SRC Repertory Company’s staging of “Khel Khilari Khel” diluted the satire that characterised the Manoj Mitra play on which it was based
A few years ago the Shri Ram Centre Repertory Company presented well-known Bengali playwright Manoj Mitra’s “Bagiya Banchcha Ram Ki” under the direction of Assam-based actor-director Baharul Islam. It was a neat production but the comic element remained unexplored. This past week SRC presented another of Mitra’s comedy plays, “Rajdarshan”, as “Khel Khilari Khel”. The first half tends to be flat, while the second half manages hilarious moments. The production is marred by the amorphous directorial treatment.
These productions of Mitra’s plays by SRC do not give the Hindi theatre audience an idea of his powerful satirical comment on society and human nature. However, we do get some idea of Mitra’s art through his play “Bagiya Banchcha Ram Ki” directed by Rajinder Nath for Abhiyan, and another of his plays, “Chak Bhanga Modhu”, directed by the late Amitava Dasgupta, which was presented by the Brechtiyan Mirror.
Translated by Pratibha Agarwal into Hindi, “Khel Khilari Khel” is directed by Sameep Singh, chief of SRC repertory company. The play is a satirical comment on the decadence of the ruling class and its unethical pursuit to grab power. We are shown two worlds — the world of the poor and marginalised, and the decaying world of the rulers and its ideology of deception.
The play opens with a poor Brahmin forcing a strong man to carry him on his shoulders all the way to the royal court to receive charity from the king. After an arduous journey, the Brahmin and his helper reach the capital. To their shock they are told that the king has died. Hectic preparations are underway to give the king a royal cremation. In a desolate place Lord Saturn — Shani — is watching with a sly smile the plight and utter disappointment of these two people.
Now there is a twist to the plot. Shani persuades the demoralised and poor terror-stricken Brahmin to transplant his soul into the dead body of the king to experience the life of the king, enjoying his royal authority. But Shani at the same time warns his helper to be on a constant vigil over the body of the Brahmin, because when emergency arises the Brahmin can return to his body. The process of transplantation of souls sets further developments afoot.
Lo and behold, as soon as the dead king comes to life an atmosphere of terror, wonder and shock descends on the royal palace.
The Brahmin is flabbergasted to land in a wonderful world full of courtiers richly dressed and a world abundant in wealth beyond his wildest imagination. The atmosphere has become all topsy-turvy. Those who have conspired to kill the ailing, debauched king, unfit to rule, are running for their lives. Gradually, the Brahmin starts to enjoy himself in his new avatar.
A cunning courtier suspects their ruler. The Brahmin’s faithful helper is terribly worried about the protection of the body of the Brahmin and is running to remote areas with the body to save it from being taken over by the royal courtiers in pursuit of their ulterior motives.
The production is slow in the first half. In his zeal to innovate, Sameep tries to use Bollywood-style dance sequences, which tend to be bawdy. The character of Shani is projected in a queer manner.
Similarly, the use of panels to capture the ambience of the royal palace crowds the acting space. Suddenly the pace becomes farcical and very fast. The title of the original play, “Rajdarshan”, implies the exposure of ideology of the ruling class steeped in deception and cruelty. Through the character of the Brahmin’s helper it shows the sincerity of the common man who is subjected to exploitation. Changing the title to “Khel Khilari Khel” is an attempt to trivialise the satire inherent in the play. However, Sameep has left his mark as director and actor in some of his previous works. His direction of Utpal Dutt’s “Teen ki Talwar” was impressive. Similarly, his performance in “Jisne Lahore Naheen Dekhya” as the humane maulvi is by far his best one. Atul Jassi is a talented actor. In the play under review, he is cast in the role of the Brahmin’s helper and imparts some vitality to the production. Shrikant Verma plays the role of the most hated king. He makes his scenes lively and humorous. He would have been comically more effective had he not resorted to farce.