Art is a reflection of our time. I was constantly reminded of this while watching three contemporary theatre productions at the recent edition of Saarang Theatre Festival in Pune. Conflict of various kinds dominated these plays and we were watching them safely ensconced inside an auditorium while the national capital was engulfed in communal riots claiming lives of innocent citizens.
In such a climate, I saw Neel Chaudhuri’s ‘Rihla’ which deals with issues such as citizenship, identity and most importantly, home. Is nation home? How can it become home to all? Does such a nation exist? Rihla features young actors from the Aagaaz Theatre Trust, New Delhi. In the play, a group of young people set on a voyage to find a new country to forge a new identity and feel accepted. This quest is however into the great unknown – where is that country? This young group speak aloud their thoughts and aspirations about the new country they want to reach, educate and disagree with each other in the process thereby showcasing their dilemma and agony. While they aspire to reach and find an ideal state, it is anyone’s guess that it’s easier said than achieved.
Furthering the theme of conflict and war, Joy Maisnam’s ‘Andha Yug’ is a spectacular production. Based on Dharamvir Bharati’s iconic play, it is set against the backdrop of the last day of the Mahabharata. Mahabharata in itself is a big metaphor for the director and many like him who have adapted the play on stage. Brilliant in its scenography, this attempt brings out the inner contradictions of the characters in the Mahabharata – Gandhari, Aswathama and Krishna to name a few. TAAM (Treasure Art Association, Manipur) builds upon the physical martial traditions of Manipur and constructs a movement-based theatre vocabulary which is the strength of the production. The play could be set in a different timeframe, but its core concerns still resonate with us, thus yielding it topical to our context where treachery, murder, violence indicates the new normal.
Jyoti Dogra’s ‘Black Hole’ though talks about cosmological objects and such phenomena is an intimate meditation on life and loss. In her monologue performance, Dogra uses the scientific to talk about the personal. Seldom have such exchanges or associations been seen on stage, where science is not perceived or treated as the other but becomes a part of the individual’s emotional geography. Dogra appears solo on stage, a white sheet is her only prop and she shares information about the cosmos. While the synopsis may sound disorienting, very soon into the play one realises that the scientific information she shares facilitates an insight into the character and her ways of coming to terms with the loss of a loved one. When all vocabulary fails as if loss has a predetermined vocabulary, we device new epistemologies to talk about them and this to me is the highlight of this solo act. Dogra dismisses the obvious in the favour of the introspective. Even her rage is so subtle and nuanced. ‘Black Hole’ is a remarkable achievement in contemporary theatre helping us reimagine notions of form, body and ideas of encounter in the performing arts.
The plays are over, so is the festival but conflict lives on, spills out onto the streets creating routine mayhem. It is perhaps this mayhem that will genesis new performances.
(The writer is an arts commentator. He teaches literary & cultural studies at FLAME University, Pune)