Two bilingual plays that explored fraught human relationships through the lens of postmodernism.
Formed by young theatre enthusiasts with a diploma from the National School of Drama, Unicorn Actors’ Studio presented two plays — “Familiar Strangers” and “Genuine Liars” — at LTG auditorium recently. The works seek to explore gender issues from the angle of postmodernism. High on presentational style, the productions feature characters who lead tangled lives with little respect for the institution of marriage. They are bitter and unable to understand one another. The productions bring to the fore their conflicting viewpoints effectively. The plays are bilingual — Hindi and English.
Both are written and directed by Happy Ranajit. “Familiar Strangers” was the opening play. There are four characters — one male and three female. The young man, Ishan, is a talented artist. He is ambitious. On a special assignment he is in Bollywood. He has a live-in relationship with Bhoomi who inspires him in his creativity and is ready to do everything for his success. As a film director he casts a young female talent to play the lead role in his proposed film and in the process passionately falls for her. She too has a boyfriend. In utter desperation, he beseeches her to conceive a child and be the mother of his child. Already in a relationship with two women, he also gets involved with Noora who has already walked out on her husband and children to live alone on her own terms as a writer. The young actress refuses to oblige Ishan. A broken-hearted Ishan finds his life worthless and displays a total indifference towards Bhoomi who wishes his success from the bottom of her heart.
It appears that Happy has tried to recreate characters from Henrik Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler”. Ibsen’s Hedda gives a pistol to Eilert whom she has rejected as her lover. In Happy’s play the character of Noora gives a pistol to Ishan who in a moment of intense depression shoots himself. Similarly, the character of Bhoomi in “Familiar Strangers” has remote similarity with Ibsen’s character, Hedda’s schoolmate, who helped Eilert with his manuscript. This similarity is superficial. Ibsen’s characters are timeless while Happy’s characters are hardly recognisable.
Similarly, there is a perverse kind of resemblance between Ibsen’s Nora in “A Doll’s House” and Happy’s Noora in “Familiar Strangers”.
Happy has aesthetically used fabrics. Similarly, the lone stage property, a sofa, is used in a variety of situations, changing shape. Though the action takes place in three locales — the house where Ishan and Bhoomi live, the house of Noora in which she lives alone frequently visited by her male friends, and the place where Ishan and the young actress have their affairs. The director-playwright has ensured an uninterrupted flow of dramatic action.
Nalini R. Joshi as Noora gives a bold performance. Her Noora disdainfully rejects the ethical values attached to the institution of marriage. At one place her Noora says with some sense of pride, “….You gave me two choices — be a foot mat or to be a prostitute. I created a third option to be a slut, a woman with the morals of a man. Yes I do use my body as an ornament. I am a free woman.” Tushar Pandey as Ishan, Gauri Dewal as Bhoomi and Kurwa Neeraj as the young film actress give an admirable account of themselves.
Happy’s other play, “Genuine Liars”, reflects his fascination for using colourful fabrics to create the right mood and ambience. With the stylised lighting effect the mood is further reinforced. This play also reveals the postmodernist approach of the playwright-director to man-woman relationship. He claims that he is inspired by “the paintings of Pablo Picasso which revolve around a married couple, two old lovers and a prostitute”. Through their confrontations he seems to define love, marriage, relationships and the question of gender identity in the era of postmodernism.
Structurally, it is a well-knit play with unity of time, action and space. The entire action takes place in the house of a fabulously rich man who deals with taming unruly horses. His wife has a broken love affair and she married him to escape the pangs of an unhappy relationship. After divorcing his wife and in an anguished state of mind, Zaheer desperately tries to find his beloved. As an act of sublimation, he visits prostitutes and finds in a young prostitute some solace. He keeps on painting nudes. One by one two dramatis personae enter the house of the rich man who is engaged in a conversation with his wife who has bought a painting for a crore of rupees. As the characters confront each other, their past is revealed and is watched with a sense of suspense. The production is neat, exploring the emotional and psychological state of the characters who seem alienated from the real conflicts of the milieu.
The play has an element of suspense. Playwright-director Happy in the role of Zaheer, the dejected and anguished lover, brings a lot of energy and emotional power to his portrayal. Rachittri, the wife of the rich man, is leading a loveless conjugal life and marriage is a burden to her. Swedha Singh plays Roma, a young prostitute, who is clever and takes pride in flaunting her sexuality, gladly using it to climb the ladder of success in Bollywood. Rohit Bahl as the husband gives a riveting performance. His character has the arrogance of a fabulously rich man used to flogging unruly horses to tame them, with no qualms to use the same method to control women who display resistance.