Theatre Review: Neel Chaya (The Indigo Giant)

Directed by Naila Azad Nupur, written by Ben Musgrave in English and translated by Leesa Gazi, the play was performed at Mohila Samity’s Nilima Ibrahim auditorium

Theatre is that magic carpet which can make anyone travel between past and present. The play, Neel Chaya (Indigo Giant) is such a theatre that takes us once back to the 18th century indigo revolution during the British colonial rule  that changed Bengal forever, to modern version of oppression - the garments factories that are exploited by the western garments buyers. Directed by Naila Azad Nupur, written by Ben Musgrave in English and translated by Leesa Gazi, the play was performed at Mohila Samity’s Nilima Ibrahim auditorium on September 10 at 7:30 pm. This review is based on this particular day’s show. 

The play begins by portraying the happy family of a new indigo farmer, Shadhuchoron and his wife Khetromoni (Quazi Nawshaba Ahmed), who lead a simple life with limited assets, simple principles and were dreaming of bringing affluence in the family by planting indigo in their fertile land. Like many other families, they received the indigo seeds from the British planters and started cultivating the best possible indigo in their fertile land. Little did they know that if once indigo is cultivated, no other crops could be cultivated in that land and planting indigo was also not so easy task. The British planters tricked the farmers by promising that a high rate will be provided for indigo but later on cheated and provided less amount of money, rather tricked and took back the amount the farmers received. ‘I will plant indigo in your head’ was the motto of the British planters. They made laws that were biased towards the British planters, any farmer who did not want to obey them, were brought under this law, gave them no scope to speak for themselves, and exploited the female members of the family as a part of farmer’s trail. Through indigo farming, sadness was manufactured in the land of indigo farmers and spread throughout the whole village.  Shaduchoron and his wife Khetromoni was the only rebel farmer, who dared to go against the British’s will to use most of their land to cultivate indigo and they had to face severe consequences. They imprison Shadhuchoron and grabbed his only land. The British planter tried to break the confidence of the local farmers by constantly brain washing them, belittling them and haunting them with their worst fear. At one point, the people of British Lord kills Shadhuchoron. The death shook the whole village, they all stood together and revolt against the British planter, an extraordinary revolution that changed the Bengal forever. The playwright has linked this Indigo revolution with today’s garment industries revolution where the westerns were forcing the Bengalis to work at a cheaper price for them in an unhealthy work condition.

Two storylines has been shown by staging back-to-back that sets a timelines of hundred years apart, while the central theme remains the same. In modern timeline, Khetromoni was named Rupa, a factory worker who produces indigo coloured denim. Modern Khetromoni, Rupa, revolts and diminishes the ghost of the oppressions by overcoming identity crisis, sufferings and emptiness. The two timelines were narrated by an omnipresent narrator who uses sunglasses metaphorically while travelling throughout the timelines.

The production, as a whole, mirrored the society of now and then quite accurately. The set and lighting established the correct mood for the play which added development to the characters. Bluish light was mostly used that clearly explains the melancholy of the play and also the main theme ‘indigo’. At the end, when the revolution took place and workers learned to stand for themselves, bright red light is used to show the boldness. The blocking of the actors was well positioned. The sound contributed perfectly to the mood almost throughout the plot. The songs of the cuckoo bird was used to signify something hopeful. The whole performance reflected well-rehearsed and excellent team work. The vocal quality and articulation was proficiently lifted. Local Bangla dialects and a few English words were used in the translation of the play that helped to understand the mood of the play, the lifestyle of the people and present and past time travels. The director paid attention even to the minor significant jesters, for example, when the farmer touched the hand of the snobbish British planter, the planter removed the hand quickly and rubbed his hand with handkerchief which clearly explained the superiority complex of the British planter at that time. Huge puppets were used to portray the inferiority complex, identity crisis and emptiness inside the human mind of the oppressed people which again worked as an excellent metaphor. All in all, Neel Chaya is undoubtedly an excellent production.  

Neel Chaya (Indigo Giant) has been produced by Komola Collectives in collaboration with British Council, GCRF QR Rapid Response Scheme via the University of East Angila, The Charles Wales Bangladesh Trust and Living Blue.