Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s moving story, “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World”, was presented as a stage production rich in visual imagery.

Born in Colombia in 1928, Gabriel Garcia Marquez is one of the prominent practitioners of magical realism. Honoured with the Nobel Prize, Marquez’s fictional works are widely read by lovers of serious literature in India. His “One Hundred Years of Solitude” is immensely popular among his readers here. But stage adaptations of his works are rarely seen on the Delhi stage. In recent memory Amal Allana presented his “Eréndira and her Heartless Grandmother” which reveals how a grandmother introduces her innocent granddaughter into the flesh trade. His story “Chronicle of a Death Foretold” was presented by Shibani Puri as her student production at the National School of Drama in 2007. A stage adaptation, it depicts the tragic consequences of the concept of virginity of brides practised by a stony-hearted society dominated by men.

After graduating from the National School of Drama, Shibani had the opportunity to play one of the roles in Amal’s production of “Eréndira and her Heartless Grandmother”. And recently, she revived her earlier production of Marquez’ story “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World”, which was presented by Odd Duck productions at the India Habitat Centre.

With a variety of musical tunes ranging from Indian to Western and to Japanese, Shibani creates the right ambience to enrich the production emotionally. The subtle lighting effects create an aura of magic that transforms mundane day-to-day situations into fabulous imagery. Her cast numbering just two female performers in elegantly designed costumes bring to the characterisation compassion, beauty, and poetic intensity. They move in different parts of the acting space with movements that are stylised as well as realistic to be in tune with a given situation.

On the surface the storyline depicts the routine life of villagers living near the seashore and their concerns. The women discover a strange object being brought to the shore by the sea waves. After some guess work the villagers discover the strange object is not dangerous but it is the body of a man drowned at sea. The men make serious efforts to identify the dead man and come to the conclusion that he is not from their village, nor did he belong to the neighbouring villages. The community sense of the villagers is touching.

While the men are engaged in trying to discover the identity of the dead man, the women watch over his body. The body does not evoke a sense of fear and sorrow. On the contrary, the women are charmed by the body, its beauty, its size. The women who are preparing the body to give the man honourable last rites, start comparing his robust physique and beauty with that of their own husbands. They are lost in a dream world. They become envious of the wife of the drowned man, the man who is a paragon of masculine beauty and virility.

Shibani’s production creates a surrealistic atmosphere evoking a magical world with abstract imagery. She has used a huge piece of cloth imaginatively to create a variety of situations and fantastic imagery. On the upstage a huge screen is installed, creating the illusion of a vast sea. The story deals with the death of a man, a tragic incident but the dominant mood in the production is one of celebration.

The drowned man is bigger than life, which fires the imagination of the women of the village. He is no longer a mortal man but Esteban, a legend of beauty and virility. This is an image that inspires the village women to bring change in their community life by giving a new shape to their houses and life. The dialogue is reduced to convey the idea of compassion through the rich visual imagery.

Padmashree C.K. and Sheena Gamat as the village women impart their portrayals beauty and a sense of mystery and fluidity to their movements, transcending the boundary of space and time.