The Vinod Doshi Theatre festival returned to Pune with a new name ‘Saarang Theatre Festival’ ( Feb. 25– Mar. 1). It is a much sought after event for theatre aficionados in the city who wait to experience theatre from different parts of the country. The festival endeavours to showcase a modest cross-section of multi-lingual plays with divergent themes and other experiments in form and format. Alongside theatre veterans, this festival regularly showcases young and budding talent.
This edition of the festival began with Atul Kumar’s ‘Detective 9-2-11,’ a Comic Noir,’ which is contending with plagiarism charges and the group has decided to withdraw further performances unless cleared of these allegations. In fact, many of these allegations appeared on social media on the eve of the Pune performance. In all fairness, I will thus refrain from commenting about this performance. However, I would like to emphasise that the attempts to evoke Mumbai of the black and white era did seem caricature like and often too obvious for any subtle enunciations.
New Marathi play
Directed by Pune-based Suraj Nandkumar Parasnis, ‘Daavikadun Chauthi Building,’ the new Marathi play was a major disappointment. The play narrates four different stories set in a housing society bound together by a common event. It needs further improvement in many areas including script, acting and stage craft to say the least. Spread over 110 minutes, the length felt like a significant shortcoming owing to its poor dialogue and propensity to repeat much that was already said. There is no novelty in showcasing parallel stories which have become a convenient narrative trope and perhaps a bit over stretched now. Though the play engages with contemporary concerns such as creation of an online identity, youth’s distance from their parents and love in contemporary times, it fails to delineate these issues with an effective imagination.
From real life incident
Next day’s play was ‘Chandala, Impure,’ (Tamil) directed by Koumarane Valavane and performed by Indianostrum Theatre, Puducherry. Itis an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ As the title suggests, the interpretation of Romeo and Juliet is firmly embroiled in caste issues. The play states things that are known to all yet the simple appears profound which is an admirable task to accomplish. ‘Chandala, Impure’ features the love story of Jack and Janaki. Jack is a Dalit boy who falls in love with Janaki from an upper caste. They elope to get married resulting in Janani’s family hiring contract killers to eliminate both to safeguard their honour and chastity.
From ‘Chandala – Impure’
In the director’s note, Koumarane Valavane writes, “The choice to do Romeo and Juliet was triggered by the honour killings in Tamil Nadu. The story that has left a deep impression on us is of Shankar and Kausalya. Shankar, Kausalya’s lower caste husband, was killed in broad daylight by her family.” This in my opinion is really contemporary theatre. Why adapt otherwise? What is the role of adaptations unless they help to dialogue or reinterpret the past and also look at the present? Besides, Valavane’s inclusion of folk music, puppetry usually performed by members of a lower caste adds new registers thereby making the play more contextually relevant. This is art for our times and I hope many more will be able to see it across the country.
Mohit Takalkar is a Pune favourite. I have fond memories of watching several plays by his theatre group, Aasakta Kalamanch. His latest, ‘Chaheta’ is based on Palestinian playwright Amir Nizar Zuabi’s play. As an extension of his last attempt, ‘Mein hoon Yusuf aur yeh hai mera bhai,’ this play too deals with the Palestinian issue using Abraham’s story of nearly sacrificing his son as a metaphor. Largely abstractionist in treatment, the play could further improve in terms of performances and the enactment of abstraction, which is often an impediment as it is in this case. The vocabulary seemed jaded, its minimalism too archaic for an attempt of this kind.
Theatre veteran Sunil Shanbag’s ‘Deewar’ imaginatively revisits and reconstructs this 1945 play written and staged by Prithviraj Kapoor. In the process, he adds newer insights to an old text while rendering it contemporary.
Shanbag has always endorsed the political and this one is no different with its avowal of farmers’ struggles, caste-based politics and other relevant concerns. A wall on the stage separates the brothers and results in family conflict — which stands as a metaphor for the many walls that we have created in our minds and amongst us. This dialogue of tradition with the modern is indeed noteworthy.