The winning review: Thought-provoking masterpiece
At a Geneva Peace Summit, Jamaluddin Lutfullah of Pakistan seeks to cut through the diplomatic clutter and personally engage with his reluctant Indian counterpart Ram Chinappa through a casual chat. While Jamal questions the hard truths of governments’ real commitment to peace, Ram believes in diplomatic process and “strategic dialogue”. Over time, assumptions are questioned, idealism challenged and the lost opportunities, pondered over. Without being preachy, the play showcases the possibility of honest communication transforming international relations and the importance of hope in a dangerously changing world. With commanding performances, the right amount of levity and wit, A Walk In The Woods was a thought-provoking masterpiece.
Message of hope
The play not only brought out the irony of diplomacy in today’s world but also carried with it a message of hope. Henry Kissinger’s words, “No foreign policy — no matter how ingenious — has any chance of success if it is born in the minds of a few and carried in the hearts of none” comes to mind as the two players understand that they are merely play-acting their roles as negotiators at the behest of the country they represent, without them really having any discretionary power or influence over the government. The need to let go of ourselves and reach out to countries at a human level was the underlying message.
No sound effects
A Walk in the Woods, a splendid play with outstanding performances by both Naseeruddin Shah and Rajat Kapur, and directed with great sensitivity and élan by Ratna Pathak Shah, should have ideally made for an exhilarating evening. But the sound system let the gallerians down. The dialogue, the mainstay of the play, was not fully heard and those in the gallery had to make do with whatever was audible to complete the picture.
The adapted version of Lee Knowles Blessing’s A Walk In The Woods by playwrights Faisal Rasheed and Randeep Hooda seems more relevant than the original play, contextually as the director Rathna Pathak Shah herself opined during the post-play conversation. Both Naseeruddin Shah and Rajat Kapur fitted well into the characters of Jamaluddin Luftulla and Ramachandra Chinnappa, the Pakistani and Indian interlocutors vying to seal an agreement. At times the dialogue was spontaneous and the timing so impeccable that it looked as if the actors had imbibed the content so well. The sets and the lighting were good. A walk in the woods was a memorable play.
The impact of the hopeless trajectory of Indo-Pak relations could not have been better portrayed by Ram and Jamal. From Jamal’s world weary views on negotiations and compromise to Ram’s confused stance between idealism and realism, this play covered all the prejudices held by the common man on both sides. While the initial half was dry, the pace accelerated reaching a poignant but fruitful climax.
Of human bonding
There are some plays that emphasise how priceless the basics of storytelling really are. Motley’s ‘A Walk in the Woods’ is definitely one of those plays. Adaptation is a complicated process and probably only those who adapt an original play would understand the complexities involved. This is why both the writing and performances are so remarkable in this play — when a story is adapted, character relationships needs to be established from the very beginning. The intricacies with which the dialogues have been woven around such a brilliant, veteran cast certainly deserves admiration. The characters are colourful and their stories, their dreams and their goals are large; however, the heart of the story lies in the simple, human bond that these two characters share. Though filled to the brim with ruthless sarcasm, the most memorable moments in the play are rather innocent, even sweet and most importantly — human.
Negotiations in the world of diplomacy can acquire myriad hues. While the ones at the negotiating table are a long- drawn effort at inconclusiveness, those that happen in the woods are far more open, candid and accepting of the others’ circumstances and compulsions. This seemed to me the underlying theme of A Walk In The Woods. Rajat Kapur as the upright yet hopeful Chinnappa was a perfect foil to the disenchanted but mercurial Jamal played by Naseeruddin Shah. What one got was a peek at the game of nuclear one-upmanship and the stout refusal by either side to reach a consensus on any peace treaty that could benefit billions because it would show the other side in a good light.
Special mention must be made of the fascinating background score that transported us to Geneva.
Amalgamation of emotions
A Walk in The Woods by Motley might be compared to the Gujarati dish Undhiyu, for it is an amalgamation of every known human emotion — bitter, sweet, sour, and pungent. What followed was two hours of riveting conversation spread over a period of time, through which not just the characters of the two diplomats but also of the two nations was revealed. Naseeruddin Shah as Jamaluddin turned in yet another performance which cemented his reputation as one of the finest theatre artistes this country has ever produced. Rajat Kapur as Chinappa held his forte equally well. The adaptors (Faisal Rashid and Randeep Hooda) must be credited for the fine natural transformation that occurred right in front of the audience, all conveyed through interactions. Jamal seemed to visibly grow older and despondent, and Chinappa moved from a seemingly rigid, single-minded individual to being more relaxed, and expressive. By the end of it all, the viewer felt happy, amazed, hopeful, sad, frustrated, introspective and challenged.
A Walk In The Woods was a riveting experience as we watched the stand-off and mistrust between two peace negotiators develop into an unrequited personal bond, even as the relationship between their nations refused to thaw. Two thespian stalwarts — Naseeruddin as the flippant diplomat Jamal from Pakistan and Rajat as the straight-jacketed Ram from India made this 130 minute play a compelling engagement in witty repartees, in verbal duels and excellent cameos. However one wishes that this brilliant adaptation of Lee Blessing’s play by Motley, ably directed by Ratna Pathak Shah saw a better denouement in the advancement of friendship of nations rather than just their representatives.
A Walk In The Woods directed by Ratna Pathak Shah had good acting and sharp wit. The sets, seemingly graphically designed still were conventional. There was nothing innovative by way of clever lighting or atmospheric music. Yet, the play was a hit with most of the audience who, it was clear literally worshipped Naseeruddin Shah and to some extent Rajat Kapur as a fitting supporting actor to Shah. A purely conversational play that could hold the audience attention for a span of one hundred and thirty minutes is some achievement. I was most impressed by the acting of Kapur, who with his dead-pan face and stiff posture conveyed the picture of an unrelenting bureaucrat remarkably well. However I did find it too long and too conventional for my liking.
Journey of friendship
Within the first two minutes of A Walk in the Woods you are hooked and a sense of a greater occasion takes over. In Rathna Pathak Shah’s brilliant retelling of this classic play, the characters of Jamal and Ram are constantly engaged in a battle of unbridled optimism and stark reality which leave you a little disillusioned with the reality of peace between India and Pakistan and at the same time remind us of the stakes at play. But more importantly, it’s a journey of an unusual friendship and a little less action and lot more conversation, that is meant to leave you with more questions than answers.