Kolkata jail birds stage English play
By Gourab Gupta, Kolkata, Mar 10 : G.D.Birla Sabhagar auditorium in this eastern city became a witness to a show-stealing performance by the jail inmates of Kolkata on Saturday night as the prisoners showcased their acting talents while the staging of "Begum Samroo" in English.
In one of its bold and reformist moves the Alipore Central Jail Authority decided to take a leap forward by giving the jail inmates of Kolkata a fair chance to transform themselves through acting, and that too with their debut in an English play.
The play was written by Late Pratap Sharma and directed by Rohit Pombra, the Artistic Director of Stagecraft, one of Kolkata's English language theatre groups.
The move however had a rich legacy in the past when danseuse and choreographer Alokananda Roy discovered some hidden talents behind the bars with the help of then IG (Prison) B D Sharma and also found a professional actor in former convict Nigel Akara whose landmark acting in the play 'Balmiki Pratibha' created ripples and later a film adaptation of the same in Bengali movie Muktodhara which had him in the lead role won hearts of audiences.
This time Rohit Pombra was responsible for discovering the latent talent of jail inmates in acting. He trained four inmates from the Alipore Women's Correctional Home, one from Presidency Correctional Home and 21 from Alipore Central Correctional Home to add diversity to the play for over a year.
"Begum Samroo" deals with the life and times of Begum Samroo, the wife of Walter Rhinehardt Sombre, a Swiss-German mercenary during the 18th century, when Shah Alam was the Mughal emperor and Mir Jafar and Robert Clive were contemporaries.
After the show the director, Rohit Pombra stated, "It was an enriching experience for me to work with them. They took people by storm with their acting talent and pronunciation."
Talking about the challenge, Rohit clarified, "My toughest challenge was to take out the hidden actors from them. But every one of them supported me with their amazing desire to act and to learn acting."
Answering the selection procedure of the inmates he mentioned, "I was given a list of interested actors. Then I had to go through their fluency in English. And everything started happening subsequently. Some of them had rich backgrounds of even painting and singing. This is also the key of this grand success."
The protagonist of the play, "Begum Samroo", played by Aditi Kanjilal, said: "If I get a chance, I will definitely do such plays in future as well. But I live for the day."
Present Inspector General, Correctional Services, Ranvir Kumar said, "We chose 9th March to stage the play because on 8th March it is the International Women's Day and the play highlights the life and hardships of a fighting woman."
"Since we wanted to take the play on the international level, we performed it in English," Kumar said, adding that a Bengali play called Ashoka is also under production and would be directed by Alokananda Roy.
"It was great to see the joyous expression on their faces. They might join their local theatre groups post release. We hope after release the society will by and large accept them back wholeheartedly," Kumar said.