The Wedding Party seemed an attempt to eliminate the barrier that proscenium theatre erects between audience and actors
A theatre critic normally doesn’t chat with the actors while the play is going on, or worse, catcall them. I did both during “The Wedding Party”. But then I wasn’t exactly wearing my critic’s hat, or even a spectator’s hat for that matter. I, along with the 40-odd other “wedding guests”, were inside the play. That is, if you could call it a play. At the end of 90 minutes during which I had eaten, drunk and made merry, I was incapable of sensible thought and only one line kept repeating itself in my head: “It’s a house! It’s a play! No, it’s, it’s... Superfun!”
Maybe it wasn’t really a play but an experiment in hyper-reality, an attempt to eliminate the barrier that proscenium theatre erects between audience and actors — in Kirtana’s words, “breaking the fourth wall”. Instead of alienating us, Brecht-fashion, we were coaxed into accepting that we were taking part in a real wedding. All the actors were “on” throughout the evening, remaining in character even during the “interval” while we – as our hosts might have worded it – partook of hot drinks and eatables.
The illusion of a traditional wedding was maintained right from the ticket mimicking a marriage invitation to the way we were greeted with lime juice, flowers and kumkum, and shown to our plastic chairs. Ganesha the handyman, wearing a brown woollen monkey-cap that hid part of his face, mingled among us. Felix the wedding planner played himself; he didn’t need to act the part of hearty Cantonment lad, speaking the what-da-why-ra lingo peppered with rut-put, crunchy-munchy, and other classic adjectives. Then there was the unmistakable Kannadiga accent and patter of the “pujari, yoga instructor, chartered accountant”, his signature phrase being “leave it”, the literal translation of bitt-bidi (ignore it).
The authenticity of the language – the many kinds of English spoken in Bangalore – was the highlight of the script developed and directed by Konarak Reddy and Kirtana Kumar. The script was built from scratch with plenty of improvisation, with a scribe at hand to take down dialogues and situations as they evolved. Characters were constructed from the inside out. This flexibility was not at the expense of “rigour”, said Kirtana; without it, the play would have descended into chaos. She said the idea for the play had been simmering for 10 years and warmed up when India Foundation for the Arts provided a grant, while the form was inspired by the Mudiyettu ritual where people follow the temple dancers as they change venue. It was quite a challenge to coordinate and choreograph the shifting action with sound emanating from different points outdoors and inside various rooms.
The purpose of the exercise (for those looking for a purpose) was to subvert the traditional Hindu wedding. Every kind of stereotype and prejudice about region, religion, caste, class, gender and sexuality was voiced in a manner that provoked humour. Poland was merely an “Eastern Bloc country”, Kalyani was scorned because she “behaves like a North Indian”, and assumptions were made that traditional Tamils were all Iyers, that AP was Andhra Pradesh and not Arunachal Pradesh, and that anyone who didn’t fit into our community was “not our kind”.
What appeared to be a traditional wedding soon turned into farce. The stage that had witnessed the interrupted religious rituals was transformed into a dance floor and we were urged to step up and join in.
In the end came an announcement inviting us to bless the happy couple. This was the moment when I couldn’t resist shouting “Which one?” For if Menaka had found her Maqbool, Rajesh too had found his soul-mate in his best friend. We left as Felix stepped up to the mike to offer his services as an organiser of weddings and advertise his company - a genuine one, by the way. What was perhaps not so genuine was his offer: “2 per cent off on the second one”.C.K. MEENA