Friday Review

Not enough light on this cell

A scene from the play.

A scene from the play.   | Photo Credit: 30dmcbajeli2

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Depicting the life of three prisoners in Iraq, director Surya Mohan Kulshreshtha’s “Muntazir” is a sketchy exercise.

Surya Mohan Kulshreshtha from Lucknow is familiar to the audiences of Delhi as a stage director and actor. His major production of Bodhayan’s Bhagwadjjukeeyam was adjudged the best production at the World Theatre Festival in Norway in 1991. A pass out of Bhartendu Natya Kendra he rose to be its director in 2006-2009. He has represented India in a few international theatre events abroad. As an actor he gave an outstanding performance as Socrates in Raj Bisari’s brilliant production of Socrates in Barefoot in Athens. Honoured with Sangeet Natak Akademi Award 2014 for his contribution to Indian theatre as a director, his latest Hindi production Muntazir was presented at Abhimanch auditorium in New Delhi this past week as part of Festival of Performing Arts featuring recipients of the Akademi Fellowships and Akademi Awards 2014.

Written by Bharatendu Kashyap and directed by Kulshreshtha, “Muntazir” depicts the life of three prisoners in a prison in Iraq. Joshua is an American, Danish, a Pakistani, and Naveen who has gone to Iraq to work from India. The play opens with the mysterious movements of a female image from the cell of the prison. Her movements are shown in dim light. The two inmates Joshua and Danish, talking with each other are shown in bright light. Their conversations are punctuated with heated debate. They have a kind of love-hate relationship. Then they are joined by Naveen who is lying on the floor in an unconscious state. Gradually, he gains consciousness. Now they are three inmates in the prison cell. Of course, their deepest concern is to escape from the cell but it is impossible.

They have nothing to do except to quarrel over trifles and then reconcile with their differences. Danish and Naveen clash over their popular Bollywood hero. Danish says he is a fan of Aamir Khan. Naveen’s favourite hero is Hrithik Roshan. The trio has nothing to do. They want to remain alert and healthy and frequently indulge in physical exercise.

We are vaguely suggested that the locale is Iraq and the inmates are made prisoners by IS. But one thing is clear their captors never visit them nor there is any torture chamber. Strangely enough, they are not interrogated. They recreate their past life with mixed feelings of nostalgia tinged with pathos.

The idea of playwright and director to depict the dilemma of humanity in prison in a foreign land is laudable but an idea alone cannot make a work of theatrical art. The script tends to be minuscule and the dialogue is commonplace. The viewing is tedious. There is little that provokes. The director and playwright have missed an opportunity to depict the truth about prison cell in Iraq created by American occupying army which invaded Iraq in 2003. The prison where innocent Iraqi men and women were subjected to brutal torture is infamously known Abu Ghraib, an abattoir. The revelations of what happened inside Abu Ghraib shocked the conscience of the world. “Muntazir” suggestively set in Iraq causally talks about IS but it has no perspective and lacks in dramatic energy. The offstage music and sounds are treated in a lackadaisical manner which contributed little to create the right atmosphere in the production.

However, the denouement is treated with sensitivity with a touch of tender sentiments when Danish is set free on the grounds that he is a Pakistani and Naveen remains alone in the prison cell. The American prisoner is already killed. Naveen is left in the solitary cell to face a dreadful future.

The performers – Mahinder Pal as Joshua, Nitish Bhardwaj as Danish and Suraj Singh as Naveen – work hard to bring to life their sketchily written characters.

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2020 11:22:29 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/not-enough-light-on-this-cell/article7819371.ece

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