FRIDAY REVIEW

Bapu falls prey to great expectations

ROMESH CHANDER

CHANGE OF HEART A scene from the play "Samrat"

CHANGE OF HEART A scene from the play "Samrat"  

Little over a month ago, Primetime Theatre Company, Mumbai, brought to Delhi Pratap Sharma's latest play "Sammy", that tells the story of Gandhiji's life starting from south Africa to his death bringing to life different events in our fight for Independence. Reviewing the play in these columns this critic had commented on the way the playwright explores the conflicts between Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and the Mahatma Gandhi his inner self. "Sammy" is one of the best explorations of Gandhiji's inner thoughts and life.

This past week we had yet another play on Gandhiji, this time in a festival of two plays by Aaj Theatre Company from Udaipur brought to us by Aayam, a society for promotion of culture based in Delhi. The two plays were, "Bapu, the exile of Father of the Nation", written by Nand Kishore Acharya and "Samrat", Girdhar Rathi's Hindi translation of K. Jayakumar's Malayalam play of the same title.

Bhanu Bharti, one of our eminent theatre directors has conceived the festival as also directed the two plays. While "Bapu" deals with Gandhiji's disillusionment and anguish caused by "derailment of the Congress from the path of truth and non-violence", as Banu Bharti puts it, in "Samrat", Jayakumar, the playwright, looks at the transformation of the Emperor Ashok from a great warrior to a practitioner of non-violence and compassion.

One has no quarrel with the theme or the treatment of the two plays by the playwrights, but one feels terribly let down by the presentation as such and its cast, particularly in "Bapu". The play is presented as a solo performance, a most demanding style of acting and Sham Kishore was a total misfit for the role. Not only was his delivery dull but what is more he couldn't be heard properly even in the third row. Then again, Sham Kishore made no use at all of the charkha as a property on the stage. Throughout it remained as a decorative piece on the stage rather an aid in the performance.

Jayakumar's "Samrat" as translated in Hindi by Giridhar Rathi and directed by Bhanu Bharti was a much better presentation even if it lacked the standard expected of Bharti.

The play deals with one of the most well known events in our ancient history when a great warrior changes overnight into a compassionate practitioner of non-violence. Many writers and poets have delved deep into the life and character of Ashoka. Jayakumar in his "Samrat" tries to explore history more from the psychological and human angle rather than going in for the episodical and chronological details that are already well known to most of the audience.

And it is perhaps this familiarity with history that leads many to think that the play is sketchy where, this critic, on the other hand, strongly feels this editing out by the playwright is a great plus point on the script and it is the weak and clich�d performance by the cast that has let down the presentation.

With some major changes in the cast while retaining its production design, "Samrat" could well become one of Bhanu Bharti's top run presentations.

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