“Tin Ki Talwar” is a commentary on commercial theatre and politics of the times.
The plays of Utpal Dutt, India's foremost political playwright-director with a Marxist worldview, are back on the Delhi stage. Though branded Trotskyite by Indian communists, his works reveal profound humanism and unshakable faith in Marxist aesthetics.
He brought his productions to Delhi when he was physically active. His popular and controversial play “Kallol” was featured at Nehru Shatabdi Natya Samaroh in 1989.To watch him on stage in the role of Rear Admiral Rattray was a great theatrical experience.
This past week Dutt's “Tiner Talwar”, his first major work for People's Little Theatre was presented in Pratibha Agarwal's Hindi translation as “Tin Ki Talwar” by Shri Ram Centre Repertory at its auditorium. Probably the Hindi version of the play is being staged in Delhi for the first time in recent memory. Its powerful theme , brilliant acting and perceptive direction offers the audience spell-binding moments.
Much of the action takes place in a rehearsal room. We meet Beni Madhav, the worried, tired and desperate director of the Great Bengal Opera. The performers are rehearsing the play “Mayur Vahan.” The popular heroine — the crowd-puller — has joined a rival theatre company.
A determined Beni Madhav brings in a fruit-seller girl from the streets, works hard on her acting skills and transforms her into a sought-after heroine. The play captures the landscape of commercial theatre in Bengal during the end of the 19th Century where cut-throat competition among theatre companies and poaching of successful heroines invariably drawn from red-light areas were the norm.
The play is directed by Sameep Singh, a graduate from the National School of Drama and a former actor of NSD Repertory Company. The original play runs for nearly three hours. Sameep has imaginatively pruned it to two hours, yet retaining its structural harmony. In contrast to the spectacular theatre of Dutt, Sameep's production is austere which concentrates on the action in progress.
This is a multi-layered production. At one level it exposes commercial theatre which presents cheap entertainment bordering on vulgarity. This theatre was far removed from the plight of the people suppressed by British rulers. It was escapist and “Tin Ki Talwar” also exposes degenerate theatre owners who took pride in keeping concubines.
But at the core of the production is the dialectical debate between Priyanath and Beni Madhav about the urgency to revolt against commercial theatre and form a people's theatre. At another level, it shows the inadequacies of theatre when it comes to providing for the actors. Director Beni Madhav surrenders to the humiliating demands of owner Veer Krishna Da as his theatre has to survive.
The play culminates into a denouement that is gripping and thought-provoking, inspiring theatre artistes to transform their fake sword of tin into a vehicle of mass struggle against colonial rulers.
The play is aptly cast . Atul Jassi as Beni Madhav — an alcoholic and beleaguered director, gives a convincing performance. Pooja Gupta's Maina transforms herself well — from a poor street fruit-seller to a charming actress who is forced to become the concubine of the company's owner. She finally finds liberation. She has a fine voice and an impressive stage presence.
Another performance of quality is from Shrikant as the debauch owner of the company. His movements, facial expressions, cunning smile and pompous display of his wealth bring out the traits of his character well. Jatin Sarana as Priyanath, an idealistic youth and a rebel involved in creating socially relevant theatre is also convincing.