The cast and crew of the Marathi play Bandish, had gathered for rehearsals at the Bharat Natya Mandir in Pune, 10 days prior to their final performance. Sitting in the audience chair and looking at the set — high-end furniture, gossamer curtains, a bookshelf on the left, a bar on the right, ultra-modern kitchen and chic lights — one gets the hint that the play will have a contemporary tone. The stage is buzzing with activity. As the actors discuss their scenes, dialogues and dance moves, director Mohit Takalkar calls out: “Come on everybody, take your positions. We’re starting.” Almost instantly, the group breaks away.
The lights are switched off and as if on cue, there is pin-drop silence in the auditorium. With soothing words from an Urdu poem — Dasht-e-tanhayi mein, ai jaan-e-jahaan, larzaan hain — sung in the voice of Iqbal Bano, the play begins. What follows is a 100-minute uninterrupted theatrical journey to a story that “binds” you to the chair till its end. The play Bandish, which literally means “that which binds”, does complete justice to its title in more ways than one. Produced by Aasakta Kalmanch, written by Rajeev Naik and directed by Takalkar, the play was staged in Pune as part of the Annual Vinod Doshi Memorial Theatre Festival that was held from February 24 to 28.
“I wanted to stage it last year too, when Rajeev (Naik) first narrated the story. However, I was clear that I wanted to cast Kiran Yadnyopavit to play the lead role of Professor Nikhil. Since he was busy with other projects, I couldn’t go ahead with our production. This time, everything fell in place,” says Takalkar.
The director states that since the original play was very long, he and Naik had several sittings to discuss which scenes needed to be deleted, merged or improvised. “The play’s structure is like a bandish or composition in music, which has interwoven long and short tanas. Initially, there are three to four long scenes, followed by some short scenes integrated beautifully,” he explains.
Similar to a musical bandish that has five elements, the play has five characters — Professor Nikhil, Tanvi, Yodhan, Sulabha and Janaki — who belong to different generations, genders, professions, attitudes and ideals. “People generally look for consistency in characters, but the characters of Bandish are quite inconsistent. They get depressed but they desire; they are possessive but they also give, they think but they also feel,” says Takalkar, who has been associated with Aasakta Kalamanch for over a decade now. Some of the plays he has directed include Uney Purey Shehar Ek, Gajab Kahaani, Necropolis, Anandbhog Mall, Bed Ke Neeche Rehne Wali and Poornaviram.
Categorising the play in a particular genre, he says, is a bit tricky. Though initially it seems serious and realistic, after a point, it goes beyond. The crux lies in the concept of time — remembering, forgetting, nostalgia, past, future, and the present, and a basic obsession with “memory”. So there is Professor Nikhil who doesn’t remember his past; he is fighting with the present and is scared of the future. The younger characters, Yodhan and Janaki, on the other hand, are futuristic. And the women — Tanvi and Sulabha — are living in their present. The roles of Yodhan, Janaki, Tanvi and Sulabha are essayed by actors Abhay Mahajan, Sayalee Phatak, Devika Daftardar and Gauri Lagoo respectively.