Jeetrai Hansda uses Brecht with Singrai in a memorable testament to Adivasi alienation

It is hard not to love last year’s batch of the National School of Drama (NSD). Jeetrai Hansda’s “Fevicol,” which has been nominated for seven of the 13 Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards this year, is an excellent example of why the class of 2012 is special.

Produced by Jeetrai’s troupe — Maidi’s Artist Association of Tribal, from Jharkhand — the play starred some talented recent graduates of NSD. These include Arundhati Kalita, Prakriti Dutta Mukherjee and Amanjeet Prouch — all of whom have won nominations.

The plot is simple, yet multi-layered. A stranger named Parmatma (Mrigendra Konwar) comes to an adivasi settlement, leeches on to a tribal household like the popular adhesive Fevicol, transforming from an uninvited guest to a feudal lord, rapidly yet naturally. The parallel narrative — that of the seductive angels in the Singrai tradition — works like an Oracle, foreseeing and interpreting the developments. The choreographer Rukmani Tudu has also been nominated for an award.

The music is Brechtian — joyous songs accompanied by traditional adivasi instruments, with lyrics that talk about the deception and the bizarre and unjust system heaped upon them. The Singrai narrative often merges with the central plot, and its cast double up as characters in it. The humour and repartee are terrific. It is also deeply philosophical and satirical.

The indefatigable Raju Roy, who plays Gutikoda the Lord Krishna-like character in the Singrai, as well as the policeman Bandhlal, won the hearts of the audience with his gestures and delivery.

The adivasi couple Phulmani (Arundhati) and Dharmatma (Nareshpal Sing Chouhan) are promised justice by the panchayat, when their uninvited guest demands a share of their crop. The caricature of the panchayat is wonderful — a lame politician, a deaf cop and a magistrate blinded by the shades gifted to him by the Parmatma. “Justice at dawn,” they promise.

The Singrai dancers then step in and say, “Justice will be done when morning comes… No, the day will dawn once justice is done.” Dharmatma begs the panchayat, seated in a trolley which he pulls, for justice. Constable Bandhlal then twirls his knout and says, “Kheenchte raho, nyay mil jayega. (Keep pulling, you will find justice.”

There was not a tinge of melodrama in the presentation. The clownish panchayat members and the exchange between Dharmatma and Parmatma drew a lot of giggles. But Raju Roy’s “Kheenchte raho…”, timed perfectly, choked the audience up.

The technique and design bear the hallmark of the NSD, but Jeetrai’s insights and treatment of the theme sets the play apart. The set had saucers of sal leaves hanging from the ceiling. Stoked by mild gusts of air, not only did they transport one to the calm and dry sal forests in spring, but their rustling also enhanced the friction building up below. At the end of the play, a monstrous rain of misfortune — created with a net of plastic bottles — descended from the ceiling.

A tragedy it was but a poignant one; the lines, measured and strong. The fate of the nominees will be known on Saturday. But victory is already theirs. The victory is putting the spotlight on the human cost of development, sans jargon, tears, clichés and endless debate.

RELATED NEWS

Son of the soilFebruary 22, 2013