Book Review: The Lonely Monarch
The opening lines of the blurb present a fair idea of what The Lonely Monarch is about. The twenties were an enchanting era in Calcutta encompassing dazzling celebrities in the literary, academic, cultural and socio-political arena including Rabindranath Tagore. Sisirkumar Bhaduri stood tall among the most talented and important people; he emerged as the undisputed king of Bengali theatre, almost crafting a renaissance. Sunil Gangopadhyay has carefully sketched various phases of Sisirkumar’s career in this prolific novel.
After the demise of Girishchandra Ghosh, indubitably the father of Bengali theatre, the stage was mostly empty except for his son Dani babu who was merely a dwarfish shadow of his father. In those days, no respectable woman stepped inside a theatre to act and bare her persona before strangers, mostly men. The female roles were carried out by women from non-respectable backgrounds, part-time prostitutes.
In fact, one of the prime reasons for Sisirkumar joining this sordid world was his ardent desire to cleanse the stage of its stigma and make it integral to the nation’s culture.
Nearly a century later, when we look back from a prosperous theatre industry in Bengal, Sisirkumar’s struggle appears unimaginable. Sunil Gangopadhyay has time travelled with abundant research to let the readers into the life of Sisirkumar. He was a lecturer turned impeccable actor caught between two worlds – struggling to retain his theatre and producing enriching plays to enlighten the audience. His poignant playwright self, basking in glory of praise from the great bard Rabindranath Tagore yearns for more to achieve. As much as the readers would like to know more, Sunil Gangopadhyay has only provided a glimpse of Sisirkumar’s personal life and his involvement with women. He had finally found his match in an educated theatre actress, but could not gift her the marital status she craved for.
The novel is written very well with meticulous research on the era and the celebrities. The dialogues between various characters, laced with clever use of poems, are so well executed that the readers would not be able to guess they are imaginary. Sunil Gangopadhyay has seamlessly merged history with fiction to create a live account of the silent theatre evolution. Having read the original Bangla work – Nihsanga Samrat, I was curious to find out if Swapna Dutta did justice as a translator. It is a tough job to retain the essence of the original language and yet make it delectable in English for the readers. The translator has done a pretty good job here, in my opinion. Her writing is lucid, with brief sentences and often terse dialogues without any extra calories. I did feel that choice of words could have been better because at times they sound too literally translated.
The Lonely Monarch is a wonderful read with a big slice of history served in an irresistible platter garnished with priceless anecdotes.
Trivia: Did you know that Sisirkumar Bhaduri was the first Indian theatre actor to be invited for shows in New York with his troop?
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