Despite exacting predecessors, and a seating arrangement that threatened to drive audience away, the NSD Repertory Company put up a good rendition of the “Viraasat” trilogy

The main attraction of going to the theatre during high summer is watching a play in the comfort of an air-conditioned auditorium. “Viraasat”, presented by the Repertory Company of National School of Drama recently, belied this expectation. A significant contemporary trilogy written by Mahesh Elkunchwar in Marathi, titled “Wada Chire Bandi”, and translated into Hindi by Vasant Dev as “Viraasat” was mounted by the Repertory on an open-air makeshift stage.

With a view to provide some relief to the audience from the humid weather hand fans were kept on the seats. The way the audience used them, they proved to be more of a source of irritation than relief. The running time for the trilogy was more than three hours. And it took the audience considerable time to acclimatise themselves to the humidity.

The first part of the trilogy was directed by the late Satyadev Dubey for the Repertory Company of NSD in 1985. Featuring great performers like Uttara Baokar (Bhauji), Shrivallabh Vyas (Bhaskar), Govind Namdev (Mas’sab), Anang Desai (Sudhir) and Dolly Ahluwalia (Anjali), the production evoked a great deal of enthusiasm among the theatre lovers of Delhi. It bore the stamp of the magnificent artistry of a great director creating theatrical imageries that were at once striking, poetically intense and pregnant with meaning. These imageries have remarkable staying power.

One of the most memorable images was the one created by Uttara Baokar as Bhauji, when she adorns herself with a variety of jewellery made for the women of the grand old family of Deshpande, which were kept in a box in the custody of Bhaskar, the eldest son. Covered from head to foot with ornaments in the stillness of the night, she goes into a trance, reliving the glorious moments lived by the ladies of the family when they entered the house as brides. Her husband watches her in the dazzling avatar; he is mesmerised. A powerful ironic note is struck when this family treasure is lost forever by the foolish act of Ranju, Bhaskar’s daughter, who elopes with her teacher, taking with her the box containing the jewellery. However, the family reconciles with the irreparable loss because the girl is brought back home by the uncle to safeguard the honour of the family.

Again, the first part followed by the second part directed by E. Alkazi were presented by Living Theatre in 1992. Neat, thoroughly rehearsed, these two productions offered gripping moments to the audience. The third part of “Viraasat” is being staged in Delhi by the Repertory Company of NSD probably for the first time in recent memory. To stage all three parts in one evening is a challenge to the director as well as the performers.

“Viraasat” deals with the disintegration of feudalism and, with it, the decline of the landed aristocracy unable to come to terms with the changing socio-economic system. They cling to their old values. The power of the play lies in the light it throws on a single feudal family as a metaphor to reflect a larger social phenomenon. This family of Brahmanical aristocracy has no source of income, but the family expenses keep increasing. Now that the head of the family, Vyankatesh, is dead, to maintain its old traditions and prestige it needs a huge amount of money to perform the last rites.

Set in rural Maharashtra, the inhabitants of this huge, old mansion are at war against themselves. Everybody feels aggrieved. Bhaskar, the elder brother, claims that he has been looking after family affairs and that the middle brother, who is working in Mumbai, is not helping the family financially. The latter, in turn, complains that he is getting nothing out of his share in the property in the village. He is determined to give his son the best education to enable him to get a higher education in the U.S. The third one is Chandu, unmarried, who does all the domestic chores. He hurts himself with a tractor and the family is facing such penury that it is unable to get him treated at a hospital. Prabha is the lone sister, a spinster, and for years she has been nursing a grudge against a family that has thwarted her dreams of getting higher education. Except Chandu, everybody wants to have her or his share in the family gold and property. Bhaskar’s son, Parag, has no interest in studies and has become a drunkard. Bhaskar’s daughter, Ranju, lives in a dream world, fantasising about becoming a heroine. All the characters are trapped in chaos. Dadi is in a vegetative state, occasionally shouting. Her vague and strident mumblings add to the morbid atmosphere prevailing in the house.

In the second part we meet two more characters — Nandini, Parag’s bride, and Abhay, son of Anjali and the second brother Sudhir, who has returned from America after getting a degree in medicine.

It presents a disturbing picture of post-Independence rural India being ruled by mafias and lumpen elements. Parag’s lumpen qualities and his association with anti-social elements have helped him to bring a certain prosperity to the impoverished family.

One by one most of the members of the once-grand family disappear — spinster Prabha, affected by deep depression, dies; Chandu, the younger brother, leaves home. Towards the end Chandu emerges briefly, leaving Parag, his wife and Abhay in the mansion, signalling the end of an era and the beginning of a new one.

The play is directed by Anuradha Kapoor. Despite the inordinately long running time of the production and the irritating seating arrangement, most of the audience remained till the end of the show.

It is not fair to compare her production with that of Satyadev Dubey and Alkazi, which will be remembered as masterpieces in terms of production values and reinterpretation. The highlight of her production was that she captured the authentic milieu for the action. Her production offered intimate and engaging moments. The entire cast revealed vitality, displaying histrionic talent.