The Sindhi Drama Festival held recently in the city served up a veritable treat for theatre enthusiasts looking for a bit of comic relief.

The response of the audience to the two-day Sindhi Drama Festival organised recently by Sindhi Academy, Delhi, at Shri Ram Centre, illustrated that there is no dearth of audience for Sindhi theatre in the Capital. The festival, featuring immensely popular comedies under the direction of seasoned Delhi-based stage directors, attracted discerning theatre-goers, proving that, in fact, Sindhi theatre-goers harbour a great passion for comedies. Thanks to organisations like Sindhi Academy, Delhi, now the Sindhi stage is being enriched with true comic spirit.

The festival opened with “Vichoon”, directed by Manohar Khushalani and adapted in Sindhi from Wasi Khan’s Hindi translation of Moliere’s “Les Fourberies de Scapin”. The Sindhi version is written by Mohini Hingorani. Titled “Bicchu”, Wasi’s translated version was first produced by E. Alkazi for the National School of Drama in 1963. It was again directed by Mohan Maharish for NSD in 1985. The timeless comedy is frequently seen on the Delhi stage.

Its theme is broadly based on the lost and found formula, a yarn spun countless times in Bollywood. What is fresh about the play is the idiosyncrasy of the rich and the lovers’ desperation to fight against odds to marry and live happily ever after. Above all, the play shows the superiority of the folk wisdom of the domestic help, capable of resolving conflicts in a hilarious way that brings the comedy to a happy ending.

Manohar’s production is neat. He has skilfully exploited comic situations in the play. One particularly hilarious scene features the domestic help beating up one of the rich parents hidden in a huge sack and in the process getting exposed. This is indeed a vital comic situation which is aptly handled by the director. Actors have effectively used gag-lines to evoke laughter and the director, adding his own innovation, has employed music and dance to mark the wedding celebration, effectively portraying the manifestation of joy.

Harish Kotwani as Vadhumal, valet to the Motumal family, imparts comic rhythm to the production. His valet is cunning and street smart, a man who keeps changing his behaviour like a chameleon to deceive his victims. His Vadhumal resorts to unethical means but his intentions are good. He does it all to help out young lovers as well as to teach a lesson to the rich and arrogant who consider themselves clever. Usha Shahani as Hardasmal, one of the victims of Vadhumal, Saurabh Golani as Parasram, valet to the Hardamal household and partner of Vadhumal in weaving the web of deception, and Ashok Malkani as Motumal, one of the rich parents, prove to be effective comic performers.

The second comedy featured at the festival was the Sindhi version of Vijay Tendulkar’s evergreen comedy “Pahije Jatiche” (known in Hindi as “Jat Hi Puchho Sadhu Ki”). The Sindhi title is “Muhini Zaat”, a translation by Asha Bhatia. Hindi stage directors have always been fascinated by this comedy. One of the leading groups presented more than 100 shows of the play under the direction of Rajinder Nath. Again, under his direction, the Repertory Company of NSD has performed many shows of the play at different festivals and in Delhi.

Director Prakash Bhatia, who also directed the play in Hindi for Yatrik, has introduced to the production under review the element of dance and music at a few places to embellish it. The recognisable characters, the contemporary appeal of its subject, the cast conflict and its earthy humour make the production at once hilarious and socially relevant. In fact, the play is a powerful comic exposure of the pathetically low educational standards in small town colleges. Prakash Bhatia has designed his production and composed the scenes in a way that ensured the flow of dramatic action and enough space for the performers to enact their roles.

Though the majority of performers have little experience of acting on the stage, they reveal their histrionic talents. Babu as Gokal, the protagonist, gives an impressive performance, bringing to the fore the social and economic hardships a young man belonging to a backward community has to confront while attempting to elevate his social status. He portrays his character with ease and without bitterness against his adversaries. Yogesh Mulchandani plays Babna, the ring leader who, after an initial violent confrontation with his class teacher Gokal, becomes his trusted friend and considers himself physically strong and mentally alert. Towards the end, though, Babna finally turns out to be foolish and cowardly, evoking laughter. Deepak Gurnani as the principal of a mismanaged college, Mohit Gurnani as the chairman of the college and Shital Marwah in her debut performance as the niece of the chairman contribute to make the production a hilarious one.