At Sahitya Kala Parishad’s Rangmanch Utsav, “Animal Farm” in Hindi was a poignant contemporary classic, while “Andha Yug” featured some excellent performances.

Satyavrat Raut is an expert in Chhau dance as well as a graduate from the National School of Drama. In his productions we find a unique blend of Chhau dance elements and modern theatrical technique. In the ’80s his distinct dramatic idiom evoked rave reviews. His production of Rashomon by Fay and Michael Kanin was remarkable for its rich symbolism and imaginative use of space to explore the dialectics of the truth. His latest offering, a Hindi version of Animal Farm which was part of Sahitya Kala Parishad ‘s Rangmanch Utsav to observe World Theatre Day at Shri Ram Centre recently, reveals his ability to interpret a play in the context of the changing worldwide socio-economic situation.

Adapted in Hindi jointly by Satyavrat and Kuldeep Kunal from Peter Hall’s dramatisation of the novel by George Orwell, the work is an allegory to expose the totalitarian regime of Stalin in the Soviet Union which came into existence after the overthrow of the most oppressive and hated regime of the Tzar. The dramatic adaptation retains the same anti-communist tone. Satyavrat’s production transforms the play into a satirical piece to expose Hitler’s Nazi party and its genocide of the Jews. His production goes a step further to expose the liberalisation that may spell disaster for the economy of developing countries, resulting in violation of human rights.

The play’s characters are different animals such as pigs, horses and donkeys who interact with humans. They all live in a huge farm controlled by a human who treats these animals brutally, forcing them to work on the farm day in and day out. One day the animals revolt against their master and declare that henceforth all will be equal and everyone will have an equal share in the production from the farm. The pigs take over the leadership. After consolidating their power, the pigs declare that all are equal, but some are allowed to have special privileges. Soon enough an oppression similar to that perpetrated by the ousted regime becomes the order of the day. The new rulers unabashedly open the floodgates for multinational companies to exploit the farm, subjecting its inmates to a new form of slavery.

In the past we have seen several productions of this play on the Delhi stage. Some were tedious because of heavy symbolism and a few were simplistic to amuse children. Styavrat’s production not only offers a new radical interpretation of the play but in terms of its presentational style is innovative and seeks to economise its production cost. For example, Satyavrat has himself made the masks which are visually very expressive and authentic but are made of cheap raw materials. A similar economical approach is reflected in the costumes mostly made of jute. The director has used the projection of slides on the screen placed upstage to provide the required backdrop for the action. The disaster caused by the unbridled freedom granted to multinational companies to exploit the farm is projected on the screen.

Peter Hall’s play is essentially musical. Satyavrat himself scores music which comments on the action and carries forward the storyline.

There are about 20 performers whose movements and stage compositions are marked by spontaneity. It’s a production which severely indicts dictatorship perpetuated by promoting a personality cult.

The concluding play of the event was Dharamvir Bharati’s Andha Yug directed by Sanjeev Kant. With his amateur cast the director managed to engage the attention of the audience. In fact, the play is a modern Indian classic which had been directed by our tallest directors. A verse play, it needs expertise in terms of design, direction and acting skill. Based on the last day of the 18-day Mahabharata war depicting the deadly struggle between Bhima and Duryodhana, the play focuses on the Dark Age that has descended on the universe. It is controlled by a blind ruler guided by intellectuals in the garb of neutrality who fail to discriminate between what is fair and what is foul. The chariot of Dharma has come to a standstill because one of its wheels has crumbled and humanity’s existence is threatened by the spectre of nuclear holocaust.

Sanjeev’s production started dragging after Lord Krishna’s acceptance of the curse pronounced by Gandhari in her intense anguish at the killing of her 100 sons at the hands of the Pandavas. The music score was lacklustre. Among the members of the cast who leave an impact on the audience are Pooja Dhyani as Gandhari, Sonu as the bestial Ashwatthama and Avinash Singh as Yuyutsu, the disillusioned Kaurava who fought against his own clan to protect the so-called Dharma Yudh.