As life confronts past’s deeds
It tardily hampers inner peace
Yet trembling and waffling
We hold back to our
Last Sunday evening, 4th Bell Theatres presented ‘Fan’ which depicted the emotional journey of a man who often goes unnoticed in the crowd, achieving almost nothing in life, devoting his past and future to his concern for a talented friend. A dear friend whose happiness lies in our progress and who can sacrifice his happiness for our sake – is he not a treasure for us?
To understand FAN you have to understand the madness of unconditional love. The dedication and commitment to another person which makes us forget our selfish agendas is not something that today’s youth can associate with easily.
Polash or Das Babu, the protagonist here, from being a loyal friend turns out to be merely a supporter at the end, a ‘fan’, whom the friend forgets soon, and so does the world. But the vivid portrayal of soulful Das Babu would not let the audience forget the forgotten man, perhaps forever.
We might appreciate his loyalty or disapprove of his folly, but his unconditional love for his friend would certainly make us feel for him. We would like to share his joy after each small and big success of Surya, his celebrity footballer friend, and would also feel his pain when he gives vent to his pent-up emotions through tears as Surya reluctantly apologises for his behavior.
The constant emotional turns in the story never go away from the path of realistic narrative as the soundscape designed by Timir Biswas keeps all the emotions hauntingly real. With the use of light and constant scene changes FAN connects fragmented memories and thoughts into a seamless storyline that successfully take us back to the 90’s Kolkata para football culture and evokes feelings that can scrape the sensitive audience from within.
>>> Moments from FAN <<<
We are delighted to have Aniruddha Dasgupta, the writer and director with Timir Biswas, the sound designer and composer of FAN in a short conversation exploring the play.
BongRong: So, how did you start thinking about FAN?
Aniruddha: There is a very famous play called Zigger Zagger which was written in U.K. by Peter Terson in 1960. The plotline mainly explored the existential crisis that the youth faced as the aftermath of World War II. Rudraprasad Sengupta of Nandikar did an adaption of that play called Football.
FAN’s main inspiration is Zigger Zagger. But apart from the story of a fan, we really didn’t follow the narrative line of that play. I combined the para culture during 90’s Kolkata with the football frenzy of that time and came up with the initial idea of FAN.
To tell you honestly when I started writing, I wasn’t thinking of FAN as a play. I was thinking about an audio-visual format. Later on I transformed it into a play.
BongRong: We saw various collages merging together to tell us a story on the stage. What was the idea behind the visualization?
Aniruddha: If I am writing a play that I am going to direct, some sort of application style always works at the back of my mind. See, when we ponder on our memories and thoughts, everything is a bit obscure. It becomes a little less clear. To bring that effect I went for the top lighting technique so that the faces are not properly lit and there are dark patches which creates a particular ambience around the characters. That’s what you saw on stage.
BongRong: And the sound effects? There was something very unique about them.
Aniruddha: Well I haven’t seen a play in Kolkata where there is a constant presence of ambient music.
Viewers of Bengali plays expect violin, keys, guitar or some songs when an emotional sequence occurs on stage. It’s kind of an unspoken contract between the audience and performers. There, going for sounds that don’t enhance the mood was tricky but we wanted to be on a realistic plane. So, we took out those enhancing factors and went for dry and realistic folly sounds.
BongRong: So, Timirda, throughout the play the soundscape played a very vital role in the portrayal of different settings and moods. As the sound designer, how did FAN start out for you with Aniruddha?
Timir: Initially we were thinking of how to express football and a fan through the sound. We thought of different music, different instruments, and various patterns. We were thinking about some Spanish oriented themes, football oriented themes and a lot of other kinds of sounds. But nothing was really capturing the mood that the play needed. Though the play had a lot of emotional situations, the characters were very alive and real like we see around us every day. Those music themes were giving us a vibe that the play was moving towards melodrama.
So, we went against the whole idea of that kind of sound. For the kind of dry and realistic portrayal that FAN demanded, we eventually decided to work fully with the folly sounds and see how it goes. We had to sit together many a times and that experience was very interesting.
Show date was getting closer and we were getting a little scared. We didn’t know whether the new sound plan will work out or not and we had very little time in hand. But when we rehearsed with the sound everything merged together extremely well.
Anirudhha: The soundscape was not created in a single layer. For each effect Timirda had 10-12 layers working together to produce the sounds that you have heard. Those layers in our sound helped us in defining the space.
Say, when initially Polash was telling Surya to come to East Bengal tent and give trial, you could hear bells from a temple far away. For that far away effect the sound layer needed to be put in the background.
