Little Thespian’s annual festival has become by default the only one in Kolkata to showcase Hindi theatre at the national level on a regular basis. This year’s Jashn-e Rang brought two productions from Delhi as well as participation from Patna (already seen in town), Bikaner and a one-man show from Jharkhand, besides the hosts themselves.

The efforts by the two senior National School of Drama director-professors with their own groups did not satisfy expectations owing to weaknesses in the scripts and unnecessary loudness in their delivery. Akar Kala Sangam’s Welcome Zindagi, directed by Suresh Bhardwaj, originates in a popular Gujarati play by Saumya Joshi translated into Hindi by Rahil Bhardwaj. The family drama comprises patriarchal father, frustrated son and peacekeeping mother – an archetypical equation that operates in so many Indian homes. The breadwinner’s authoritarianism obviously repulses us, but Joshi works in sympathy for his viewpoint, too. The communication gap between the men, simply because they don’t hear each other out fully, also receives adequate treatment. And of course we empathize most with the woman who has to patch up constantly. However, the action develops too conventionally and sentimentally, climaxing in a cliched tearful rapprochement. Given their character stereotypes, Anju Jaitley as the mother offers the most rounded portrait with her warm irony.

Unicorn Actors’ Studio’s May be [sic] This Summer, written and directed by Tripurari Sharma, must first correct its ungrammatical title. Like Welcome, it presents domestic drama in a city, but with two young people in a live-in relationship. The rage in the man (Teekam Joshi) no doubt stems from his immediate lack in stable earnings, and the coincidental proximity to Welcome makes us regard him as someone who may eventually turn into a dominator like the father in that play. Similarly, the woman (Gauri Dewal) has to always pacify him, though her one-track mind tries to extract some promise of commitment from him. Not much else “happens”, so we have only a slice of contemporary life – or a Look Back in Anger scenario without the marriage or plot complications. Sharma’s declared intent to explore the moral values governing such couples risks essentialism, for a wedded pair could fall apart horribly, while partners living together could attain ideal love. The actors express youthful angst and ennui capably, but nothing more than that.

The sleeper in the festival, Dinkar Sharma’s Tikaton kā Sangrah, caught this critic’s eye by virtue of Sharma’s transparent sincerity of performance. I have seen far too many sophisticated professional actors displaying perfect skills but missing that spark which ignites a role – the genuine artistic earnestness that shines through all facades of outward pretence. Sharma glowed with that internalized quality in his flawless portrayal of Karas in Karel Capek’s classic Chekhovian short story, “The Stamp Collection”, faithfully translated by Nirmal Verma. He conveyed how all of us, like Karas, go through life collecting things, but that these obsessive accumulations should never eclipse the human element: Karas makes one misjudgement about a friend whom he thought had stolen his stamps, which affects his personality subsequently, until he discovers the truth too late in old age. We hope more of Sharma’s solo work comes our way.

Little Thespian’s Prem Aprem contains dramatizations of two short stories by local litterateur Kusum Khemani. We applaud director Uma Jhunjhunwala’s application of bilingualism in “Ek Mā Dharti si”, whose cast mixes Hindi and Bengali naturally as in daily exchanges. Khemani tells the poignant tale of a Bengali mother devoted to her son, who grows up into a churlish man mistreating her; she also showered affection on a Hindi-speaking girl, her neighbour, who adored her in turn and ultimately rescues her from him. Chandrayee Mitra gives a wonderfully easy enactment of the mother. Unfortunately, Jhunjhunwala staged the next story, “Ek Achambha Prem”, as a semi-reading, a stylistic incongruity that jeopardized the latter, which looked half-baked in comparison, though she could easily do away with the hand-held scripts in it.

Readings, with their inherent informality and loss of eye contact with the viewers, can never match the magic of full-fledged theatre. Moreover, when they are of fiction, they beg the question: has the audience become so illiterate that it does not read, and therefore needs stories read out to it? Thus, Little Thespian should reconsider whether to allow them so much space in a theatre festival.

(From The Telegraph, 26 November 2016)