A recent production of “Collaborators” managed to infuse theatricality into what is structurally a radio play.
Discerning theatre goers in the Capital have already seen Ramu Ramanathan’s play “Comrade Khumbhkarna” in Hindi version that left a deep impact. It was produced by the Repertory Company of the National School of Drama. Recently, his play “Collaborators” was presented in English by the Atelier Repertory Company at Akshara Theatre. Playwright-director Ramu is a serious artist who comments on the socio-economic dichotomy remarkable for its satirical and ironical elements. If “Comrade Khumbhkarna” was a total theatre which delights while it indicts the state machinery for crushing civil liberties of the people, “Collaborators” in comparison, appears to be more dependent on the word rather than on dramatic action. In terms of his use of satire, its edge in “Collaborators” is less sharp. But the play does manage to highlight the horror and brutality of prison life aptly summed up by a dialogue, “Deaths are common in prison.”
The play is directed by Kuljeet Singh, a dedicated theatre activist who has elevated his group of amateur artists to the level of a repertory company which not only produces a work of a playwright but invites him to conduct a workshop and give a talk on his art. This year the repertory invited Ramu who was in Delhi a fortnight ago as the guest of the repertory.
Most of the action takes place in the room of Arundhati, the wife of Kranti. Two of her friends, Himanshu and Shivani, frequently visit her. They drink, play cards, talk about their routine lives and brag about their high lifestyle. Arundhati, though a host, is a reluctant participant in this conversation.
The director shifts the action on the stairs to depict Kranti’s most humiliating and bitter experiences of jail life.
A victim of mistaken identity, he was arrested by the police while trying to apprehend agitators on the street. The highly connected Kranti was freed after going through a lot of bureaucratic red-tapism. In fact, he had gone to Faizabad, a small town, in connection with his business. His father-in law wanted him to take over his family business. The brief experience of jail life brings about a change in his socio-political consciousness. He is being isolated by the members of his fabulously rich class, and he wishes to become something like Ram Parsad Bismil. His friends describe him as naïve. One of the characters says Kranti needs someone to prod him to act. In a way he is a fence sitter. The director shifts the action to a third locale set in an unidentified place. This is a scene between Himanshu and Shivani. Himanshu tries to seduce Shivani who spurns his advances.
On the opening evening Kuljeet’s production appeared to be disjointed and slow in pace. He has not explored adequately the element of black humour inherent in the script. However, he has tried to give theatricality to a play which structurally tends to be a radio play. (The play won the BBC Radio Playwriting Regional Award in 2003).
Lalit Sharma as Kranti acts in a restrained style which enables him to reveal his inner conflict effectively. His Kranti is torn between two worlds — that of the highly privileged and that of the oppressed. Jasmeet Khanuja as Arundhati portrays a psychologically depressed character who in the presence of her friends suffers from an inferiority complex. She avoids commenting on Kranti whom her class considers as a renegade. When alone, she peddles a stationary bicycle very fast, reflecting her inner turmoil. Madhuri Juneja as Shivani and Himanshu Mehta as Himanshu give impressive performances, revealing the pomposity, barren spirituality and parasitic life of the highly privileged elite.