Group: rikh- /Padatik

Director: Vinay Sharma

Dramatist: Gabriel Emanuel


Vinay Sharma is a class act in this Padatik–Rikh co-production. If acting forms the essence of theatre, one cannot hope for a more unobstructed demonstration of it than here, undoubtedly his tour de force as an actor in the three decades I have seen him perform.


But first the play itself. Written by Canadian dramatist Gabriel Emanuel, it distinctly improves upon his much better-known monologue, Einstein, which Naseeruddin Shah has presented throughout India. The reason is very simple: Einstein attempts to encapsulate a whole life, an impossible task, whereas Mark Twain: Live in Bombay! confines itself to the author’s lecture at the Novelty Theatre, Bombay, in 1896, through which Emanuel draws on some other important moments from Twain’s career. The element of pleasant surprise also figures, because few Indians know that Twain not only visited India, travelling up to places like Varanasi, but even performed here. Emanuel’s imaginative reconstruction of the talk unearths material from Twain’s corpus politically relevant today (some suggested by Sharma to Emanuel), and naturally prefers the typically American tall tale and expansive humour (epitomized in the famous misquote, “the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated”).


Sharma brings every precept of Stanislavskian realism into his portrait. He looks the spitting image of Twain, which we can verify by checking out photos online. But he has also conducted research down to minutiae: he tailored his suit to match Twain’s favourite with patch-on pockets and waistcoat, accessoried with red rose and polished tan shoes that set off the classic all-white. He cultivates a slight swagger and, skilfully, just the right degree of American accent that provides verisimilitude without affecting audience comprehension. And, most impressive, he sustains this flawlessly for nearly two hours (including intermission), when most Indian soloists balk at crossing 60 minutes, fearing loss of their stamina as well as spectators’ attention spans.


As director, Sharma devotes equal care to props and music. The journal he occasionally consults bears apparently authentic 19th-century stitching, and Twain’s books on the desk sport their first-edition covers. He selects contemporaneous background tracks: ragtime and work songs. Lighting designer Sudip Sanyal could project historic ads, posters and notices of the event too, in keeping with the antiquarian touch. The only improvisation that can get out of control occurs when Emanuel inserts his stock audience-participation device, making Twain invite a volunteer, which ended anticlimactically in the show I attended. And a more conclusive finale seems warranted. Other than that, bravissimo!


(From The Times of India, 8 March 2019)