes that she brings what might be called a woman’s perspective in her directorial ventures. She says she tries to work against certain cultural assumptions that exist in society about women in leadership roles, such as theatre directors. With the specific example of the character of Champa (from the play, Sakharam), Abanti talks about how she has positioned this character as an expression of her (Abanti’s) politics as a woman-director. She mentions how she has had to face a sort of chauvinistic resistance from her colleagues, mainly technicians, who were not comfortable with her directorial position. Speaking of her stint at Yale University as a student of theatre, Abanti says that the experience has helped her become more aesthetically and methodologically centered. Moving to the topic of directors and designers, Abanti says she believes that designers and directors are two distinct entities and that she considers herself a director. She speaks in depth about how she allows her actors to challenge themselves, to step out of their comfort zones, to take risks. She also mentions that she has no set method of working with her actors – the method might change from play to play. Abanti acknowledges the immense importance of the contribution of actors in the construction of a play.
To Abanti Chakraborty, the major change that has come in Bengali theatre over a period of twenty odd years is that now a play is made with the aim to make it a popular, box-office success. She says that the plays today bear the imprint of a market-driven sensibility. She herself, however, is conscious of not allowing the market dictate her choice of texts or mode of direction. In this connection she gratefully mentions how she has always been given the freedom to work in the manner chosen by her. She says that she is considering forming a theatre group as she believes groups make it possible for great theatrical productions to emerge. She says theatre is satisfying to her as it allows her to fuse her interest in various arts – painting, music, dance etc. – to finally come up with a composite artistic expression. She also says she tries to open a dialogue with the historical past through her works. She maintains that despite her training in and experiences of the West, her works remain essentially cosmopolitan.
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