As the 16th National Festival of Creative Arts begins this week, the actors of “Khel” observe a familiarity between life and stage

The attractive Averee Chaurey and the dapper Purnendu Bhattacharya will not be immediately recognisable in their stage personas of the 78-year-old nearly blind Kaushalya and her 84-year-old husband Sashodhar in “Khel”. The production is a Hindi translation by Manish Manoja of the Bengali play “Khela” by Sisir Kumar Das and will be presented on the third day of the National Festival of Creative Arts being mounted by Impresario India this week.

Recognising the actors, though, is not what is at stake here. What is chilling is how familiar is the situation its protagonists find themselves in. As their rehearsal comes to an end, the actors pull themselves out of the sombre mood created by the last scene and sit in a semi-circle. It is not possible for them, says Averee, to ‘just’ practise without experiencing what the characters are going through. The same cast has performed the play in Bengali some 16 times since it was first written in the late 1990s, but this is the first Hindi production.

The story is of an aged couple whose son, daughter-in-law and grandchild are in the far-off U.S. The younger generation has no time or inclination to come back to India and look after the parents, who dote on them. In this scenario comes a young businessman….

For the Hindi version, Purnendu — who has been acting since the age of four with his father and has been involved in film and television assignments — has taken up the responsibility of the director. “All of us are Bengali, and in Bengali there is no difference of uska, uski, etc.,” he admits, a tad ruefully, referring to the extra homework they are having to put in to perfect their lines. But then, the story is of a Bengali family so even if their identity or accent puts in an appearance it should not disturb the flow of the play. Then again, the story may be set in a Bengali household but it reflects the life of many aging Delhiites, the group has discovered.

“When we did the show, so many people came up to us and said, this is our story,” recalls Averee, who trained as an actor in Kolkata and has worked with eminent directors like Habib Tanvir and Amal Allana.

The cast feels very attached to the project. “Sisir da was very close to us and he used to talk to us a lot,” says Sukhanshu Chatterjee, who plays the role of Dipankar, adding that when the play was first presented, old-age homes were still a very new idea.

“The first time the play was staged, people didn’t believe such a thing could happen,” agrees Purnendu, who gave up his corporate career to be able to give more time to his passion for theatre. He now runs a nutrition club with his wife Runa Bhattacharya, also a cast member.

Sudipto Majumdar, Shantanu Ghosh and Srikanto Mukherjee are the others in the cast.

Though they belong to different groups of the NCR, the actors have come together to take up roles they have been doing off and on for nearly 14 years. What is heartening is, their concern for the aged is not restricted to staging plays. The actors state they also regularly work with the elderly, offering them company and recreation.

Festival takes place at India Habitat Centre, Lodhi Road, 7 p.m. ,Tuesday onwards