The internationally famous Peruvian novelist, Mario Vargas Llosa, became interested in writing drama only during the last decade, and Ila Arun’s Hindi adaptation of his La Chunga, titled Jamila Bai Kalali (presented by Anamika Kala Sangam at Birla Sabhagar, December 3), may well be the first staging of Llosa ever attempted in India. Credit goes to Arun’s Bombay group Surnai for continuing to search for new and challenging scripts.
However, despite the authentic transference to a Rajasthani environment and the pronounced feminist critique of male exploitation of all womankind, the production has a static and undramatic quality that makes it fall flat. This is quite unexpected because Surnai’s previous effort seen in Calcutta was theatrically very effective. Since the original text is not available here, it is impossible to tell whether the lapse occurs on Llosa’s part or in Arun’s adaptation.
Equally mystifying is Llosa’s use of the narrative device from Rashomon: four people relate different versions of what happened to the young girl brought to Jamila’s den. True, Kurosawa explores the subjective nature of memory (what took place according to each person present) whereas Llosa describes four separate fantasies (what each man imagines has happened, since none actually witnessed the girl’s departure), but the structure has become so archetypally associated with Rashomon that Llosa virtually seems to ride piggyback on it. His La Senorita de Tacna is a better examination of storytelling, one of his pet themes, than La Chunga on present evidence.
On the positive side, K. K. Raina directs with utmost care and lavish attention to the mise-en-scene. Everyone acts well, with Rajit Kapur (the girl’s paramour) ranking high on the scale for his rustic mannerisms and Arun (Jamila) ranking low because of her perpetually pained expression. Prasoon Pandey’s imaginative split-level set and Saleem Akhtar’s precise zonal lighting add to the overall aesthetic appeal, but in the last analysis the rich form does not lift the dramatic content.
Bombay groups seem to be suddenly showing an interest in reviving that record-breaking Marathi war-horse by P. L. Deshpande, Tujhe Ahe Tujapashi, now nearly forty years old. This reviewer does not know which production preceded the other on the west coast, but the Burjor Patel–Bharat Dabholkar English version titled It’s All Yours Janab came to Calcutta nine months ago, now followed by the Hindi translation, Shatranj ke Mohre (a Sanskriti Sagar presentation, Birla Sabhagar, November 21).
Deshpande’s comedy about self-realization and self-centredness featuring a Tartuffe-like spiritual guru receives more accomplished treatment in Hindi from the Indian People’s Theatre Association (Bombay) than it did in It’s All Yours Janab. Director Ramesh Talwar places the opposition between aristocracy and the acharya in the experienced hands of Sudhir Pande and Anjan Srivastava respectively, while an ashen-faced Neha Sharad impresses most among the lesser characters as the brow-beaten disciple. M. S. Sathyu disappoints once again with an unimaginative set.
When King Lear rails about man, the “poor, bare, fork’d animal”, he has three “fools” around him—Edgar acting a madman, truly playing the fool; Kent who has fallen low, fortune’s fool; and his own court jester, a professional fool. Surrounded by these “unaccommodated” men, Lear unbuttons his own clothes to join their nakedness. The parallel came to mind when Khalid Tyabji stepped out from the audience, put on a foolscap and, metamorphosing, stripped down to his underpants in Gadhāgān/Foolsong 4 (Padatik Little Theatre, December 10). A fool has nothing to hide as he exposes human follies; Tyabji clearly knows the archetype.
This imposing (yet ironically vulnerable) physical presence in an intimate performance space made an impact, and Tyabji went through his first few mimeses riding the crest of this novelty. Right through the one-hour-plus one-man show, his physique did not flag; moreover, his voice overshadowed his body, as he hummed, mumbled, tittered, chanted, shouted, sang (all in nonce or nonsense syllables) in different octaves and even in falsetto, vocally replicating the various tones of oral delivery. Priests, politicians, all came in for sharp satire, but in the end the montage of human images lacked a central focus. Tyabji needs a more rigorously-developed logic or coherent thematic pattern to give his excellent physical and vocal discipline a matching intellectual complement.
(From The Telegraph, 17 December 1993)