London: Singer Sasha Ghoshal and filmmaker Sangeeta Datta recently came together to organise a workshop on Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Tasher Desh’ (The Land of Cards). Faculty and students from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama (RCSSD) joined the workshop, along with composer Paul Alan Barker, dramaturge Adam Lenson and West End actors Molly Lynch and Colin Middleton, to create a short sequence of Tagore’s popular musical drama.
‘Tasher Desh’ is an allegorical play dealing with issues like lack of freedom of expression, gender inequality, migration, and the environmental depletion in a totalitarian state. Rising Fascism across Europe, the imminent World War, and the nationalist movement in colonial India formed the backdrop of the 1935 play.
The plot of ‘Tasher Desh’ revolves around a prince and his friend who finds themselves shipwrecked on an island inhabited by cards. These cards are like robots and follow a set of draconian rules. The prince reminds them that they have the power to express themselves, fall in love, and break the century-old conventions. Egged by the prince and his friend, the female cards on the island lead a revolution and force the king to go into a self-exile.
A popular singer in India, now trained in musical theatre at RCSSD, Sasha led the workshop with his dramatic skill, powerful vocals and sheer gusto. For the West End actors, it was opening up a completely new world to explore. The technical challenge to the music posed challenges to their acting. But in a few hours they were able to present two high-energy extracts which burst with promise of something new.
Sasha holds an unique place today to create exchange and collaboration between the traditions of Western musical theatre and Tagorean legacy. His translation of Tagore’s play in English captured the humour and irony of the original. This production with Baithak UK, RCSSD, West End actors and WAC Arts senior students is poised as a truly collaborative production of the play in Western Musical tradition.
Speaking about the production, Sasha said, “With such a relevant play, you want to make sure that Tagore’s creativity is done full justice. ‘Tasher Desh’ is a musical play but it is always presented as a dance drama. Indians love theatre, music and dance. But ‘musical theatre’ is yet to take off in Indian art.”
According to Sangeeta, “Tagore’s dystopia is perhaps far more relevant today than any time in the past. With Brexit in the UK and right wing politics dominating the Indian elections, we are actually dealing with these live issues of immigration, belonging, censorship and freedom of expression.”
Sasha will conduct a series of workshops, leading to a full-scale production, involving artistes from Baithak UK along with representatives from Wac Arts and RCSSD. The community will be involved in the production that will include learning set and costume design.
Baithak plans to have a complete one-hour production of ‘Tasher Desh’ during the five-day annual festival to be held in Hampstead beginning 4 October.