Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Seemingly Farcical

I asked a friend to come watch the fifth play of the Ranga Shankara theatre festival 06 with me. The play was in Marathi, and after the Cotton 56, Polyester 84 experience, I was ready for more. It was called Makdachya Hati Champagne, (Champagne in a Monkey’s hand)and promised to provide a lot of entertainment. But my friend, refused to come to watch the play since it was in Marathi. His complaint was not new. I had heard it many times from many people. “How can I waste time over play in Marathi or any other language? I wont understand anything. It is wasted viewing,” he concluded. I wondered about this the matinee show began. Do I need to know a language to understand a play? My preparation, to get a head start in understanding helped me.

I knew this play was a political satire. I had read the promotional material Ranga Shankara had made available, but I was keen on understanding how a political satire could be set in a bachelor pad in Maharashtra. Three men live there, all addressed by names matching their personalities. ‘Chaku’ (Vivek Bele) is uncouth and blunt, Pustak (Sandesh Kulkarni) is a book worm obsessed with Bernard Shah’s ‘My Fair Lady’, and then there is ‘Makad’ (Anand Ingale). He is called Makad – Monkey. Why? “Let me explain with an example.” He is Makad like the monkey who cut off the nose of the king, while trying to kill a housefly. Creating chaos. Makad works as a television reporter, and craves for news all the time, when there is no news happening, he churns it, like Makad in the king’s story –making a mountain of a mole hill – 24/7. Enter Pencil (Sharvani Pillai). The girl Chaku woos. She is called Pencil because, her past is erasable, and yet has no refill. She also has not cap to cover her mistakes.

The play can seem to be a slapstick comedy. Yet look beneath the layers. Each scene begins with the television. There are glimpses of political strife that consumes the Maharashtra Government. In the play- similar tensions revolved around Pustak and Chaku, both contenders for Pencil’s attention and love. Pencil not only loves all the attention she is getting but she takes it further by arranging the contest to select the man she wants to marry. The external and internal strife are similar. The play depicts the manipulation and the schemes of all the parties involved.

So what is Makad’s role in all this? How does he gain? He does not love or woo Pencil, neither does he gain her love or suffer at the loss. So what is his motive or gain? The playwright projects the idea current in these times. He introduces the ‘opportunist’ here. “Just be available at all times” is his mantra. Pustak’s marriage to Pencil, the threat of the divorce and surprisingly bigamy with Chaku, are too familiar political occurrences of ‘vote of no cofindence’, and the coalition governments. And like the political dramas turning sour, because of the middle man’s intervention, the proposal of bigamy / coalition government falls flat, and suspends into a limbo state. A marriage not ending in divorce (vote of no confidence) or moving towards bigamy (Coalition Government).

The play has been constructed as a satire with a lot of imagination. The playwright introduces various concepts and philosophies –“be available” and “conceptual spying” and other hilarious examples of ‘political strategies’ are interspersed with witty lines. The performance was entertaining. The 180 minutes does not seem heavy, when the audience is kept on its toes. For people like me to whom the language is foreign, the high energy of the play and the involvement of the audience kept me going. I laughed when the audience laughed, mainly enjoying their joy, and realized that I did not need a translator after the first few minutes. This is also because, what can seem to be a highly verbose play also had a lot of physical enactment. Pustak’s, who can be made stereotypically stiff in his body postures, moved like an inspired dancer, Makad – true to his creed of middle men was an actor with in the play and worked his voice and face effortlessly. And Chaku, who is unlike all the unimaginative portrayals made in the past of ‘uncouth and unversed’ people.

One thing that stood out in the performance was the effortless ease in which the entire execution was handled. There was no fumbling of lines. The set was constructed to use the space of the stage appropriately. Three beds, changing wall murals, a television, an illuminated wine cabinet and even a sink were fitted beautifully, and the actors moved between all this in ease. The coordination between the actors and the sound was perfect. The actors Sandesh Kulkarni, Anand Ingale, Vivek Bele, and Sharvani Pillai not only enjoyed themselves, but performed for a highly energetic audience. My friend – he missed an opportunity for a good laugh. It is all in the ‘being available!’

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