This year’s Sabhagar Theatre Festival by Centre Stage Creations and Sanskriti Sagar featured as centrepiece the Films and Theatre Society (Delhi), who must have a rollicking sense of humour for naming themselves with such an acronym. Despite it, however, the two FaTS productions written and directed in Hindi by Atul Satya Koushik did not carry much weight.
Koushik’s re-imagining of Ravana in Rāvan ki Rāmāyan does not discover anything new. For example, he could have gone to the ancient Adbhuta Rāmāyana, which accords Ravana a certain paternity status over Sita. He could have taken the recent Dravidian political angle, which hails Ravana as a defender against the Aryan-Sanskrit invasion of south India. But both these require some courage in today’s climate, so he skips them. Consequently, it just cannot compete with R. S. Manohar’s Tamil blockbuster, Ilankeswaran (“Lord of Lanka”), which scored over a thousand shows.
On the other hand, to whitewash Ravana’s character, he ignores the multiple episodes of abduction and molestation that led to umpteen curses heaped on Ravana. It is actually very difficult to make Ravana look good. So Puneet Issar gets caught in a lose-lose scenario, with nothing in the title role going for him except devotion, determination to avenge Surpanakha, respectful treatment of Sita, fair play, and the sudden betrayal of him by a comparatively scrawny Siva. Koushik’s lengthy, rhyming speeches may create memorable verse, but the cast’s stand-and-deliver technique produces a very static stage.
One hoped that a contemporary thriller would redeem FaTS, but implausibilities riddle Ballygunge 1990. The Kolkata locale makes no difference to the plot, but worse, since the actors speak poor Bengali, Koushik should have set his drama elsewhere linguistically. Besides, I cannot believe the “best known” Ballygunge bungalow can have such garish interior décor. Next, with a heroine named Vasuki, from the outset we can predict poison. And once the bodies start dropping, I cannot believe that the trapped man does not try to find some way out – of which old houses have plenty.
Given the weak script, Nishtha Paliwal Tomar performs convincingly as the wronged woman, adding to her portrayal of distressed Mandodari in Rāvan. Annup Sonii can only play an innocent second fiddle as she twists him round her finger. Koushik’s direction here works better than his writing.
(From The Times of India, 29 March 2019)