Amazing elephants, Greek tragedies and mistaken identities


Aasakta Kalamanch’s ongoing festival of plays in the city is noteworthy for its collaborative spirit says Vikram Phukan

Ever since their recent appearances at the annual Prithvi Theatre Festival, the Pune-based Aasakta Kalamanch’s Mumbai fixtures have steadily increased. This is in part because dates (as sporadic as ever) at Prithvi are guaranteed for groups participating at the festival, which Aasakta has been able to leverage into respectable houses. It is also a testament to in-house director Mohit Takalkar’s growing cultural clout in a city that had once seemed like the last bastion for theatremakers operating out of Pune. Buoyed by last year's Aadyam outing, Gajab Kahani, Takalkar now has considerable name recall amongst the city’s otherwise culturally insular audience so the trek to Prithvi with a largish crew (still a financial risk despite the low venue costs involved) is something Aasakta can take into its stride. Takalkar’s doomsday pronouncements about his own practice in the past year don’t seem to have extended, into the actual business of running his relentlessly experimental theatre outfit. The theatre company’s upcoming four-day run of as many plays at Prithvi Theatre then, is a heartening show of strength. As a side note, his restaurant, Barometer, in Pune’s Kothrud, is also going great guns.

Two plays that are fairly new to Mumbai audiences are part of the itinerary. While The Mathemagician, a monologue featuring Ipshita Chakraborty Singh, takes up second-day honours, the opening day will witness the staging of Mukaam Dehru Jilaa Nagaur, a rousing new adaptation of Paresh Mokashi's long-running Marathi comedy, Mukkam Post Bombilwadi, which was first performed in 2001. Directed by Takalkar, the translation into a richly colloquial mix of Hindi and Rajasthani is credited to Jitendra Joshi, an actor who was incidentally part of Mokashi’s production as well. The premise is certainly intriguing and doesn’t stop shy of treading on potentially incendiary material. Set against the backdrop of the Quit India Movement, the play follows none other than German despot Adolf Hitler (in hopefully a none too glamorised avatar) during what is set up as an accidental outing to an Indian village. There, the performance of a local Marwadi play unfolds like a comedy of errors with the farce’s manifold preoccupations caught up in the swirl. The production is a collaboration with the Jaipur-based Ujjagar Dramatic Association, whose members including mainstays like Chakraborty Singh and Ajeet Singh Palawat are part of the cast, and it was even invited to Pakistan to participate in the NAPA International Theatre Festival in 2016. Shows in India have been sporadic though. A Kannada adaptation of the Mokashi play directed by Omkar K R is also currently running in Karnataka – it’s a production that started out as a NINASAM repertory play.

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that this particular Aasakta run has a distinctive Ujjagar flavour with both Chakraborty Singh and Palawat being Takalkar’s most frequent collaborators in recent years. His dark forbidding take on Gowri Ramnarayan’s The Mathemagician features Chakraborty Singh as a mathematician in ancient Babylon, the castrated and conflicted Nikor, in what could prove to be an inspired bit of gender-blind casting. An animal’s carcass is a prominent feature of the play’s macabre design and Chakraborty Singh displays no aversion to blood and gore during her majestically mounted turn. Later, she and Palawat return to topline the well-regarded Palestinian drama Main Huun Yusuf aur Yeh Hai Mera Bhai on Saturday, before Palawat joins Geetanjali Kulkarni and Nakul Bhalla in the aforementioned Gajab Kahani, a take on José Saramago’s The Elephant’s Journey being performed on the final evening. It will be a more conventional staging that is poles apart from the 360 degree swivel-chair trappings of its Aadyam opening at the G5A Black Box.

The Aasakta Kalamanch festival of plays is ongoing at Prithvi Theatre, Juhu until March 18; more details at

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2020 4:41:53 AM |

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