I write this on World Theatre Day, at the end of Little Thespian’s Jashn-e-Rang festival. After exactly a year of pandemic closures I entered an auditorium again—despite warnings—only so as to show support to their intrepid initiative of holding their delayed tenth edition of the national theatre event. Although some city groups have staged plays recently, I stayed away on the logic that I could always see them at later performances. That could not have happened with teams travelling here from outside, hence I made an exception for Little Thespian’s landmark tenth. As it turned out, of the three troupes from Jabalpur, Azamgarh and Delhi that had confirmed participation, the first had to cancel, because Madhya Pradesh declared a total lockdown.
Premchand’s Budhi Kāki, by Sutradhar (Azamgarh), was preceded by a curtain-raiser: our local Indian Mime Theatre’s Mā Lakshmi Putulnāch Party, which proved the runaway hit of the festival. Niranjan Goswami scripted and directed this short piece way back in 1998, inspired by the rural form from Malda called Manab Putul, where humans act like puppets. The eponymous Putul Nach “party” puts on a romantic puppet play, which descends into comic mayhem when the lover-marionettes cut their strings and escape, hotly chased by their pursuers. The revival demonstrated that it could still win hearts and enthusiasm among all ages, and I strongly recommend that schools invite Indian Mime Theatre to present it as part of a workshop activity.
Indeed a tough act to follow, for Sutradhar’s interpretation of Premchand’s classic story about the cruel victimization of an old aunt. Abhishek Pandit directed it ensemble-style, the cast dressed in a uniform white and orange costume, taking turns to relate her hunger and oppression at the hands of her own family.
Collegiate Drama Society (Delhi) concluded Jashn-e-Rang with C. D. Sidhu’s Nāstik Shahid Bhagat Singh. Sidhu had set up this college group in the 1970s (not too many people have noticed that it bears his initials!) to produce his own plays, mainly composed in Punjabi. Now helmed by Ravi Taneja, CDS brought down the last part of Sidhu’s magnum-opus Bhagat Singh trilogy from the 1990s. Viewers expecting the freedom fighter’s revolutionary exploits can find them in the first two dramas. Here, based on primary research into his writings and prison diary, Sidhu dealt with his last few months in jail, ending with his hanging. A thoughtful work of conversations with the handful of people the revolutionary could talk to, it reflects on ideological conflicts and his belief in atheism.
[27 March 2021]