'Jaanch Padtal', a Hindi adaptation of 'The Government Inspector', exudes enthusiasm and vitality.

“The Government Inspector”, written by Nikolai Gogol and performed for the first time in St. Petersburg in 1836, is an immortal satirical work which exposed the corrupt state apparatus of Russia under the autocratic regime of Tsar Nicholas. On the Delhi stage we have been watching the Hindi adaptation of this play with different titles from time to time. We find in it a striking relevance to our contemporary situation marred by rampant corruption and bureaucratic lethargy. Among the various productions seen in the Capital was the one by a leading theatrical group based in Lucknow and brought as part of a national theatre festival more than three decades ago. Directed by eminent theatre personality of Uttar Pradesh, Mudrarakshas, it was presented in the Nautanki style. The folk music is brilliantly used to reveal the “diabolical laughter” to expose a rotten system. It continues to be a masterpiece of theatrical production.

Recently, we had yet another opportunity to watch “The Government Inspector” as “Jaanch Padtal” in Hindi, presented by Natya Samiti Rangayan of Delhi University’s Atma Ram Sanatan Dharm College. The play was performed at the LTG Auditorium. Remarkable for its liveliness, the young cast exudes enthusiasm and vitality, establishing a rapport with the audience.

Adapted by Sanjay Sahai, the play is directed by Danish Iqbal, a highly qualified and talented theatre director. “Jaanch Padtal” is set in a small Indian town run by an apparatus reeking of corruption. The administrative head is the mayor, assisted by a host of officials. Bribery is an open secret. The rights of the common man are suppressed by a brazen ruling class that treats public institutions such as judiciary, hospitals and post office as its personal property. The ruling clique is looting the town.

Suddenly their smug world is threatened by a secret message that a senior officer from Delhi is visiting the town to expose their financial bungling. Naive as they are, the mayor and his cronies identify a hotel lodger as this dreaded official. Congratulating themselves on their superior wisdom, they prevail on the ‘senior officer’ to become the personal guest of the mayor, and he reluctantly obliges.

The news of the arrival of the ‘senior officer’ from Delhi spreads throughout the town like wildfire. The corrupt heads of various departments do their best to keep the officer in good humour and vying with each other, shower bribes on him, expressing their happiness that the officer is kind enough to cooperate with them.

Director Iqbal has skilfully brought to the fore the comic elements inherent in the caricatures of the corrupt officials. In moments of crisis they betray their foolishness, making their actions ridiculous. At another level the comedy reveals that those who indulge in blatant loot of public money are morally weak, suffering from intellectual bankruptcy.

Another source of comedy is evoked by the encounters between the ‘officer’, the beautiful, young and simple minded daughter of the mayor and the second wife of the mayor — a coquettish middle-aged woman who resents her stepdaughter standing in the way of her advances towards the ‘officer’. The daughter in turn is charmed by him.

One of the highlights of the production is the way set is designed to provide a touch of realistic background, ensuring the performers uninterrupted exit and entry points.

The production opens with a dance sequence which the corrupt coterie has organised for their entertainment. This embellishes the production, making it visually rich.

The treatment of the last sequence is very significant and needs subtle acting and directorial ingenuity to create the right effect of bewilderment. Both the director and his cast have handled this scene aptly.

The members of the cast impress the audience with their performances. Harsh Kumar Khatwani’s foxy ‘senior officer’, passing through an acute financial and emotional crisis, discovers in the corrupt and naïve mayor and his clique easy prey to be exploited to the hilt. Vishal Chauhan as the mayor is a man with coarse sensibility and knows how to amass money and display his authority over his subordinates but makes himself a laughing stock. Dishi as Imarawati Devi, the mayor’s coquette second wife, and Priyanka as the mayor’s daughter from his first wife impart vital comic rhythm to the production.