Friday Review

Real slash surreal

A scene from "Diversion Slash just joking"   | Photo Credit: 06dfr Diversion

“Yahan” and “Diversion Slash just joking”, the two current productions of Rikh and Padatik Theatre, mounted within a fortnight at the Gyan Manch, Kolkata by director Vinay Sharma, explore the desire of freedom. While “Yahan” is about subtle worldliness of yearning, “Diversion…” is an amalgamation of several icons with undertones of intelligent spoofing sprinkled with satire in the two-and-a half-hour Hindi play sprinkled with English and some Bengali dialogues.

Both are scripted and designed by Sharma. While the two-member female cast in “Yahan” evokes moods ranging from the serious to gloomy to mild bitter with a series of episodes, all detached, “Diversion...” is a ‘stand-up sit-down lie-down and drop-dead comedy’ with fun-filled dialogues and a 10-member cast of well-known theatre actors including the director himself.

The deeply moving 70-minute “Yahan” emphasised on the loneliness or “tadap” for oneself by two women who observe and assess their world, a world where twin souls in a state of yearning move in space and time and await any signs that will indicate to them who they will be next. On a dark stage, a signature opening of the director, the spot-light falls on Anubha Fathepuria and Sanchayita Bhattacharya moving face- to-face perpendicularly across the stage with tai chi moves. A background of rattling, mechanical sound, (that of an aeroplane, perhaps!) ‘samay’ (time) their opening dialogue was treated as “agyakari”. “Rahey hain, prakash hain....do kamrey kaafi hain ek duniya bananey mein” (two rooms are enough to make a world) are alternately delivered by the two as the play moves sluggishly. Personal drama in each case was played out against an under-layer of their exploration of the feeling or rasa of yearning. Then it gained momentum in two imaginary spaces to unfold the thoughts and feelings of different women in different times and spaces by entering their lives in the series of episodes that were at times meta-real or surreal but always rooted in the human need to connect with the other and with oneself. And this tied them together – shown with deep sensitivity by the two matured actors present in two different rooms (spaces) separated by an invisible wall (glass perhaps) trying to reach out and touch each other tenderly.

There is no definite story or character or any psychological crisis but the visualisation or perspective of situations at that “location” (Yahan), depicting motion in a timeless space of opposite characters. Use of two wooden chairs with a pointed arrow at the bottom and a box with a light inside (switched off and on as the situation demanded) are the only props used. In some parts, the play is inspired by the spirit and essence of the writings in “Therigatha” and “Gatha Saptasati”. It is an intense piece of theatre with deep emotions and confinement with which women can relate to.

“Diversion...”on the contrary has a wonderful gamut of history presented as a “pataphysical” comedy where the comic and the tragic interact incessantly but their conversation defy categorisation. The play deals with everything in particular and nothing in general, gave in to contradictions, catalysed laughter while framing actions, especially of the icons as statues – the critic from Bengal (played by Sharma) – and of the two beggars (Anubha and Sanchayita) who are informers, sweepers (symbolic),work for CBI/CID and are dead-bodies in the morgue. Sharma had studded his play with an eclectic assortment of characters executed by ten well-known actors, veteran and young.

There is the storyline. About 2500 years ago, Nachiketa (of the Kathopanishad fame) obtained a diploma in Yamology from Yamadev at the tender age of 12. He felt wise enough to face life and death but a middle-aged Nachiketa (Ashoke Singh) finds himself ailing and depressed beyond cure. A doctor of “Pataphysics’ suggested that Nachiketa must write a comedy play and laugh at everything that troubled him. So he found a world of characters (some were statues) that beneath their thin veneer of normalcy turn out to be quirky, inane and insane as he writes “Diversion...”

Structured on the lines of a satire, the play opens with Nachiketa writing on a computer and the allegorical “Arrow-babu”(Mahmud Alam as blind) flittering, hunting the right area! He visits the park and meets a young man (Karanjit Singh) and talked about exercise and a suicide helpline – “How to the stop Suicide in three easy steps” and comes across a statue which points towards the East (indicating Navanirman) – very topical indeed. At the end of the play (after many years) the statue which was removed and installed in an alternate location is placed pointing towards the West! The script is loaded with humour and satire. A pigeon (Vikram Iyengar) sits on, talks, informs and soils all statues but not to his hearts content until the end. Sharma’s actors become significant only in their ethos. The iconic statues, at times, point at democratic mediocrity and pragmatism within an expressive framework. Dilip Dave as the statue in the park is compelling but the best performances come from the two beggars, pigeon and the director as the critic and Gandhiji’s fourth monkey. Ashoke Viswanathan covers different cases with a hilarious South Indian accent as the judge (statue) and Pawan Maskara is convincing. Costumes, especially of the beggars and the critic are a visual delight and hilariously beautiful, but not garish.

There is no theatrical revelry and the entire cast resonated within the principles of the underlying spoof.

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Printable version | Mar 7, 2021 2:03:56 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/real-slash-surreal/article8561673.ece

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