The Brilliance of Gunno Bai

By Charudutta Panigrahi:


In a long time, I watched a wonderfully choreographed Odia play Gunno Bai last evening at Natya Parva organised by IPROCH at Delhi. It is not new that we have the protagonist coming to a big city from a small town and loses his way. But what is interesting is the way his journey to Delhi and the stories of his other soul mates converge to a point where Gagan Panda, the central figure gives away his life. Not that he had many other problems, but he had no companion and was haunted by an identity crisis, quashed between morality of an ideal father and a very immoral city life.

The play warranted this review because the performance of Gunno Bai was such an ephemeral experience, wish he had stayed further. I was both a spectator taking in and enjoying the performance and was trying my best to be a critical analyst of the production itself. The entire ensemble of staging, acting, directing reminded me of a play “kuch bhi ho sakta hai” a mono play by Anupam Kher as he goes through an autobiographical account of his life and times in a couple of hours.

Gunno Bai with only three characters on the stage, was narrated smoothly, with a flow in the story which was without any hiccups. With a solid grip on the audience, albeit a late start, Gunno’s story telling was flawless. So was the diction of Chittaranjan Tripathi, who I wanted to meet backstage to congratulate him on getting Odia theatre out of the closet, quite boldly and with a stamp. I was watching the play with my friend, who at one point was both weeping with the character and was mesmerized with the screenplay.

The stage arrangement could have been much better but I lament on behalf of the absent audience, specifically Odia audience who could have got themselves updated with the growing finesse of Odia theatre. We need not be caught up in time warp of Annapurna theatre. The present crop is more experimentative, bold and cosmopolitan, not compromising on the “Odia rootedness”.

If I were to analyse in an objective manner the relative success or failure of the production, I would give Gunno Bai an assertive thumb up, a score of 9 on a scale of 10. I am not simply summarizing the plot or giving an opinion regarding the text of the play which was staged; but my review is also grounded in the production itself. The performance of every actor, all the three, every costume change (there weren’t many), every set change (ingenuously smart) happened seamlessly without any jarring.

Though Samaresh as the don could have been a bit less loud, but his energy was palpable and was looking fresh and raring to go. He died but the reasons for his death could have been deepened. It looked rather shallow. Ma was melodramatic in portions, but that’s what is expected of a typical mother, at least in India. But in high pitch, she could still hold on to the voice and its journey with the script and emotions. And she was also not looking the typical old “mausi”, which was in synchronisation of the script.

Chittaranjan’s diction was awe inspiring. It was a great relief from the strange diction of present day Odia anchors/actors and helped in the overall comprehension and building up the storyline. Adopting a natural way of talking, Gunno Bai not only had a flair for “English-odia” but also carried the deep running “family culture” which clearly juxtaposed with his city metamorphosis. The script was contemporary, crisp and sentences quite straight and short.

The music or the concept of blending Hindi – Odia music based on choicest of writings both traditional and modern was stirring. This was a remarkable feature of Gunno Bai. Not only was Chittaranjan completely under the skin of the character but also had a spectacular intonation and voice to double up as a singer. Even if a few lines, in fact that was a reprieve from long songs, his timing and immersion was complete.

I must say that Gunno Bai is certainly not dead, nor is the rich tapestry of Odia theatre, which would continue to evolve.

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