Visiting artists performed self-composed plays recently, based on life history and first-hand information respectively. From Hyderabad, Rangadhara Theatre Stream and Sutradhar brought Main Rahi Masoom, a monologue on Rahi Masoom Raza, famous as the scriptwriter of B.R. Chopra’s Mahābhārata. Vinay Varma’s one-man show presented Raza in his study, at his desk or reclining on a carpet, reminiscing casually about his eventful life. They could have inserted Kolkata’s special link with Raza: his complete Mahābhārata TV screenplay, in ten volumes, was published here in English translation.

When inter-faith dialogue has become so polarized, Raza provides a model of secularism, constantly reiterating his identity as Indian first, Muslim next. He used to say that communalists have no dharma; he fought fundamentalism of any colour. Shockingly, he had to face questions as to why his daughter-in-law had a name like Parvati Khan, and we all know how bigots wanted him removed as scenarist of the Mahābhārata, but Chopra refused, offering to stop the serial rather than replace the writer. Raza regarded the Ganga as his mother, wishing for immersion in her waters after he died.

Bhaskar Shewalkar directed Varma meticulously, evoking a warm and idealistic personality who still must defend his fiction from charges of obscenity. Shewalkar chose small objects carefully to convey the sense of realism, even keeping Raza’s nonstop pan-chewing habit, Varma flawlessly enunciating his mixed Hindustani and English lines nonetheless.

Tollygunge Club courageously hosted Speak, Leda, a British rape victim’s account devised by Little Wild Bird, comprising two young actors from England. Verity Danbold wrote and directed it from her therapeutic work with survivors of trauma, in which a man drafted as a soldier and scared of dying hatches a perverse escape route – if arrested for rape he wouldn’t have to go to war. So he stakes out in a pub, picking a girl at random, and assaults her after she leaves.

Danbold structured the duologue as two separate recollections from stage right and left, the seated actors speaking directly to the audience. Their memories alternated, long at first, then decreasing until the exchange sounded like dialogue, except that they never addressed each other. After a rambling start, Patrick Lynch projected the man’s warped reasoning, while Danbold portrayed the emotional wreck the girl became. Given the incident, Danbold’s attempt at closure where he sends her a letter seemed unconvincingly and problematically motivated by a need for a reconciliation.

(From The Telegraph, 18 June 2016)