A surreal production of the NSD at its theatre fest will be remembered for its potent use of multimedia.
Love letters, appointment letters, and letters in unreadable Hindi. Imagine a place where the post office closes down, in the pre-internet era. Such a world has existed, most recently in Kashmir — intermittently in the 1990s — after the advent of insurgency in the State. This world was described most elegantly by poet Agha Shahid Ali in his poem The Country Without a Post Office.
His poem, translated into Urdu by eminent dramatist Bhawani Bashir Yasir, was presented by last year’s graduates of the National School of Drama at the 15th Bharat Rang Mahotsav this week.
The director, M. Muzamil Hayat Bhawani — who also wrote the script and managed the lights — covered the stage and the aisle with inland letter cards. Throughout the play, NSD’s light department’s Bunty kept sprinkling them from above the stage. The props were few, but powerful. Three cage-like doors hung at the back. Bhawani’s strength is his aesthetic sense. Simple scenes, like those of lovers meeting, are made magical by lining a flight of stairs with lanterns.
The use of multimedia gives the play a dreamlike realness. Images of violence, celebration and videos of speeches are projected, even as actors play cricket on stage. They pave the walk down memory lane — a painful two decade-long walk. K’naan’s Waving Flag anthem of the 2010 FIFA World Cup plays as news photos of stone throwing are shown. Kashmir’s pain has run parallel to contemporary news events: The World Cup started the day Tufail Ahmad Mattoo was killed — which led to a wave of stone pelting in the Valley.
Like frames that make up memory, and illusions that subconsciously guide our understanding, Bhawani’s imagery clears our minds of clutter. When Rahul Roy, one of the most interesting actors of his batch, walks in chains down the aisle to recite verses from the poem, you not only hear him but also feel the words.
The lighting is also well done. This play definitely deserves more shows, if only for the lighting — light from grenades exploding, the lazy evening sun over a cricket game and the eerie light of an army check post.
It is hard to invent a new way of making you feel strongly about an issue that has been reported extensively. Bhawani uses colour reversed footage of crabs struggling to cross a highway and people carrying frames of houses. While he can be faulted for breaking the flow in parts, his ideas and his method set this play apart from many others of its league.