While Anup Hazarika's Assamese version of “Charandas Chor” was impressive, Manav Kaul's “Park” failed to leave a lasting impact during Bharat Rang Mahotsav.

The 13th Bharat Rang Mahotsav organised by National School of Drama got off to a brilliant start with the presentation of “Charandas Chor” in Assamese on Friday evening at New Delhi's Kamani auditorium to a packed hall. The selection of this play as the inaugural theatrical piece of the two-week theatre utsav is significant. Based on a Rajasthani tale by Vijaydan Detha and conceived and directed by legendary theatre artiste Habib Tanvir, who first presented it with his tribal artists of Naya Theatre in 1974, has undoubtedly occupied the place of modern classic in the history of contemporary Indian Theatre Movement.

It reflects the vitality and contemporary nature of Indian theatre rooted in the soil. Habib's superb innovative artistry captured the attention not only of Indian theatre practitioners but also of the western theatre world. Its selection as the opening piece is a tribute to India's one of the greatest theatre pioneers who evolved a truly Indian theatre idiom.

It is also significant that the celebrated play is being directed by a talented young director, imparting it a distinctly Assamese flavour, displaying complete fidelity to the original dramatic text. Presented by Ba (The Creative Breeze), director Anup Hazarika, a graduate from National School of Drama, transferred the play's Chhattisgarhi atmosphere to the Assamese culture. It is heartening to see that a young graduate from NSD is exploring new meaning in Indian traditional art forms and reinterpreting a path-breaking earlier work like “Charandas Chor” rather than imitating western trends in theatrical arts.

At the level of form, Anup has recreated Assam's Nagara Naam, a folk musical form, to tell the story of a thief who is honest enough to declare that thieving is his profession and dares to adhere to his principles of truth even at the cost of his life. The director has also incorporated in his production other musical forms of Assam like the boat racing and marriage songs.

All these elements woven into the basic structure of the narrative contribute to make the production visually elegant. Blending the stylised movements with comic and farcical elements, the production has rhythmic flow. But at places the form's beauty becomes more dominating, distracting attention from the dramatic content. However, in totality the production is lively, entertaining, moving and captivating.

Habib's “Charandas Chor” ends with the song “Ek chor ne rang jamaya jee, such bolke”, highlighting the moral and ethical nobility of a so called anti-social person. The same thought is expressed by Anup's elaborately composed chorus celebrating the sacrifice of a thief who rose to become a tragic hero by upholding high moral principles.

Jitumoi Gohain as Charandas gives a brilliant account of himself and so does Pakija begum as the Queen who falls for Charandas who refuses to accept her hospitality and her marriage proposal. The game of cat and mouse played by Charandas and Hawaldar (Chandan Boruah) is remarkable for its comic effect.

“Park”

Jointly written and directed by Kumud Mishra and Manav Kaul, “Park” was showcased at the festival at Shri Ram Centre offering amusing moments to the audience. Presented by Aranya Theatre Group, Mumbai, the play is set in a park in an unidentified locale. There are three benches and three strangers, who try to occupy the bench of their choice. These strangers have their own story that is revealed during the course of their acrimonious confrontations. One is worried about his little son, a slow learner, another is suffering from mental ailment and has come to plead with his reluctant doctor to continue his treatment. The third one is a teacher who is leading a colourless and loveless life and comes to the park to watch a lady teacher of his school while she comes to the balcony of her house to get her hair dried out. There is hardly any climax.

Park reminds us of Edward Albee's “The Zoo Story”, which is set in a park in New York. It has startling climax and it brought Albee to the eminence among theatre – going public of America. Kumud and Manav try to use the quibbling of the characters to occupy the bench of their choice as a metaphor to focus on border conflicts among various countries. But the attempt appears superficial. Compared with earlier works of Manav, “Park” is a slightly theatrical work.