Basheer’s stories lure the National School of Drama students in Delhi.
Vaikom Muhammad Basheer’s tales touch a chord with their simplicity. A few gems from the legendary Malayalam writer’s works were picked up by the final year students of the National School of Drama for “Zara Bada Ek — Basheer”. Directed by Abhilash Pillai, the play was performed at a handful of shows the past week.
Basheer, a man life steered towards many roles and experiences, untangled them all in his writing. He was put in prison for his involvement in the freedom struggle. He lived around the world donning different roles — fortune teller, cook, watchman, shepherd and many others. The stories chosen for “Zara Bada Ek — Basheer” have strains of his experiences but also snapshots of the simple life he returned to in Kerala. Shorn of didacticism, Basheer saw the world through the eyes of a humanist, and unpretentiousness is the hallmark of his literature. He penned everyday life, everyday people and everyday stories in the common man’s language.
On singling out Basheer for the production, director Pillai said, “I have been reading him since childhood and wanted to explore some aspects of Basheer.” On a different level, Basheer touched upon Islam and the life of the Muslim community, added Pillai.
From the vast canvas of the legend’s works, six stories were picked for the production. Since the students banked on translations, Pillai said it is the “universal aspect of Basheer” that came out in the play.
Six stories were performed for chosen shows, while on days with two shows, four tales made it to the stage, keeping the time factor in mind. Pillai and his team explored different avenues of presentation. The audience was asked assemble outside the auditorium and gradually wooed in with the story of “Vishwaprasiddh naak.” The actors often emerging from the audience, the idea of the stage as an insulated space was blurred regularly. This did not prove distracting, but merely expanded the arena of action and created a sense of anticipation. An inclining ramp linked the stage and the audience.
Humour and irony
Basheer’s legendary “Mere naana ka ek…tha haathi”, “Balyakaal sakhi”, “Vishwaprasiddh naak”, “Neeli Roshni”, “Awaazein” and “Deewarein” were part of the narrative. “Vishwaprasiddh naak”, the story of a man with the long nose, was told with humour but irony in place. A bane that becomes a boon, and the fame, fortune and pitfalls that it takes the protagonist through is a commentary on a society. Contemporary issues were stitched into the presentation.
“Neeli Roshni” impressed primarily because the simplicity of Basheer is retained to the fullest here. The story of the young writer Basheer who occupies a haunted house and ends up forging a bond with Bhargavi, the girl who committed suicide in the compound well, was told with poignancy. “Deewarein”, where the young political prisoner Basheer falls in love with Narayani, a fellow prisoner housed across the wall, was acted out with natural zest. The narrative on the bond of two people who have never seen, but are mere voices to each other is a paean to Basheer as a storyteller.
“Zara Bada Ek — Basheer” relied heavily on multimedia aids. Often the images on the giant screen enhanced the essence of a situation. But in “Awazein” all the sound and fury and the flashing images seemed overbearing, taking attention away from the narrative. The stylised performance too gave it a contrived air.
The light design was exceptional. “Zara Bada Ek – Basheer” brought attention to a regional writer and an era from the past.