TREE OF LIFE FESTIVAL ‘What does freedom really mean?' TANYA THOMAS found herself asking this question after watching “Unbound”.

Aadmi mar jaane ke baad kuch nahi bolta; aadmi mar jaane ke bad kuch nahi sochta. Kuch na bolne aur kuch na sochne ke baad, aadmi mar jaata hai. (After death, the powers of speech and thought are lost. But giving up on these is death itself)

This terse ending to “Unbound” actually sums it up. That remaining mute is not the answer to a world still searching for its true “swaraj”.

India's leading alternative theatre exponent, Parnab Mukherjee was back in town for another show that shakes you out of cushy comfort zones. Performing with him this time was Cordis Paldano of Indianostrum theatre while C. Krishnapriya provided the artistic installations.

The play was part of Prakriti Foundation's annual Tree of Life Festival, performed for college audiences and also the general public.

Questioning freedom

“Unbound” is based on Hind Swaraj, Gandhi's influential, avant-garde text and roadmap to self-rule. Although the book was penned in 1909, its insights are relevant just as much today; freedom is no longer about driving the British out. It never was, in fact. It's about inclusiveness and finding harmony in a world that simply refuses to co-exist.

Cordis plays Sayed, a second generation African and outcast in now-native France, who leans to art for relief. His descriptions of the country's skin-deep beauty are emphatic. His dual role is of Mohammed, a refugee from across the Mediterranean who at first is in awe of the sights and sounds of Paris but finds that “misery, the ugly hag” just won't let him be even here, as he gets accustomed to a life lived on the city's spotless streets.

Besides direction and design, Parnab also role-plays as Gandhi, giving voice to the meaning of the century-old writings. This flows parallelly with Cordis' mimicked French-accented story of a Muslim outsider in French homeland. All this entwined with references to socio-economic profiling, life in matchbox-like chawls in Mumbai, male fairness creams and middle class passiveness conveniently labelled “practicality”.

Stage set up

As I realised earlier, props for third theatre productions can be baffling, until you actually see them being used. There is no stage; props include stainless steel tiffin boxes, dolls with their limbs cut off, cups and saucers and reams of cellotape. The starkness heightens its dramatic effects.

The blood-red faces and darkened hands on Krishnapriya's canvas laid out on the floor were an interesting touch, although the college performances didn't give audiences time enough to explore it well.

“Unbound” asks a lot of such questions, but doesn't help with the answers. The play is a provocation point only; reminding us that history is the same everywhere. An African-French refugee is not very different from a Tamil in Jaffna. History plays itself out the same way all the time, only the names and places are different. And freedom is not about parliamentary democracies, it's something we still haven't figured out.

Tanya is a II Year student of B.Com. at Stella Maris College.