It is quite creditable for a young group like Santoshpur Anuchintan to organize a three-day national Hindi theatre festival, named Hriday Manch, even though they had help from the co-hosts, Sparsh Natya Rang of New Delhi. They only need to stick to the timings in their schedule more consciously for a perfect audience experience. What surprised me most pleasantly was the high quality of Anuchintan’s own activities, which I had not seen before.
Take their production Ghar by their dramatist-director Gaurav Das. Kolkatans can now boast of an original play in Hindustani and Punjabi—long absent from our stages. Not just that, Das weaves a sophisticated narrative with three main strands. In the background we view the legendary Punjabi qissā of Mirza and Sahiban, the foreground occupied by two other star-crossed romances, one of a Muslim girl who liked dancing with her male Sikh musician friend, and the other of homosexual love between an upper-class youth and an artisan. In all cases, societal pressure creates insurmountable impediments.
Das has a strong theatrical imagination and visual sense that augurs well for future projects. But he must ruthlessly cut the prolonged introductory scenes to get to the point: he has a wonderfully talented team that he should not feel the need to protect. While the male lovers’ attraction to each other requires more credible development, Ranjita Roy’s performance as the dancer Farzana amply makes up for it. Kneel Koushik’s simple yet symbolic, flexible sets for each locale provide appropriate scenic starkness.
Manu Mānas by Shadow Theatre Group (Bhopal), written and directed by Manoj Nair, seems inspired by Badal Sircar’s Evam Indrajit, where the mental creation of Manasi plays an important part. Nair presents an actor who becomes schizophrenically overpowered by an identity crisis that leads to dialogues with another actor, actually his subconscious. All very well, but Pirandello’s Henry IV and existentialism have done this theme to death, even in the context of psychological character-building in rehearsals.
Gaurav Das returned for an open-air show involving children from Ghasiara Anweshan. Titled Birsa Munda, composed and directed by him, it educates them about the tribal hero and draws contemporary relevance with a parallel story of corporates exploiting nature. Here, too, the livewire presence of Ranjita Roy proves what an asset Anuchintan has in their unit.
Sparsh Natya Rang contributed their hit, Pati Gaye ri Kathiawar, from the popular Sangitnatak by Marathi author Vyankatesh Madgulkar, adapted into Hindi by Sudhir Kulkarni. It tells the comic tale of a Subedar from Pune who goes tax-collecting to his lands in Kathiawar, where he sets up a rendezvous with a local woman. Unluckily for him, his wife back home has followed him in disguise. Ajit Chowdhury directs with broad farce recalling Tamasha, especially Rajinder Sharma’s bent and eccentric caricature of Zorawar, who owes the Subedar revenues. Unlike Sangitnatak, the principals here do not sing, resulting in a much-truncated rendition.