Theatre

A cry of anguish

Heart-rending narrative A scene from the play

Heart-rending narrative A scene from the play   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

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Rajesh Singh’s “Babuji”, staged at the 6th Yuva Natya Samaroh, captured the plight of an independent folk artist

The 6th Yuva Natya Samaroh organised by Sahitya Kala Parishad, started off with the staging of a brilliant production of “Babuji” at Kamani Auditorium recently to a jam packed hall. A musical, the production is remarkable for its thrilling melody, heart-rending narrative and a tragic view of life of an artist living in a decadent feudal system.

A stage adaption by Vibhanshu Vaibhav of the short story by Mithleshwar, “Babuji” was first directed by the late B. V Karanth for SRC Repertory nearly three decades ago. Ever since we have watched a few productions of the play by different directors with limited success because the production demands good actors as well as singers and such talented actors and singer are rarely available in Delhi. The latest version under review is directed by Rajesh Singh, a young talented theatre director and designer, featuring professionally trained and experienced performers, is an absorbing musical.

The play opens with the climactic scene charged with tension, suspense and cries of anguish, family members disowning the patriarch whose body is lying on the cot. Then the narrator, who is the youngest son of the deceased, takes us to the beginning of the life journey of the patriarch, unfolding facets of his controversial life. Remembered by the narrator as Babuji, Lalan Singh is a Nautanki artist who is wholeheartedly committed to his art and values his independence. He hates moribund feudal values. However, he has managed to become a well-to-do farmer and decides to marry a girl who is said to have an affair with a village boy. With the stigma attached to her, local boys declined to accept her as bride. Ignoring the advice of his close friend, Lalan Singh marries the girl. This is one of the significant events of his life when he defies orthodoxy of a society that demeans the character of a young girl.

As husband and father of three children - two sons and young daughter- he fulfils his duty but his foremost devotion remains to his art as a folk singer, defying societal fetters that come in the way of his creativity. A group of Nautanki artists assemble on his courtyard, singing and dancing to the accompaniment of instruments for long hours. The family members of Lalan Singh vehemently object the daily rehearsals which he loves dearly. When the activities become intolerable and a source of social stigma, family leaves home and goes to stay with the brother of Lalan Singh’s wife. This provides unbridled liberty to Lalan Singh and his party to sing and dance with gay abandonment.

After a long period of time, Lalan Singh’s family returns, forcing him and his artists to vacate the house with the help of police and villagers who have been feeling deeply offended with the presence of folk artists and a female dancer in the village. A heartbroken Lalan Singh manages to form a roving repertory, presenting Nautanki shows form one place to another, growing in popularity. But these happy days do not last long. He has to confront an ignominious end to his bright career as a folk artist.

The set is imaginatively designed with special space upstage for chorus and instrumentalists who are not visible to the audience.

Symbolising emptiness

On the left downstage, a structure of the modest rural house is created with a door wide enough to provide entry and exit smoothly. On the right upstage, a tree without leaves is projected to symbolize the emptiness of the life of an artists and the absurdity of his ambition in a rotten social order. The central and the downstage are specified for dramatic action providing the audience full view of the action. With minimal use of properties like a cot, a pair of tabla, harmonium and a bundle of hay and aptly designed costumes create the right ambience.

Some of the scenes like the violent encounter between Lalan’s Singh wife claiming to be the custodian of moral and ethical values and Lalan Singh’s prima donna, who is proud to be an artist, claiming to be the true adherence to social value, rejecting forcefully that she is not at all a fallen woman. In this scene, director has not used any background music for effect, his stress is to allow his performers use their dialogue delivery, facial expression to reveal their inner dilemma bringing to the fore the intensity of their anguish. The climactic scene is a tour de force where Lalan Singh and his party are invited as an outcast to perform in the wedding of his own daughter and brutally attacked by the muscle man of the father of the bridegroom who tries to treat the female dancer as a harlot.

Versatile actor

Subhash Chandra as Babuji displays noteworthy skill as a Nautanki hero both as a singer as well as dancer. He is cynosure of all eyes. Needhi Mishra as Sursati, the prima donna of Nautanki Repertory, creates a striking image of a committed dancer, singer and actor, imparting depth into the portrayal of her character.

Her Sursati displays high moral strength when she remains determined to stay with critically wounded Babuji deserted by all his artists. Nalini Joshi as Kaushalya, the wife of Lalan Singh, Mujiber Rehman as the elder son who hated his father, Satyendra Malik as the narrator and younger son of Lalan Singh who has soft corner for his father, Durgesh Kumar as the villager and Avtar Sahni, the seasoned theatre practitioner as Daroga and vulgar and brute landlord give riveting performances.

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2020 10:29:26 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/a-cry-of-anguish/article25842638.ece

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