Dreams of Taleem attempted a self-reflexive look at theatre and the question of sexuality

“Dreams of Taleem”, written by Sachin Kundalkar, began with director Sunil Shanbag setting the context for it — duly necessary, one realised, as the play unfolded. This play, performed in Hindi, English and Marathi, is a tribute to Chetan Datar, a formidable force in Marathi theatre and also someone Shanbag described as being a connecting thread between the very disparate worlds of English and Marathi theatre. After Datar's untimely demise in 2008, “Dreams of Taleem” was written to explore further what one of Datar's most memorable plays set out to do. “Ek Madhavbaug” or “Number One Madhavbaug” is about a mother's discovery of her son's sexuality, and how she grapples with it. It was this son, and the question of his sexuality that Shanbag hoped to understand better, and said he asked Kundalkar to write a script that was a layer over “Number One Madhavbaug”. The resulting play amalgamates a self-reflexive look at theatre and the question of sexuality. However, it did not seem to ask any new questions in both areas, despite its strong performances and a script that was otherwise quite seamless.

The play introduced us to two young theatre persons — Anay played by Suvrat Joshi and Yash played by Anand Tiwari, who are in love. Anay is trying hard to find someone to play the lead role (of the mother) in “Number One Madhavbaug”, when Sita (played by Divya Jagadale), a famous Marathi actor, agrees to do his play. In between is a story of Anay and Yash's strained relationship, and Sita's confrontation with a homosexual relationship through the play — all through a neatly-written script with play-acting and ‘reality' overlapping in a perfectly created structure. In the beginning, both male actors seemed uncomfortable in embrace. But even as that ironed itself out, the general premise in which the questions of sexuality were addressed was not refreshing . The play seemed like it was, in fact, dealing with the idea of homosexuality for the first time. And the only way it seemed different from Datar's play was in the fate meted out to the gay son, and did not as one hoped, take Datar's play to a different plane. The play seemed to side-step any attempts at queerness in theatre that may have been made before.

For example, when Anay speaks to Sita about his “coming out”, and his traumatic “Why me?” confrontations with himself, it felt like we were taking a few steps backward: The “coming of age, coming out” story is the most commonly used entry point in telling queer stories.

In that sense, the play didn't seem to take any risks if it indeed meant to say something about homosexual relationships and its negotiations with the outside world.

Even as it sought to comment on theatre itself, and the predicament of young people doing theatre, it only seemed to have scratched the surface.

However, having said that, there were things that “Dreams of Taleem” managed to achieve — it was intimate play, with anchored performances by all actors. The star of the show was Geeta Kulkarni, who played Sita's aging, crazy mother. Her conversations with herself and lapses into monologues from Hindi films, weren't just comic relief, but almost seemed to make light of the rest of the characters' general anxieties. The rest of the cast too performed their parts with assurance, only it didn't seem to come together in the way that one hoped.

One thing must be said about the music — the sound of the electric guitar was distracting, even as it preceded the scenes, and didn't compliment the tone of the play.

Keywords: play review