Interesting themes and inventive production design marked Mahindra's annual festival in the Capital.

The Seventh Mahindra Theatre Festival, which ended in Delhi recently, was remarkable for variety of thematic concerns, innovative presentation techniques, intricate artistry and emotional depth. We watched two modern Indian classics — “Adhe Adhure” and “Nagamandala” — which were crafted in an articulate manner. There were plays that captured the poignant world of marginalised people, apart from a play that depicted the blatant violations of human rights by a colonial force in the name of defending democracy. The festival was indeed a celebration of excellence in theatre.

Written by Hassan Abdulrazzak and presented by Akvarious Productions under the direction of Akarsh Khurana, “Baghdad Wedding” (English) depicts the tangled and troubled lives of three young people against the backdrop of the American invasion of Iraq. The play opens in London and then the action shifts to Baghdad. One of the characters is a medical doctor-turned-writer, and literature is his passion. Another is an engineer. A female doctor suffers the agony of a marriage that turned into a disaster. The engineer and the female doctor fall in love. Their romantic scenes are tinged with bitterness. The engineer wants the doctor to accompany him to London but she prefers to stay in her country to do her bit for her people oppressed by a foreign power.

Conceived imaginatively, the production captures the vast landscape of a disturbed country. The dramatic action moves in a rhythmic manner to different locales. It projects with telling effect the torture chamber in which people are subjected to physical, psychological and sexual abuse. The torture often becomes so brutal that prisoners die at the hand of their tormentors. The production is a bold political statement that shocks the audience into indignant awareness about the dangers of neo-colonialism, unmasking the cruel face of colonialism, which under the guise of liberation, occupies vulnerable countries. Nimrat Kaur as the female doctor gives a riveting performance bringing alive her complicated character.

Girish Karnad's “Nagamandala” is very complex dramatic piece. It has multiple layers and stories within the story, and to establish the relationship of the subplot with the main plot is a challenging directorial work. Director Abinash Sarma's “Nagamandala” in Assamese featured at the META festival is one of the best productions of the play seen on the Delhi stage during the past two decades.

In terms of stage design, costumes and stylised movements, the production is visually stunning. The use of offstage music based on ragas is powerful enough to produce intense emotional impact. The director and his cast gradually create an intense atmosphere, enabling the female protagonist Rani to reveal her inner world. A huge backdrop of fabric is provided in the bedroom to create the illusion of night with stylised light effects. This bedroom is dramatically vital. This is where a serpent in the guise of Rani's husband spends the night with her, resulting in her conception. Rani's whole being is torn between two worlds, the world of illusion and the world of reality. A mirror shatters her illusory world, confronting the harsh truth of a conservative world. The director treats his production with finesse, evoking emotions and a sense of mystery about the passionate relationship between a young and sexually starved woman and a snake in human guise.

Zerifa Wahid as Rani gives an excellent performance. Her Rani is kept locked in a room by her cruel husband who spends the night with his concubine. Zarifa brings alive the contradictory emotional world of her character. She gives a memorable performance in the climactic scene when she proves her fidelity by thrusting her hand into a hole, bringing out the dreaded cobra. Rahul Dass as Appanna, Rani's cruel husband who does not consummate his marriage with Rani and drags her before the Panchayat, charging her with infidelity when he discovers her in the advanced stage of pregnancy, and Jolly Laskar as Kurudawa, the blind woman, whose son disappears mysteriously and who unwittingly brings Rani and the serpent into a passionate relationship with her concoction, give impressive performances. The play is translated from the original Kannada into Assamese by Utpal Dutta who has slightly changed the ending.

Horrifying images of dead bodies lie scattered about. A young woman carrying them on a wooden cart tries to perform the last rites in the midst of deafening gunshots. We watch movements of soldiers. These are some of the images presented by “A Far Cry”, a play staged by N.T. Theatre at META. Written by Budha Chingtham in Manipuri, the play is directed by Ningthouja Deepak. The production juxtaposes the tragedy of people who once lived in harmony and peace in a beautiful natural landscape and now are forced to live in a ravaged land in which murders of innocent people have become the order of the day.

The thematic core of the play is a letter being written by a sister to her brother who has joined the underground movement of insurgents. Full of pathos, the letter is heartrending. She beseeches her brother to return home and clean his bloodstained bands.

A blend of the stylised and realistic mode of production, the most outstanding quality of the production is the highly imaginative use of indigenous musical instruments of Manipur, evoking the right emotional colour and depth. The varied musical tunes heighten the horror of murders by the state military personnel as a well as by the insurgents. In the name of combating insurgency, innocent people are becoming victims of state terrorism. The survivors have lost everything, including their memories. The whole production is transformed into a moving lament for the dead and a haunting outcry against the brutality of humanity towards innocent people who want to live in peace.

“Santaap” in Bengali, presented by Rangasram under the direction of Sandip Bhattacharya, brings alive the bitter world of eunuchs living in miserable conditions in a slum. Full of anguish, the play is remarkable for capturing the ambience of slums and the realistic style of acting. Born with a gender deformity, their families consider them a stigma; they are disowned and thrown away in a most heartless manner in their childhood.

Adapted by from the novelette by Manab Chakraborty by Koushik Chattopadhyaya, their common sufferings bring them together. They reveal their harrowing tales in a manner woven into the basic fabric of the narrative. A fantasy scene with a puppet depicts their innate urge for a normal life. Despite their miserable existence in a heartless world, we are moved by their human essence.The entire cast truly lives their characters, with Sandip Bhattacharya as Murli, the head of the group, and Anirudha Bhattacharya as Kaniya performing superbly.