Adaptations of classics accounted for most of the new productions from other parts of India at Nandikar’s 33rd National Theatre Festival. They included Shaw’s Pygmalion and Osborne’s Look Back in Anger in Hindi, from Delhi. Both compress their sources unwarrantedly, reducing the level of complexity, but relatively speaking, Flying Feathers Art Association’s Look Back at least attempts to let the text speak for itself. Director Souti Chakraborty channelled it through an existing Bengali rendition, not the ideal route of direct translation, but conveys an Indian Angry Young Man’s frustration nonetheless. Unfortunately, the dated yet essential props (land phone, newspapers – how many youths read them nowadays?) wreak havoc with the credibility of setting it in our own times. By suggesting two inner spaces to retreat to, Chakraborty breaks the imperative claustrophobia of Osborne’s specified “one-room flat” with even the bed on stage. He also plays safe regarding the sexual initiative taken by Helena with Jimmy, though Teekam Joshi has no difficulties expressing Jimmy’s rage.

The National School of Drama Repertory Company offered two musicals, unsatisfactory examples of that genre. Inspired by P. L. Deshpande’s Ti Phularāni, Marathi theatre’s blockbuster Indianization combining Pygmalion and My Fair Lady, dramatist-director-composer Waman Kendre’s Lāgi Lagan recreates neither the subtleties of Shaw’s dialogue nor the layers of Alan Jay Lerner’s score. The jump cuts detract greatly from the plot development. Higgins’s Mumbai counterpart here shows little dignity and brawls in an uncouth tongue (even if Kendre wishes to indict professors in general). The melodies sound monotonous, bereft of range in instrumentation and arrangement, accompanied by a redundant chorus peeking in and out from the wings. Amidst all this, Bornali Borah shines as a major discovery, portraying the hawker heroine and her metamorphosis with flawless naturalism.

Tripurari Sharma’s Ādhā Chānd, the only fully original script under review, fails for different reasons. The writer-director ambitiously critiques the colourless uniformity of call centres whose globalized protocol demands that the Indian employees adopt American names, accents and etiquette. The verbal insults that they suffer from American customers degrade their self-esteem and lead to breakdowns. Sharma contrasts this with the protagonist’s humble traditional parents, rendering the problem too simplistic, too black and white, though we sympathize about the heartless conditions in the urban jungle. As for form, it is an apology for a musical, because the cast mostly lip-syncs (and dances) to a recorded soundtrack. It almost looks like the company trains its members for a career in Hindi movies.

Two representatives from the eastern region staged canonical texts from their respective literatures. Satabdira Kalakar (Bhubaneswar) revived the first Odiya drama dating back to 1877, Jaganmohan Lala’s Bābāji, which pioneered social reform among the villagers in remote Mahanga for whom the enlightened Lala also built an auditorium, the oldest in Odisha. It is always necessary to acquaint new generations with their theatre history, but bringing such works to life today also requires artistic vision and scrupulous editing. Large sections of Bābāji remain relevant, especially those concerning fraudulent “holy” men and blind superstitions, but Dhira Mallick must chop judiciously and direct it in a more contemporary style, and the group should overcome its rather amateurish approach, taking tips from the accomplished lady who acted as a possessed woman.

Pakija Begum of Ba (Guwahati) dramatized Mamoni Raisom Goswami’s Assamese novel, Devi Pithar Tej, as Padmapriyā. Rejected by her husband because of a skin discoloration, Padmapriya eventually finds comfort with a priest in Kamakhya, from whom she begets a child, and announces this publicly when her husband claims the baby as his. Pakija enacts it solo, performing all five major characters – a praiseworthy achievement – though she needs an objective director rather than herself to make it less melodramatic. I also feel a little uneasy about the presentation of animal sacrifice that it seems to accept implicitly – despite Pakija’s equation of herself (symbolizing all women) with the thousands of scapegoats that the priest has despatched.

(From The Telegraph, 31 December 2016)