Good that regional-language theatres have discovered the stageability of original drama by Indians in English, once regarded as infra-dig. Among them, of course, the academically-certified poster boy is Mahesh Dattani, but we wish that groups opted for the best of his many plays rather than the ordinary ones. Meanwhile, Dattani himself has turned to directing mediocre commercial potboilers in Mumbai, like AGP World’s Double Deal Reloaded (presented by Centre Stage Creations here) which even his worst scripts can surpass, given his fondness for murder mysteries. Must he stoop so low?
By not acknowledging the source, Richard Stockwell’s two-hander Killing Time, Ashvin Gidwani follows in hallowed Indian tradition, but also runs the risk of a lawsuit, now that foreign agents trawl for our bad habits of plagiarism. Anyway, this absurd and pointless adaptation is riddled with more holes than the body in its finale. A history-sheeter from Tihar Jail (Bharat Dabholkar, though why he got there from Mumbai we never know) seeks revenge on the man who ratted on him by befriending his wife (Manjari Fadnnis, predictably by stealing her purse at the mall, then gallantly offering to pay for her purchases). Incredibly, she went shopping in a slinky red dress, lace stole and stilettos. From the beginning, the hackneyed soundtrack suits the idiot box better, while the gunshot at the end goes off before the killer raises the weapon, literally looking on stage like shooting themselves in the foot. When one handcuffs the other to the table, the cuffs fall loose from the wood, so the hapless actor pretends to remain captive as in school theatre gaffes – except that schools don’t make such blunders anymore. This production does not add anything to Dattani’s resume.
Dearest among all Dattani revivals for its entertainment value, his first play Where There’s a Will finds a Bengali incarnation in Sadichchhār Rangbadal at the hands of the Bangalore group, Smaranik. Translated by one of the veterans of Bengali theatre, Meghnad Bhattacharya, it stays relatively faithful to the text, unravelling the shocking consequences of a domineering patriarch’s will on his heirs who should have realized his thought processes and conducted themselves better. Sayandeb Bhattacharya directs with a comedic flair that Dattani himself warned against in his original “Playwright’s Note” as misinterpreting his serious dramatic intentions; nevertheless, the cast acquit themselves creditably under their directorial brief.
Readers may recall that Lillete Dubey’s mounting of Dattani’s recent Where Did I Leave My Purdah failed to inject any verve into this metatheatrical play set around the Partition. Neither does the Bengali translation, Āmār Mukher Ānchalkhāni, by Rangasram (Murshidabad), another group from outside Kolkata. It exposes again Dattani’s weakness in plotting so schematic a melodrama recycling his usual concerns – family tensions, communal conflict and the world of performance – that none of these ultimately receives in-depth treatment. He surrenders to external storytelling his strength of delineating characters intensively and psychologically through their dialogue. On the other hand, Sandip Bhattacharya’s direction does not convince in the flashback scenes about the touring company in its heydays. Anshuman Bhowmick, an otherwise fine translator, should choose Dattani’s superior works instead to project to the Bengali theatre community.