Because the Minerva festival receives generous public funding, it attracts more stringent scrutiny. Its attempt to replicate the failed model of the National School of Drama Mahotsav stupefies. Viewers had to choose between three productions for every time slot, reducing the 25-show extravaganza to 8 in practice. Scheduling daily matinees could have ensured greater outreach.
One wonders also about the selection process. NSD’s fascination with spectacle characterized most plays, many directed by NSD grads. The other criterion seemed to be smoke machines, which followed me wherever I went. Besides an NSD flag, a group evidently needs flash and fog to qualify. Of course this facilitates the fogging of critical thinking.
As I could feasibly watch only half of the 16 non-Bengal entries (unless I cloned myself), I first decided to catch all four classics reinterpreted on offer. Each one applied admirably beautiful local art, yet signified little by paying scant respect to their source texts. We can commend Hojang Taret, the Umbilical Theatre’s Manipuri version of Euripides’ problematic Phoenician Women, since most directors overlook this compression of the Jocasta story, but Oasis Sougaijam ignores the inconsistency in Euripides’ ending, where Antigone defies Creon’s order as well as accompanies Oedipus into exile. And he pronounces and spells the heroine as Jacosta (yes, rhyming with DaCosta).
The Assamese troupes turned unintendedly laughable. In Purbaranga’s Abhijnān: The Journey of the Ring, Gunakar Dev Goswami retells Shakuntalā, making the king love his ring and objectify Shakuntala. Only Goswami’s addition of speeches for the hunted deer and the netted fish inject an interesting nature-sensitivity.
Replica’s Crownless Prince condenses Hamlet into 80 minutes, and Bhaskar Boruah directs the Ghost to twitch limbs catatonically, face lit by a LED bulb under his hat. I didn’t know that rural Assamese spooks look and behave like that.
Vadodara’s M.S. University (strangely uncredited in the publicity) presented Andha Yug in Gujarati. Director Chavan Pramod tries to energize Dharamvir Bharati’s ponderous verse drama by using frenetic song and dance, which merely overdoses the preexisting sound and fury.
Then came three contemporary Hindi plays on current sociopolitical dangers, all surprisingly wordy, defeating their good purposes. From Pune, Aajkal’s rambling Zabriko, directed by Rishi Manohar, posits a disillusioned man who establishes his own nation. Guess what? It falls into the same pits that plague all lands.
From Patna, Raaga Repertory’s Foul Play, directed by Randhir Kumar in disjointed episodes, attacks all forms of discrimination, becoming a general lament. The constant video feeds smack of an unquestioning urge to earn the postmodern label.
The showpiece, Ansh’s 150-minute Rām starring Makarand Deshpande, disappoints. He acts a madman denied entry into a temple (he chants “marā” instead of “Ram”), befriended by a reasonable havildar (Nagesh Bhonsle), both of whom finally get lynched. But Deshpande’s endless punning and diversions into costume playacting from the Rāmāyana and Mahābhārata appear juvenile, in dire need of editing, and make light of too grave an issue barring just two or three scenes.
(From The Times of India, 28 February 2020)