What goes into the making of a bomb? In Kolkata’s theatre circles, the answer these days is this: a dose of history, some social commentary, a dash of modern politics and one West Bengal minister.
These are the ingredients of ‘Boma’ (bomb), the latest stage production by Mamata Banerjee’s Tourism Minister Bratya Basu, that’s drawing packed shows in the city.
‘Boma’ is based on the Alipore bomb case trial of 1908, when nationalists such as Aurobindo Ghosh and his brother Barindra were among 33 jailed following a blast on April 29 that killed the wife and daughter of a lawyer — the target was a British judge who escaped.
But what has made Basu’s ‘Boma’ such a hit is that it’s not only a replay of those years but also a nuanced take on modern-day politics with references to leadership issues, lobbies, groups, mistrust and a clash of egos. It even portrays an “atmaghati” (self-defeating) leadership that in real life forced “Revolutionary Aurobindo” to become a “Rishi Aurobindo”. “A lot of powerful ingredients make up Boma. There are eternal truths that move beyond the historical limits,” said Basu.
Basu was once a diehard communist and part of former CPM chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s inner circle of intellectuals. But his disillusionment with the party saw him move to Trinamool Congress in 2010 before hitting the headlines during the Assembly elections a year later by toppling CPM’s Gautam Deb in Dum Dum.
Among those who are impressed with ‘Boma’ is TMC MP Saugata Roy who says he was “overwhelmed” by the stagecraft. “It captures an important phase of history, and brings into focus the interplay of ego, domination, people and terrorist movements,” he said.
‘Boma’ contains numerous lines that go beyond the story of a trial.
At one stage, “anarchist” Barindra Ghosh is shown as transforming into a megalomaniac of sorts, apparently symbolising some of today’s leaders. In contrast, his brother Aurobindo steps away into the life of a “rishi” before settling down in the Pondicherry ashram.
Basu then portrays Bengalis as those used to “big talk, funny excuses, taking falsehood to an art form, trying to be oversmart and experts in falsehood. Besides, these are people who are essentially cowards, mentally hostile and always quarreling”.
At another juncture, a police officer is shown as describing the middle class in harsh words. “Educated or not, the Bengali middle class will invariably form groups. They never get over their own ego and self interests. They go round and round in that circle of ego and self interests,” he says.
The main storyline, though, revolves around the nationalist fervour of 1908 when groups such as Dhaka Anushilon Samity, Uttarbanga Anushilon Samity and the Kolkata-based hardline Bengal Revolutionary Party worked to “free the native land from the rule of the British”.
The drama unfolds with the revolutionaries on one side and British officers, such as the notorious Charles Augustus Tegart of Kolkata Police, on the other.
Even Tegart utters a line that has modern political echoes. “The combination of sadhus and revolutionaries is a dangerous mix,” he says.
‘Boma’ was staged four times in Kolkata last month, all to packed houses, and will now be featured in the international theatre festival starting in the city on June 9.