Human side up

October 12, 2012 12:00 am | Updated May 22, 2017 06:56 pm IST

THEATRE An evening celebrating the genius of Premchand presented some of his finest work on stage in a fine manner. DIWAN SINGH BAJELI

Through his creation of multiple characters Premchand mirrored the contradictions inherent in socio-economic conditions of his age (1880-1936). These characters are vividly drawn and infused with remarkable enduring vitality. A realist who believed in the basic goodness of human nature, his fictional works are not only avidly read but the dramatic versions of his stories are staged to packed auditoriums. Hindi stage directors have great fascination for Premchand’s stories. Some of his stories like “Panch Parmeshwar”, “Idgah”, “Bade Bhai Sahab”, “Mote Ram Shastri” and “Kafan” are frequently seen on the Delhi stage. Directed by Satyajit Ray, his two stories — “Sadgati”, “Shatranj ke Khiladi” — adapted to screen, bring to the fore the stark realism of his art. This past week Dramatech, a leading theatre group of the Capital known for quality productions, staged three short stories of Premchand at Shri Ram Centre to a jam-packed hall. Captivating the imagination of the audience, it was an evening to celebrate the genius of Premchand who is described as Maxim Gorky of the Hindi Literature.

All the three stories were dramatised and directed by Ravi Raj Sagar who displays fidelity to the original works and has captured the milieu in which the action takes place, retaining its simplicity and direct appeal. The director’s treatment was unpretentious with intensification of dramatic conflict at places. The opening piece of the evening is “Do Bailon Ki Katha”. The narrative was enriched by the use of two compositions Shakeel Badayuni’s “Dukh Bhare Din Beete” from Mother India and “Chhoota Malik ka Ghar” written and composed by Ravi Raj Sagar. The production indicts humanity’s cruelty towards animals. The central theme is deep friendship between two oxen and their miraculous escape from the enemies of animals. The humanization of animals is deeply moving and the ultimate escape of the oxen reaffirms our faith in the goodness of life. There are moments of empathy, pain and humour. These oxen are fondly called Heera and Moti.

Abhishek Kumar as Moti and Shwetank Sharma as Heera are great friends, ever ready for self-effacement for the sake of other friend. The oxen share their innermost thoughts with each other. Both the actors make their portrayals lively and we feel a great deal of empathy for them. Even in the times of struggle their sense of humour is intact. The action in “Shatranj Ke Khiladi” takes place against the backdrop of moribund feudal order of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, the last ruler of Lucknow who was a great patron of arts and a creative genius. The upstage is used to indicate the advance of the forces. Here the game of chess becomes a metaphor for social decadence. The upstage is used to indicate the advance of the forces of the British imperialism. Obsessively attached to chess game, the two players are totally oblivious to the political turmoil prevailing in the city. With their minds focused on the game , they glance casually at Nawab Wajid Ali Shah being taken away by the British forces as captive.

With minimal stage properties and imaginatively designed period costumes by Priti Gupta the ruling feudal aura is symbolically created. The director has enhanced the element of satire by juxtaposing the vivid images of the chess players with the marching forces of the British. The satire becomes bitingly powerful. The production is embellished with brief Kathak dance recital and thumri “Lakhon ke bol sahe”. However, one feels that the famous thumri of Lucknow gharana, “Babul mera naihar chhoota jaaye” would have made Wajid Ali Shah’s captivity intensely poignant.

Mahesh Bhatnagar as the narrator comments on the socio-political atmosphere of Lucknow during Nawab Wajid Ali Shah’s reign who surrenders without any resistance to the alien forces. Rakesh Gupta as Mirza Sajjad Ali and Alok Jain as Mirza Roshan Ali, the incorrigibly addicted chess players impress the audience with their performances. They do not raise a finger or express any indignance at the captivity of the Nawab of Lucknow but fight to finish to defend their king in the game of chess.

The concluding piece of the evening is “Nimantran” which evokes loud and long laughter. The main comic characters are Pandit Moteram Shastri who has five sons and a friend called Pandit Chintamani. These Pandits are voracious eaters. Pandit Moteram Shastri is invited to a grand feast, with a request that he could bring along more Brahmins to partake in the feast. Pandit Moteram’s mouth starts to watering whenever he imagines the forthcoming feast organised by a rich and clever lady. It occurred to him that instead of taking outsiders to the feast he should take his family members along, including his wife, masquerading as outsiders. His host sees through his plan and in a witty manner exposes him.

Alok Jain as Pandit Moteram Shastri, Silky Chopra as Panditayin, and Vivek Shrivastava as Pandit Chintamani are eminently comic. Ujjwal Dixit as the little son of the Pandit Moteram Shastri adds to the comic rhythm.

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