The Narada (from ancient myth, not nascent media) of Kolkata theatre, Vinay Sharma, follows the footsteps of the sage who used to interrogate the gods with awkward questions that none could answer. He does this twice in quick succession, on two new plays written and directed by him, produced by -rikh and Padatik.
I can’t think of any local dramatist well-read enough to have drawn inspiration from such diverse classics as the Pali Therigāthā of Buddhist women’s verse, the Gāthā Saptasati attributed to Hala of Prakrit love poems (both 2000 years old), and Bullhe Shah’s 18th-century secular Sufi Punjabi lyrics. Yet Sharma’s Yahān sounds entirely contemporary; indeed, with its two actors, in the same series as his previous two-handers Do Ādmi Do Kursiyān and Camera Obscuras. In common with them, Yahān also reveals Sharma’s affinity for Beckett, its title recalling Beckett’s What Where, while the beginning struck me as highly influenced by Beckett’s duos, even by his precise floor lighting in Footfalls. Trust Sharma to bridge Indian ancients with European moderns so fluidly.
Sanchayita Bhattacharjee and Anubha Fatehpuria strongly enact female doppelgangers trapped in an existentialist limbo, transmigrating from one life to another in a neverending cycle, without any progress. Their viraha from love – religious (Therigāthā), romantic (Saptasati), spiritual (Bullhe Shah), to put it simplistically – remains constant as they play off each other like mirror images, incorporating T’ai Chi movements. I would prefer brighter colours in their dresses, and an intimate space to heighten their intensity.
The larger cast and broad comedy (most inventively subtitled “stand-up sit-down lie-down drop-dead”) of Diversion Slash Just Joking suits the proscenium. The 2500-year-young Nachiketa feels utterly depressed in the 21st century, though his vital signs show no decline. His doctor prescribes that he should compose a script poking fun at his woes. Methinks Sharma attempts self-medication here and succeeds in achieving a clean bill of health – except for a pigeon obsessed about his droppings, which returns so often that it stops being funny.
Sharma’s “nugatory” nugget of a note invokes “pataphysics”, the non-science coined by Alfred Jarry, whose brilliant parody Ubu Roi Kolkata has probably never seen staged. As a fake doctor, I recommend Sharma directs it next. Jarry’s zany madness informs this play, chiefly targeting politicians (especially their statues on which birds love to drop) and other establishment figures, including both teachers and gangsters (Sharma in a welcomeback appearance). Ashok Singh gives a chiselled performance as poor Nachiketa. Bhattacharjee and Fatehpuria quick-change through multiple bizarre costumes compensating for their wan wardrobe in Yahān.
(From The Telegraph, 30 April 2016)