Raj Bisariya’s “Murgabi” remained true to the Chekhovian flavour. It had a restrained style yet delved deep into the agonising world of its characters

Staging Anton Chekhov’s plays needs a great deal of intuition and restraint on the part of director and his ability to explore silences, offstage music, sounds to evoke what is known as “Chekhovian mood” to enable performers to truly live their characters and delve deep into the spiritually agonised world of their characters. These elements were evident in a fair measure in Chekhov’s production of “The Seagull” as “Murgabi” presented jointly by Bharatendu Natya Akademi, Lucknow and Sahitya Kala Parishad, Delhi at Shri Ram Centre recently.

Featuring students of the Akademi, “Murgabi” was directed by veteran theatre practitioner and scholar Raj Bisariya and was translated into Hindi from the original in Russian by Sabira Habib. It deals with the trials and tribulations being confronted by creative people, their romantically tangled lives and their inner spiritual crises. It also raises serious debate about the role of art in society and its necessity. One of the characters, Dorn-says, “… a work of art must express an important idea. Only serious things can be beautiful… “. At another place, he says, “… Every work of art must have a clear and definite idea..”. Another character, celebrated writer Trigori says, “… I feel that as a writer I have a duty to write about my people, their sufferings and their future, about science, the rights of man and so on…”. In contrast, Kostya, a young writer and artiste, believes that “we have to show life as we see it in our dreams, not as it is nor as it should be…”. The play written in 1895 with its dialectical debate on art and society, continues to be relevant in today’s times. It’s a masterpiece that has universal appeal.

Among 13 characters in the play, twomain characters are young Kostya Treplev and Nina Zarechnaya. Kostya has ambitions to become a great writer and theatre artiste to discover new path for the theatre. Nina wants to become a great actor. Both are poor, lonely and neglected. They both live in a province where life is stagnant. Kostya loves Nina deeply. Masha loves Kostya and school teacher Semyon loves Masha. Nina is madly in love with celebrated writer Boris Trigorin despite the fact that he has ruined her life. To get relief from the pain of rejection by Kostya, Masha marries poor school teacher and finds herself condemned to lead a loveless married life. Most of the characters suffer the pain of utter failure in love and are dissatisfied. The clash of thoughts and the complicated human relations are intricately woven into an artistic whole.

“Murgabi” is set in a Russian province near a lake. The characters assemble to watch an amateur production on a make-shift stage. Nina is the heroine and Kostya is the playwright and director. Among the spectators are Irina Arkadina, a famous actor and mother of Kostya, her lover, a famous writer, Boris Trigorin. Irina is indifferent towards the production of her son and her remarks are insulting to the work of a young talented theatre artiste in quest of new theatrical forms. Kostya is deeply hurt to see his mother’s insulting reaction and abruptly closes the show. Disappointed, Nina leaves for home.

Much of the significant actions take place offstage between the acts. On the stage we hear beautiful and poetic dialogues, and interplay of the ideas of characters. The play is described as comedy but we do not come across any situation which could be described comic in a conventional sense. Of course there are brief moments that evoke wry humour, irony and yearning to create something new. There is a deep poetic undercurrent of melancholy.

The title “The Seagull” is symbolically used in the play. It acquires several connotations in different acts. Initially it stands for freedom and beauty, later a venerable object of human passion and finally it comes to symbolise death. Nina compares herself with a seagull and then asserts that she is not a seagull but an actor. Kostya, desperately in love with Nina, goes to the lake and kills a seagull, lays it at the feet of her beloved.

Director Bisariya has used minimal stage properties. There are wooden blocks on the stage which are imaginatively used to form different situations and create stage compositions. Similarly, the plaintive musical notes appear to be coming from some distance, reinforce the reflective mood in the production to enable the performers to reveal their inner-world. His production appears to have been thoroughly rehearsed with the young cast acting in a restraint and laconic style, trying to reveal the poetic nature of dialogues. Pooja Mittal as Nina Zarechnaya paints a sensitive portrait of her complex character, revealing its different stages of development. Krishna Shisodia as Kostya Treplev brings to the fore the motional turbulence of a young man hated by his mother and rejected by his beloved. His Kostya is a great innovator who hates his mother and her lover, the writer. His hatred for him is so intense that he challenges him for a duel. Tripti Jauhari as Irina Arkadina, the famous actor and insensitive mother of Kostya who passionately wants to possess her lover, Rahul Jaiswal as Boris Trigori, famous writer, a womaniser and destroyer of Nina. Maya as Masha and Anil Patel as Semyon, the poor school teacher and husband of Masha act admirably.