A play about those on whom the city turns its back

As the city gears up for the Commonwealth Games at full speed, many slums around town are cleared in a jiffy, leaving hundreds homeless. “At one end we talk about development and making Delhi a world class city; on the other end, the poor are being displaced in large numbers from their slums everyday, without being provided any alternate options,” says Randhir Kumar, talking about his play “Jaayen toh jaayen kahan”, recently staged at the Convention Hall of Delhi University. The play marked the culmination of a one-month workshop with university students organised by Aarohi Cultural Society. “I like working with fresh talent as they are open to new ideas,” says the energetic director.

The play is a modern adaptation of Bijon Bhattacharya’s play “Nabanna” (whose backdrop is the Bengal famine of 1943), though the main theme and dialogues remain the same,” he explains. “This shows that even after so many years, the real problems of the poor actually remain the same,” he points out, adding, “Be it the Bengal famine of 1943 or the modern ‘development’, it’s the rural and tribal population that has to suffer, and they mostly look towards the cities for opportunities. But what they end up getting is exploitation, poor sanitation, hygiene, illiteracy and slums.”

The play does not have a linear plot and is like a string of situations. It shows the journey of people from villages to the city. Their struggle in the village where food and opportunities are scarce is well portrayed and just when then audience is completely absorbed, there is a big fight among the actors. The audience is shocked! Just when you think the play is over and are ready to leave your seat, they break into a song in perfect harmony, making you realise you had been tricked. The fight was actually a part of the play.

“It is called the alienation technique,” says Randhir. “Whenever the audience gets too emotionally involved in the play, we use this to break the emotion and reflect over things rationally. It is the message that is more important than the story. For this we have kept the costumes neutral black and the sets simple,” he says, describing it as the Brechtian style of theatre. Ghazals of Faiz and bhajans of Kabir have been interspersed into the narrative.

The last scene shows migrants who had left their villages in search of good fortune being shown the door by the cities as well, in the government’s ‘city beautification’ efforts. They don’t know where to go. “Is there no place in the world for the poor?” the play seems to ask.

The 70-minute saga ends with a discussion revealing different perspectives for us to ponder over.