Theatre

Pangs of separation

A scene from the play Urf Chocolate   | Photo Credit: 28dfrUrfChocolate

A few months ago Uttar Rang staged “Bathaan” under the direction of Dilip Gupta at Azad Bhavan which focused on feuds among land owning class in rural Bihar. It also dealt with the exploitation of landless peasants. The play was meaningful and indicted the forces responsible for violence against rural poor. Its latest production of “Urf Chocolate Friends” presented this past week at Shri Ram Centre seeks to depict the unmitigated miseries of wives of those condemned to remain away from home to eke out a wretched existence as migrant labourers in cities. Director Dilip’s production is highly relevant and his intentions are laudable but intentions alone cannot make a work of art. Structurally, the narrative is amorphous. Some of the images of women deserted by their husbands tend to be abstract. He has used folk songs of Bihar and some he himself composed but these were used as patchwork instead of treating them as device to reinforce the emotional content of the play.

Based on Shivendra’s novelette “Chandi Chonch Madhaeb e Kaga urf Chocolate Friend”, it is adapted by the director himself. In fact, the woes of migrant labourers forced to leave families to work in Kolkata are depicted by Bhikari Thakur with emotional force. A popular folk singer of Bihar, the form he evolved was popularly known as Bidesiya, a form which is further enriched both in form and content by eminent theatre practitioner Satish Anand.

Dilip’s production begins with Vidyapati’s Maithili verse which is addressed to the crow. It is believed that whenever the bird crows it signifies the arrival of a dear guest. The women waiting for the arrival of their husbands for years are happy to hear the noise of crow, flying from one place to another. The harbinger of hope proves to be illusory. The director could not explore the irony of the situation highlighted by the poet.

There is a lot of melodrama conveyed by the sequence of husband living with his wife in abysmal poverty. The husband is half naked. The wife is sleeping on a bare stage, covering herself with a shabby sari. The husband tears a part of this sari and wraps this piece round his half naked body and disappears, leaving behind his wife and a little son to rot in poverty. The director makes a clumsy attempt to show that the man who has left his family is part of the pathetic story of the entire village where only women and their little ones are living, waiting for their men to come to the village. Through the interactions of women it is revealed that their men who have gone to Kolkata to earn livelihood will never return to their families. The women believe that the men have been transformed into sheep by Bengali women to make them their slaves all through their lives.

After projecting the bleak future of the women, the play returns to the little boy whose enquiries about his father, his mother is unable to answer. Desperate and frustrated the boy leaves for Kolkata with the resolve to bring back his father. The action shifts from the rural Bihar to Kolkata city. Here the director manages to project the true picture of the hard life of migrant workers. The boy now a grown up young man moves from one labourer colony to another in search of his father. Here he discovers that the myth about transforming young Biharis into sheep is totally untrue. In fact, they have to work very hard and paid so little that it is not enough to survive and hence they have no money to go back home.

The young man discovers that the Bengali women also suffer from a patriarchal society and falls in love with a neglected woman whose husband has deserted her. He fathers a daughter and as soon as the daughter becomes young, he takes her with him and goes back to his village, unable to discover his father. The father and daughter have another story to tell, blurring the main focus of the play.

We watch distorted wooden structures placed on a raised platform upstage to give metaphysical idea about a village devoid of hope and life. It is a village with ageing women. The production lacks in single-minded purpose, the characters seem to have been trapped in a hopeless world with no will to struggle.

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Printable version | May 7, 2021 9:08:50 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/pangs-of-separation/article5732616.ece

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