Staged by Masquerade Youth Theatre, Bhopal is earnest but melodramatic
There's a tangle of pipes. Red and yellow. Yellow and red. Each heavy with meaning. A veritable goldmine of metaphors — if you're into that sort of thing. The smoke machine spews out a fog next, coyly veiling the stage. Suitably dramatic music thunders across the auditorium. Then two girls, dressed in black (but of course), wearing masks (but of course) and expressions of grim indifference (but of course) swing into action, lithely leaping about, dancing their hearts out.
“Bhopal,” staged at the Music Academy, has a compelling story at its core. The industrial catastrophe it's based on, The Bhopal Gas Tragedy happened in 1984 when a chemical leak at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, resulted in the exposure, and subsequent suffering, maiming and death of hundreds of thousands of people. It's a story every Indian is familiar with, but over the years even the worst of tragedies get reduced to impassive facts and numbers, footnotes in history guiltily remembered by most people just once a year, when the anniversary swings by.
Playwright Rahul Varma's script forces you to care by creating characters so lush, you can't help but feel their pain. Masquerade Youth Theatre's rendition of this story, performed in association with The Madras Players is intricately layered and intuitive, let down only by an addiction to unnecessary bells and whistles. Life size cubes flash colour like disco lights gone wild. Frenetic dancing breaks out with no warning. And there's enough smoke to fuel an entire season of ‘Lost'.
There's no question about the fact that this play is quite an achievement for the young cast and crew. The sincerity and hard work of both the actors and the backstage crew shows. Although the play starts off on a terrifyingly melodramatic note, it does regain a semblance of balance as the actors gather steam. Especially once Vinod Anand, playing the endearingly blunt minister Jagan Lal comes into the picture. Managing to be funny and cynical, corrupt and caring, comic and tragic — all at the same time — he bolsters the play. He's backed up by an earnest cast, most of whom have talent but need more experience to learn how to connect and then, more importantly, sustain that connection with the audience.
In the end, the play only succeeds in parts revealing glimpses of directorial and acting promise. Director Dushyanth Gunashekar and his cast need to learn how to show a little more restraint. For in contemporary theatre, less is more.