Or, for an intimate space like a cafe setting, the sound of conversations, sounds of plates and spoons etc happens much closer. I don’t know how much Gyan Manch’s amplifiers allowed you to hear and differentiate. But this kind of planning and programming is there in the sound that is used in FAN.
BongRong: This is to you Aniruddha. A story about an overshadowed man, happy only with a friend’s success – a kind of character we often ignore in the crowd nowadays. What made you write a play centering on that kind of character?
Aniruddha: It’s not that I have seen anyone exactly like Mr. Das’s character. I observe my surroundings a lot. I see what’s happening in the para tea stalls or any other stores. These kind of mundane things inspire me a lot. I see something that stands out to me. So, few characters that I have seen and some stories I have heard on the streets have played in my mind while writing the play.
I didn’t get the opportunity to watch ‘Football’ by Nandikar as it last happened in the early 90’s. But I did read Zigger Zagger. It inspired me a lot.
The same madness associated with football was here in Kolkata around the 80’s and 90’s, even in the early 2000’s. Back then Manchester United or Chelsea didn’t come to our home. We had only East Bengal and Mohonbagan in our para, in our discussion, in our thek, in our college canteen. Back in that time this Polash character was the real guy debating at the tea stall, or having a shouting match at a para mor, or banging at the table as he made a point about football.
Now we don’t see them much because of EPL or La Liga. For today’s generation, it’s about Bastian Schweinsteiger and Ronaldo vs Messi. Nowadays, a game is played at a field in Manchester and you see the live telecast on ESPN and then you go online at 11pm to have an argument with the other team supporters – it feels kind of plastic to me.
In our time we went to see the game and fought in the stands and came back in jam packed lorries and started dancing with the flag at parar mor. That hero worship or club worship culture has died out somewhat. Now the fandom is very different and on the social platforms. I don’t feel the euphoria in that. I am a 90’s person and maybe that’s why I don’t connect to the current trends. So I wanted to celebrate the fandom of our time.
BongRong: There is something specific we want to talk about Timirda – the Radio Soundscape. That particular sound was very hard hitting and easily stood out from any other sound we heard. What was the idea behind it?
Timir: The character of Mr. Das which is played by Aniruddha, the whole play is based on his thoughts and memories. The radio frequency sound that you heard actually acted like a time machine that allowed us to travel through his memories and feelings.
Suddenly he starts thinking about some incident, say, the morning of the Blood Donation camp and we tried to use the sound to express the transportation process to that time. I don’t know how much of it worked…
The character of Mr. Das itself is very interesting. Is Mr. Das actually mad? Is he really trying to send his friend to Manchester? Then why is Mr. Das so old? The whole thing is very foggy. To establish that kind of atmosphere we used that radio sound. Just the way we change channels, he is going to different times as he tunes his radio.
BongRong: Aniruddha, you are just 26 and you played the character of a much older version of Polash. How was the experience for you?
Aniruddha: When I write a play I have to visit the mind-space of my characters to write their lines. Even when I direct, I have to enter my characters and think like them. So while I was acting, I had advantages. As I wrote the line I already knew the exact phase and mental state of that character.
As I am not an actor, I can’t technically tell you what I did. But it was tough to portray a much older person.
BongRong: Well, you were fantastic on stage Aniruddha. So, the last theme song Timirda?
Timir: It was challenging for me. If I am to do music for a really good piece of writing, I get into trouble.
When the lyrics become too strong, I feel no matter what I do, I am not going to be able to do justice to it. The same thing happened with this one. Debleena wrote awesome lyrics and I couldn’t think of what to do. Show was coming close and Aniruddha was knocking pretty much everyday. I couldn’t give him good news as I wasn’t being able to concentrate on anything outside of the writing and the play.
Three days before the show a tune came in my mind. I recorded it that night and sent it to Aniruddha and Debleena. To be honest, I didn’t like it much. But they both said it’s going towards a good direction and I can work on that.
When we worked the scene with the song, we all felt it was going well together. Initially we wanted to arrange the song in various ways but ultimately just like the play, it turned into something very dry and simple. The idea was to cut down on the elaborate arrangement generally associated with a song. So, we went for minimalist, just guitar and keys. The song became much more expressive as Aniruddha choreographed the scene.
BongRong: It was a pleasure watching FAN. Talking to you two has been a learning experience for us. Thank you very much Timirda and Aniruddha for your time and we are looking forward to your next collaboration.
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