THEATRE: Masquerade Youth Theatre recently staged its first production ‘Charandas Chor’ The truthful thief: as oxymorons go, that’s certainly an intriguing one. And, full of dramatic potential, as seen in the creation of ‘Charandas Chor’ (Charandas, the thief) by Habib Tanvir, one of the great dramatists of the Indian stage. Charandas could not give up thieving, however, he stayed true to his vow never to lie. The richness of this paradoxical character explains the enduring appeal of Tanvir’s play.
As Chennai-based Masquerade Youth Theatre’s (MYT) choice for their debut into treading the boards, it was a refreshing pick. Tanvir was a pioneer of Urdu / Hindi theatre, and ‘Charandas Chor’ was considered an important work that was even made into a 1975 children’s film by Shyam Benegal. Among many accolades, it has won a Fringe Firsts Award at the Edinburgh International Drama Festival in 1982. Today ‘Charandas Chor’ is topical for all sorts of other reasons such as the recent demise of the playwright, and a somewhat incomprehensible ban placed on the play.
Charandas is also a logical choice, given MYT’s exposure to both urban and rural forms of theatre at the summer workshop held for its young members aged between 12 and 20, earlier this year.
Tanvir’s work is an adaptation of a Rajasthani folk story retold by Vijaydan Detha; in MYT’s production, the play’s folktale antecedents were firmly upfront.
The story is situated in a rural milieu in every aspect — from the costumes to the broadly drawn character types, associated with a simple village life.
The eponymous hero of the play, Charandas (Amitash Pradhan) is an incorrigible thief whose life changes when it intersects with that of a slightly suspect guru (T.T. Keshav), whose desire for material gains exceeds his spiritual ambitions.
As a lark, Charandas offers four vows to the guru — that he will never eat off a golden platter, lead a procession riding an elephant, marry a princess or become a ruler. The guru induces him to take a fifth vow — never to tell a lie. Needless to say, life’s whimsical vagaries ensure that each vow of Charandas is put to test.
MYT’s production, directed by Pradhan, still a college student, unfolded in an episodic, somewhat staccato way. It was a young production where the exuberance of the youthful actors and tangible enthusiasm in the room were the defining principles of the evening, rather than any sophisticated or professional reworking of Tanvir’s play.
The cast and crew were having a great time from the four colourful dancers to the principal actors. Performed as broad slapstick, the subtleties of satire and social commentary might have been lost, but it was as youthful entertainment that the play needed to be viewed. One was appreciative that the fledgling company had looked to its own heritage to kickstart its offerings.
Theatre, today, is a fragile art that needs the constant infusion of young blood. But it’s vital, too, that youthful entrants appreciate theatre as a demanding art form that can only be mastered through an openness to experimentation; rigorous, critical self-examination of ones performances; and the constant telling and retelling of stories.