Three Mumbai productions in English came to Kolkata pre-Puja, exemplifying the good, the bad and the ugly, all funded by Aadyam Theatre, the Aditya Birla initiative. Aadyam needs to apply much stricter norms to the companies it backs, like zero tolerance for any enterprise of dubious legality (see below). Furthermore, if it desires national credibility, it must not parochially confine support to Mumbai, which commands tons of money anyway. Groups in other cities, without comparable resources, can do better than the chosen few, given the opportunity. Aadyam’s selection process therefore requires overhauling.

In terms of the good and the bad, look at Rage Productions’ handling of its two American sources. For 12 Angry Jurors, its gender-parity version of 12 Angry Men, it credits the playwright, Reginald Rose. But for The Siddhus of Upper Juhu (both shows presented by Sangit Kala Mandir), it ignores Neil Simon, the king of Broadway comedy and author of The Prisoner of Second Avenue, from which Rage has ripped off its script in time-honoured outlaw Indian style. Why? Presumably just to deny a writer his legitimate dues, when Aadyam could spare it as small change? The publicity material does not even mention who adapted it – because he did little other than cosmetically Indianize Simon’s plot, characters and dialogues. In contrast, QTP’s The God of Carnage (presented by Centre Stage Creations) scrupulously acknowledges not just the dramatist Yasmina Reza, but also the translator, Christopher Hampton, and even the publisher, Samuel French (often a clause in copyright permissions). Three cheers for the younger generation showing the seniors how to follow the rules.

After raging at Rage, more of the good. Unquestionably, Nadir Khan’s direction and visualization of Jurors made it a memorable experience. Despite the fact that Rose gave some of the jury more space than the others, Nadir ensured that no cast members upstaged the rest – from start to finish, an ensemble effort with equal contributions from everyone, even subduing the occasional original melodrama to more realistic psychological acting. If only he had set it in times before India dispensed with the jury system: the knowledge at the back of one’s mind that this cannot happen in our courts today played spoilsport. On the other hand, he brought to the forefront classist prejudices that still plague us.

And what a set by Xhite Designs! Not only did it replicate the dilapidated messes that pass for rooms in Indian courts, it showed the view outside the windows as a video feed for the entire duration of the performance, shot by Pushan Kripalani with crows and pigeons flying in and out, the sky darkening and rain falling. Kripalani also had live cameras projecting some exchanges occurring inside the toilet, or zooming in to papers on the table.

I have nothing against the actors in Siddhus of Upper Juhu – particularly Rajit Kapur (also in Jurors) and, among the secondary parts, Shishir Sharma as his brother – who perform impeccably as the Punjabi family affected by the financial and mental meltdowns that capitalist India has successfully imported from 1970s America. But it interests me that director Rahul DaCunha protects the Siddhus from visible drenchings at the hands of their nasty neighbours. Kolkata’s Stagecraft did not shy away from buckets of water poured on Rohit Pombra onstage when they did Prisoner of Second Avenue.

We have seen God of Carnage in a Kolkatan avatar as well, by The Red Curtain. But director Nadir Khan expresses the ugly side of so-called civilized society better, by keeping to the text more closely. Here, too, what began in French in Paris and caught the fancy of London and New York in English translation, retains its relevance in metropolitan India without adaptation, as two sets of parents, meeting to resolve cordially their sons’ school fight, themselves descend into near-mayhem. Shernaz Patel, Anuradha Menon, Sohrab Ardeshir and Zafar Karachiwala enact the couples’ duelling pas de deux with panache, Patel more natural in this production than in her more hyper role as Mrs Siddhu.

(From The Telegraph, 29 October 2016)