Theatre

A worthy interpretation

A scene from the play.  

They, Vladimir and Estragon, have been waiting for Godot knows what, for 57 years now. Nor has anyone been able to decipher conclusively what the two bedraggled tramps really have been, knowingly or unknowingly, playing out there or what their too human a creator, Samuel Beckett, meant when he deployed this acrid cartoonish, unnerving and strangely uplifting performance onto the world. Nevertheless, what is obvious is that the two cannot move out of the stage abandoning their wait for the Mr. Him, try hard as they might.

Waiting for Godot is loquacious theatre at its bare dregs featuring beaten out characters who are coarsely elemental. But it is also exceedingly rooted in its references to the philosophic, religious and artistic traditions which hung heavy on mid 20th century, post second World War Europe. It's a clear case of too much in too little. It's a difficult text to translate into an Indian language or adapt to an Indian sensibility, whatever that means today!

The two mid-week shows at Lamakaan of a Hindi version of Waiting for Godot were a spirited attempt by Dr. Satyabrata Raut to bring Beckett closer to Indian audiences. Raut, a product of National School of Drama, and a close associate of late B.V. Karanth, and presently an Associate Professor in Theatre at the University of Hyderabad, is known for his many experiments at combining modern theatrical techniques with something Indian – he calls them ‘values'. In this case, it begins with a subtle semantic shift in the title of the play itself. It's Godot Aayaa Kyaa instead of Godot key Liye Intezaar.

So although the characters retain their names (Vladimir, Estragon, Pozzo and Lucky) and wear costumes which betray their raffish western origins quite faithfully, they do use, Vladimir and Estragon in particular, in large parts, a very idiomatic, rustic-small town Hindi lingo. Raut also, quite successfully, in this highly abridged adaptation, manages to seamlessly incorporate references to the Panchatantra, the Jataka stories and the frustrations of contemporary Indian social and political situation.

Waiting for Godot is famous also for its two-act mirror structure. In both acts, Vladimir and Estragon come across a master- slave duo, the gluttonous and heavy Pozzo and his lean, heavily burdened slave Lucky whom Pozzo holds with a rope around the neck. The second act is essentially a repeat of the first but with some significant differences: Pozzo is blind and it's Lucky leading him, and the sole dry tree in the scene has some green leaves on it.

Stage design and lighting are Satyabrat Raut's known strengths in the theatre world. In this play, he led the charge with an outstanding performance as the shabby but very articulate Vladimir who goes rather introspective in the second act, and amidst confusing and hopeless memories struggles to summarise himself: “It's time to grow old!”. Vasudev Venkatraman as Estragon, Avadesh Jha as Lucky and Shatarupa Bhattacharya (must be the first female doing this role!) as Pozzo deliver equally nuanced and sharply characterised performances.

In all, Godot Aayaa Kyaa turned out to be a worthy interpretation of the classic play with all its excoriating delineation of the agonisingly comic and desperate human search for meaning and repose. It was touching and lyrical. What rankled was the addition of a clichéd meta-theatrical frame: a pompous director and his assistants coming on to the stage and shouting at the actors and introducing and concluding the two acts, and some references to theatre craft. They didn't add anything substantial, but thankfully didn't weaken the core of the play from coming through!

A Godot in Hindi just three months after Samhaara brought to stage in February a very stimulating and challenging production of four short plays of Beckett under the direction of Stuart Denison, a young British impressario, is probably an indication that good theatre could soon become a norm rather than an exception on the cultural scene of Hyderabad!!!

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Printable version | May 7, 2021 6:38:10 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/a-worthy-interpretation/article2023499.ece

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