Dharamvir Bharati deserves this space for his eminence in Hindi literature, not Surnai Theatre and Folk Arts Foundation for their eminently forgettable production on his work, Shabd Lila, presented by Centre Stage Creations and Sanskriti Sagar. Conceptualizer and compiler Ila Arun has learnt little from the many stirring epistolary plays – whether fact, like Bernard Shaw’s correspondence with Mrs Patrick Campbell in Dear Liar, or fiction like A. R. Gurney’s Love Letters. The above examples never bored us despite the characters supposedly reading from letters written at their desks or received in their hands. Here, quite embarrassingly, the renowned actors stumbled over words as they peered into their files, as if they had rehearsed only a few times.
Arun links Bharati’s narrative poem Kanupriya (1959) with his celebrated Kurukshetra drama Andha Yug (1954) around the central figure of Krishna in both, hence Lila in the title. Biographically, she interprets Bharati himself as Krishna the lover, based on his posthumous Ek Sahityik ke Prempatra, the billet-doux to his second wife Pushpa Bharati. She likens the Radha-Krishna relationship to the apparently bohemian pact sealed (with Ganga water) by Bharati, his first wife Kanta and Pushpa, vowing to live together. But later, Bharati divorced Kanta and married Pushpa. Kanta’s version obviously goes untold, whereas in Krishna lore, Rukmini’s feelings find detailed lyrical exposition. Scope perhaps exists to compare Kanta’s presumed reaction with Gandhari’s views on Krishna in Andha Yug.
The dichotomy between the romantic Krishna in the Bhagavata and the political Krishna in the Mahabharata has long intrigued scholars, but Arun does not attempt to bridge the two. She could have excerpted some passages from Bharati’s Yuddha Yatra, his war reportage for Dharmayug during the Bangladesh liberation, to connect Andha Yug with his personal experience, paralleling what she does with Kanupriya.
K. K. Raina should direct Arun (the Sutradhar) and Varun Badola (as Bharati) to memorize the parts fully, even if holding their scripts to represent the epistles. Because Rajeshwari Sachdev (Pushpa/Radha) learnt her lines, at least her performance never falters, though she portrays a typically coy heroine. Raina clearly senses the inadequacy in enactment, since at every opportunity he turns on the video: utterly unimaginative time-lapse footage of swirling clouds and flowing water, sometimes pausing for no reason, and animation battle sequences better suited for children’s TV.
(From The Times of India, 2 August 2019)