Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Book Review: The Lonely Monarch by Sunil Gangopadhyay.

Book: The Lonely Monarch

Author: Sunil Gangopadhyay

Translator: Swapna Dutta

Pages: 248

Publisher: Hachette India 

Read On: Paperback

How Long it Took Me to Read: 3 days

Plot Summary: Calcutta, 1924. In the vibrant world of Bengali theatre, Sisirkumar Bhaduri, a young man of talent and vision, is king. A brilliant performer, he is loved and respected by his peers, adored by spectators and acknowledged as a master by Rabindranath Tagore himself. Yet, Sisirkumar remains passionately committed to a singular dream: to steer his audience away from the raucous melodrama that has come to be called entertainment toward an evolved enjoyment of stage performance. This searing novel brings to life Sisirkumar’s relentless efforts to free the stage of Western influences and mediocrity; his frustration and disillusionment with apathetic patrons and obdurate audiences; his ruinous weakness for alcohol; and the impossible ideals that alienated him from his closest friends and the women in his life. 

(Click on 'Preview' to read the first chapter)

General Thoughts: Whenever I've asked my parents or members of my extended family for recommendations in Bengali Lit, Sunil Ganguly's name has featured in all of their recommendations. My father is a huge fan of his writing and has been urging me to read Those Days ( Sei Samay) for ages. I own a copy of the book and this year it is hopefully going to get read, maybe even during Durga Pujo!

Things I Liked: 

1. First, let me be entirely honest- I didn't think I'd like this book!
It is about such a niche topic. Theatre in general is something I don't know much about and Bengali theatre is an entirely unknown world to me. So I thought this book won't really appeal to me. I still bought it because I genuinely want to read more from this author.
Surprise surprise I loved it!!! I was completely and utterly riveted by this world and the ups and downs of fortune our main character went through. It really held my attention and I couldn't put this book down.

2. I love that Sisirkumar was this incredibly flawed and real and lifelike character. I am aware that this book and this character is based on a real person, perhaps that is what makes him so entirely life-like and flesh and blood. His faults and mistakes and errors in judgements are all things that make him human and to an extent make you like him, root for him and wish him well. Even though this is based on a real life stalwart of Bengali Theatre, this book in no way, shape or form feels like a dry biography.

3. The time period this book covers, starting in the 1920s and up unto to 1970s is a fascinating time, at least for me, I enjoyed reading about this time and how people lived and how things changed as the years went by.

4. I also enjoyed reading about how people's perception of theatre and actors changed as time went by. How it went from being seen as tawdry and cheap to being reckoned as an art form and a cultural epicentre.

5. I especially found it fascinating to read about how women were viewed in theatre. I knew of this phenomenon, I have heard my father talk about it- how women from good families didn't enter this world. And earlier men did female parts and the only women from bad backgrounds i.e. prostitutes, were actors. This book talked of it and even had several of these female characters who were interesting to get to know. I also liked that they showed the little changes in the world of theatre vis a vis women, slowly but surely some girls from 'good families' and with an education to boot were pursuing their dreams of being actresses.

6. The career graph of Sisiskumar Bhaduri was so interesting. It might not sound super riveting but trust me, his career went from startling ups to hopeless plateaus and some shattering downs. To see him react and respond to the phases of his professional life was what made the book. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed reading about it.

7. This book is largely set in Calcutta but there is a small portion of it set in New York and I loved this bit. It was a tough time in our protagonist's life but some parts of this bit made me laugh so hard! Their trials and tribulations and all of the theatre group's antics in the West were so funny.

8. Apart from Sisirkumar's professional life, this book also speaks of his personal trials. His alcoholism and binge drinking is one aspect of this life that really shapes him. Another thing that shapes this great man is his marriage and the sad demise of his wife with whom he was never truly happy. Her death changes him and makes him a changed and in some ways a harder man. It affects him in his future romantic liaisons and in some ways damages him. The guilt and mark guilt leaves on a man is shown so well in this book. I almost wish there was more of his personal life in this book.

9. Kanakabati--- Sisirkumar's leading lady in life and in theatre is another wonderful character. She is a new breed woman, an educated girl from a good family who wants to act. She is breaking stereotypes and making her mark on the world. She loves poetry and music and is such a good addition to Sisirkumar's life. She is all this and yet she is still a product of her times. She wants societal sanction, a marriage and not just companionship. Your heart breaks for her when she pretty much begs Sisirkumar to marry her, which he refuses time and again. It was the only time I really, really did not like him.

10. The book is full of eminent Bengali bhodroloks of the era. There are so many big names strewn through these pages that make it so much fun. Of course, not being  the most Bengali- Bengali girl, I didn't know half these people, I can only imagine how much more delightful this book would be for these who know each and everyone of these personalities. I loved reading about Rabindranath Tagore and some other members of his family,  Nazrul Islam and Satyajit Ray- who makes an appearance in the last few pages of the book.

Rating: 4.5/5

I really loved this book and I look forward to reading more from Sunil Gangopadhyay. 

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