Garbage Cityalli Beththale Manushya, an adaptation of Dario Fo’s One Was Nude, One Wore Tails, is a layer above mediocre

The constricted lanes of old Bangalore’s Chikpet area had small hills of garbage a few months ago, that people going about their businesses skirted and skipped over. Perhaps now those reeking piles have been cleared and carted off to Mandur, a name that is referred to in passing in Garbage Cityalli Beththale Manushya. That is just one of the small handful of references that the play has to Bangalore’s rising stink in public places. This derived context apart, there isn’t much that Garbage Cityalli… has to do with garbage in the city.

It has a lot to do instead with nakedness, of the soul and of the body. Do clothes maketh a man or is his identity derived slowly from his profession? Can you strip off the clothes and give them to another, thus changing what they do, who they are? In Dario Fo’s characteristic satirical style, the play attempts to induce some laughs, some philosophical musings while examining these questions of identity. In the treatment of Fo’s One Was Nude, One Wore Tails, as adapted to Kannada by Dr Prakash Garud, the performance ends up being just a layer above mediocre though.

A garbage sweeper and his friend, who dispenses a bit of a philosophy while cleaning up a red light area, discuss God, nothingness and everythingness in that nothingness and such like. The first sweeper finds himself having to deal with an naked ambassador who hides in his garbage box while escaping from his lover’s house. It is a minor inconvenience when his lover’s husband arrives and our ambassador is forced to make a dash for his top hat and jump in the nude from the balcony. He insists that he be taken home, promising the sweeper much money and an 18-carat gold watch in return. The sweeper is more worried about the supervisor he might meet and have to explain the odd scenario to. A flower seller is wearing the ambassador’s tail coat, the sweeper struggles to get him to sell it, a prostitute is charmed by the sweeper when he in turn wears the tails and a policeman has to be talked out of arresting everyone involved. All these affairs are conducted with a bit of buffoonery, for laughs.

The garbage box is rather charming, with fading vintage posters of Kannada films from the 80s and of some adult films adorning its sides. A trash can says BBMP and you are reminded thus, throughout the play, to place it mentally in this city. Bits of flying paper and flattened bottles are everywhere on the stage, helpful when the sweepers throw jibes at intelligent, educated audiences that don’t think twice of littering on the streets.

Garbage Cityalli… tries to follow a line of contemplation and questioning where you want to mull over pretensions, the masks you wear, extending from the clothes you cover yourself with and of nakedness within and outside the soul. But at times it becomes a tad tedious to look beyond the somewhat mediocre acting and examine the philosophies of the narrative. Ganapathi Hegde, who co-directs the play with Dr Prakash Garud, plays the lovable, honest sweeper and easily steals the show. Dr Garud as the policeman is wonderful as a public servant who isn’t above minor transgressions. Some of the actors look like they cannot say their lines fast enough and be done with it, leaving it to the older warhorses to hold your attention. Music by Sathyanarayana Gundibail peps the play up in places. The theatre group Oddolaga from Hittalakai in Uttar Kannada district performs this play.