Group: Veena Pani Kala Mandir



Dramatist and director: Vasudev Bhatt

Recommended: 4 stars



Dramatist and director: Tapan Bhatt


Happily, an established festival from outside Kolkata organized an offshoot here, which bodes well for us, starved of national content. We hope Jairangam Fringes makes it an annual sojourn because, based on their selection this time, they take the job of curating seriously, unlike many local festivals. Little Thespian, the hosts, also deserve credit for collaborating readily.


Jairangam opened with two plays by Veena Pani Kala Mandir, Jaipur, who surprised with their high standards of subject, acting and music. The group mainly comprises members of the Bhatt clan originally hailing from Telangana, who in the 19th century invented in Jaipur the form called Tamasa – no relation of Marathi Tamasha – which presents four-hour-plus open-air musicals of traditional Rajasthani lore. I have never seen Tamasa, but the infectious experience compels me to request impresarios to bring this troupe back.


They staged an abridged one-hour version of Vritrāj, scripted and directed by Vasudev Bhatt. One of those folk stories that has immediate relevance, it features the eponymous hero hunting because food has run out, and encountering three deer, each of whom entreats him not to kill them as they have fawns waiting at home, but each promises to return and surrender. He lets them go, but when they eventually come back, he compassionately spares them, earning Siva’s boon.


This beautiful tale recalls the neighbouring Bishnois’ credo of loving and caring for wildlife. Bhatt frames it with a man caught for shooting blackbuck today, who learns through this narration that nobody should hunt for the thrill of it. Without fancy costumes or set (see photograph), Veena Pani overwhelm with their powerful singing voices and presentational transparency and sincerity. Three of the youngest, playing the deer, constitute the first female performers in the family and its seventh generation.


Writer-director Tapan Bhatt’s Dhābā satirizes Indian politics, no holds barred – one character lampoons our Prime Minister, and his party wear BJP colours, making me wonder whether Veena Pani dared to do this when the BJP ruled their state! All politicians are shown as corrupt opportunists and elections a sham. But the farce carries on too long; the grimmer tone of the ending should surface earlier. Both productions unnecessarily amplified their musical instruments.


(From The Times of India, 17 January 2020)