Wednesday, January 10, 2007

writers' bloc: epilogue and aaltoon paltoon

These are some random thoughts about the first two plays at Rage's Writers' Bloc-2. My review of the plays at Rage's Writers' Bloc-2 should appear in the March issue of Prithvi Theatre Notes.


Day 1: Maia Katrak's Epilogue
Director: Rajit Kapoor

9th Jan, 2007, Prithvi Theatre

The first play that flagged off the festival was Maia Katrak's Epilogue.

The play was about this dead man who wants to stand by his family in their trials. The family happens to be a Parsi family, and by an equally improbable happenstance, the old man happens to be Sohrab Ardeshir. In his efforts, he is aided by 2 soldiers, also dead, who're stranded (by some ingenious metaphysical occasion) in the middle of heavenly nowhere.

While the basic premise of the play was intended to be outlandish, the acting and the direction proved to be tame and at odds with the writing. Also one suspected, Maia Katrak's intention in using this other-worldly device was not exactly to shed light on the one we know, (as Dostoevsky does with his brilliant, and hilarious, short story Bobok, where dead people talk to each other while the protagonist listens to them) and neither was it to satirise it (as Brecht does in the opening scene of The Good Person of Setchuan where three gods descend to Setchuan). The impression that one got at the end of the play was that the attempt was only to reaffirm the motives, actions and conventions of the world of the play, which i turn were rather close to the familiar world outside.

While I expected some irony, structural or textual, in a play with such a delightfully audacious premise, the play left me cold by cheerfully, and coldly, charging through "the story". What could've been a penetrating device, turned into a merely charming novelty

On the bright side, the play was genuinely funny in parts, and the actors had the audience eating out of their hands, mostly by virtue of lines easy to speak and easier to laugh at. Neil Bhoopalam and Mukul Chadda excelled as the stranded dead soldiers, particularly Neil Bhoopalam. (One small question: why were they soldiers again? Was it a bad textual pun because they were stranded in no-man's land?)

Expectedly, Sohrab Ardeshir was funny.

The play was preceded by a
superb platform performance, an unplugged session by Mumbai-based band Minority Report where they played mostly original music. Very enjoyable.


Day 2: Irawati Karnik's Aaltoon Paltoon
Director: Adwait Karnik
10th Jan, 2007, Prithvi Theatre

If the outlandish Epilogue was acted out with the blandest realism, the utterly realistic Aaltoon Paaltoon benefited greatly from actors who pushed the limits of action, within the limitations imposed by the play.

I can't say I followed the whole play, thanks to my non-existent Marathi, but the actors were more than engaging.

The play was about 2 characters who meet at an old-fashioned dresswala's shop. Niranjan (played by Subodh Khanolkar) lives at the shop, and Rama (Leena Bhagwat) takes shelter on a rainy night.

The tension between the two characters was maintained superbly by the actors, and Subodh Khanolkar as Niranjan was superlative.

The play was marred by unimaginative direction, which turned what could've been an almost surrealistic encounter into a mere meeting.
The latent violence that could've been tapped into a situation such as the play's was completely missing. Perhaps this was a textual, but I wouldn't really know, guessing as I was at the dialogue. The action shifts out of the room a couple of times, to show Rama with her husband, and this completely mars the play. The encounter between the Niranjan and Rama may have worked much better, and been open to greater interpretations, if the room had been the only setting, and husband been a figure in Rama's story.

The play succumbed to unpardonable cliches, such as in the lovemaking scene.

But in spite of the unimaginative direction, the play still manages to do well, mostly because of the actors. One image that stuck in my mind is the pre-set, which has a sharp profile spot on a hairdresser's model, with a wig for practice. The closing set in the play is similar, except the bust doesn't have a wig, and Niranjan places the topi (which is a symbol for the games Rama and Niranjan play) on the model. The closing set becomes a powerful symbol of how the encounter
unalterably changes the lives of the characters.

The light execution deserves special mention.
Very rarely is a play drastically affected by the lighting. It occasionally happens when the light design and execution are superlative, but mostly when the light execution is so bad that it calls attention to itself. The light execution for Aaltoon Paltoon was an example of the latter. The light intensity varied for no obvious reason in the middle of action, not once but many times over. The transitions were all jerky, and terribly uncomfortable to watch.


PS: If you find any other reviews on the web, please drop me a line.


Related links: Schedule on Mumbai Theatre Guide, Rage's Writers' Bloc-2 feedback blog


Category: theatre, mumbai

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