Humour and satire came in various packages at the Arjun Singh Rangotsav Rashtriya Samaroh in Kalidas’ land

The seven-day Arjun Singh Rangotsav Rashtriya Samaroh organised by Abhinav Rangmandal at the Kalidas Akademi auditorium, Ujjain, last week — featuring works by groups from small towns of six States — reveals a genuine love of theatre and persistent theatre practice in the midst of hard conditions. Formed in 1980 in the historic city of the birth of the greatest Sanskrit playwright, Kalidas, Abhinav has attained a significant place in the theatre world both in the State and other cities of the country through regular shows and participation at leading national theatre festivals as a full-fledged theatre repertory company. No wonder that its annual theatre festival evokes a warm response from the theatre-lovers of Ujjain city.

Produced on a shoestring budget, most of the productions had a strong element of story and an unpretentious and clear style of presentation, which enabled them to establish a lively rapport with the audience. Directed by Sharad Sharma and presented by Abhinav Rangmandal, Ujjain, “Arey Shareef Log” is a hilarious comedy that exposes the instinct of gazing at women, a suppressed tendency of middle-aged men. Written by Jayant Dalwi, the play is translated from Marathi into Hindi by Vijay Bapat. The so-called honourable men find themselves trapped in an awkward situation, evoking laughter loud and long.

The action is set in a residential area with a focus on four families who are neighbours. The austere set creates the right ambience. The arrival of a beautiful young woman as a new tenant sets afoot action. Her arrival produces a commotion in the hearts of the four middle-aged men. Furtively, they gaze at her. However, their wives are cleverer; discovering their unusual behaviour, they constantly nag them as well as keep a watch on their movements. A young boy watches the ludicrous behaviour of these men and conspires to create complicated comic situations. The comedy ends with a dash of public morals.

Milind Karkare as the flamboyant doctor, Deepak Bhavsar as the fussy school master, and Yash Rai as the young prankster were eminently hilarious. Shrimati Shandhya Kaiethwas as Laxmi, Anokhe Lal’s wife, impressed with her performance as a domineering wife.

From Jodhpur, Rajasthan, Rammat presented at the festival “Jamleela”, written and directed by Arjundev Chaaran. A satirical piece, it indicts rampant corruption and the rotten state of Indian democracy. It evokes moods ranging from the serious to light-hearted, from gloomy to bitter.

The highlight of the production was the aesthetically designed set, costumes and masks, which captured the atmosphere of the mythical world of Lord Yama, the god of death. The masks of the elephant and buffalo, the carrier of Lord Yama, were not only visually stunning but also imparted depth to the characterisation. It is a play in which humans, gods and ghosts interact and occupy the same space.

The stylised movements of the performers, music and chorus formed by the characters of ghosts transformed the production into a parable to indict severely the existing socio-economic condition of the country. Mahua as the elephant displayed her talent as a consummate stage actor. Her elephant meets an untimely death at the hands of unscrupulous elements of society. With a deep sense of injustice, the soul of elephant meets Lord Yama and challenges his sense of justice and, in the process, the soul of the elephant acts as a catalyst to dramatic action. In fact, the elephant is the protagonist of the play.

Ila Chaaran as the head of the ghosts, Ashish Chaaran as Lord Yama, whose unauthorised leave of absence from his job makes a mockery of the established ethical norms of heaven, opening its gates to the sinners, give riveting performances.

Adapted from the short story by Murari Sharma, “Baarmooth” presented by Haryana Kala Parishad Multi-Art Cultural Centre, Kurukshetra, seeks to expose the prevailing decadence and anarchy that allow the powerful to suppress the exploited and marginalised with impunity. This is achieved through an allegory of an accursed people steeped in superstition, who resort to animal and human sacrifice to redeem themselves of their curse.

Director Indra Raj Indu, a young theatre artiste, captured the right mood to heighten the sense of horror at the sacrifice of animals and humans in the primitive society. His use of long bamboo sticks was innovative; they were used in a variety of ways as property and produced a weird sound to impart a dreadful atmosphere.

The enactment of rituals was stridently loud and sloppily sentimental, which blunt the sharp edge of satire. The director needs to interpret his production with a view to emphasise those elements required for a radical social change. At best his production was illustrative of the dark and brutal rituals that shock the audience.

The all-female cast displayed remarkable youthful energy, excitement and agility to form a variety of compositions in a deft manner. Apart from playing different roles, these young performers sang in tuneful voices as members of the chorus.

Adapted by Safdar Hashmi and Habib Tanvir from Munshi Premchand’s short story, “Mote Ram Ka Satyagarh” is entertaining and provocative. Initially, it was directed by Tanvir himself, with Hashmi in the cast. Ever since, it is frequently being staged by several groups. Aakrit from Kanpur presented this celebrated play at the festival under the direction of Omendra Kumar. It was marred by shoddy presentation.