Now in its eighth year, Little Thespian’s national festival named Jashn-e-Rang provides Kolkata theatre lovers their only opportunity to see a range of Hindi/Urdu drama from across the country. This time, quite a few sizzled with political innuendos.
The most telling, Sambhav’s Garib Nawāz from Delhi, written by Santosh Chaubey, narrates the experience of a young US-trained executive who returns to India hoping to help in its development and sets up a successful company. One fine day, however, he sees that a poultry dealer has assembled a stall next to the gates, slaughtering and selling chicken. His protests to the authorities spiral into showdowns with and threats from locals, councillor and police, even a false case against him for assault. He ends up disillusioned by the corruption and lawlessness of incredible India – which we can all relate to. D. R. Ankur directs with his award-winning minimalism, the five actors fluidly interchanging roles.
In 1881, the father of modern Hindi theatre, Bharatendu Harishchandra, scathingly parodied the very same conditions in his classic Andher Nagari. Shudrak (Hyderabad) revives it as Kissā Andher Nagari kā in a contemporized adaptation by Swapan Mondal, who interpolates Telugu folklore and Tagore’s “Amrā sabāi rājā” ironically. Monarchs may have gone, but rulers stay as irrational as ever. Mondal directs his proteges in an energetic and colourful performance, himself playing the Raja as a happy imbecile. But the singing often goes off-key, marring an otherwise entertaining show.
Satire also reigns supreme in Vivechana Rangmandal’s Nithalle ki Diary (Jabalpur), dramatized from humorist Harishankar Parsai’s stories by director Arun Pandey, as a result of which the play remains episodic, only loosely connected by the central characters of Nithalla and his uncle. Pandey could have edited much of Parsai’s punning, which sounds like excessive one-liners on stage. But Vivechana’s stature as a group – over 50 years old and mentored by Parsai – manifests itself in the mature acting led by Naveen Chaobe as the pragmatic uncle, while a hospital run by warring doctors comments sarcastically on our health care.
Act from Solapur takes a brave stand with Aram Bag, an original script by Aftab Hasnain featuring four Muslims trapped in limbo, barred from heaven for various sins. The Jihadi, for instance, cannot enter because Islam forbids the killing of innocents. Sayyed Iqbal directs the cast in a stripped-down style with stark black-and-white design suited to the theme of obedience to the true doctrines of one’s faith.
Ajay Shukla’s Dusrā Adhyay by Mukhatib (Bhojpur, Jharkhand) is a big letdown. In telling the story of an unfulfilled extramarital affair unfolding over the years, Shakir Tasnim fails to direct the couple naturally. They shout at the tops of their voices even in intimate scenes and inexplicably avoid eye contact.
Even though the open-air curtain-raisers outside the hall every evening fell under the rubric of “street theatre”, the fact that they actually abutted the traffic noises on Pretoria Street made it very difficult for viewers to listen. Little Thespian should consider relocating this segment to a congenial space.
(From The Times of India, 30 November 2018)