Once upon a time,there was a village inhabited by extraordinary performers. Their skills made them famous,and word about them spread to all corners of the globe. The villagers were filled with pride and this provoked the gods,who cursed them will an early death. Ever since,nobody in the village lived beyond 25 years.
The National School of Drama Repertory takes the audience into this village in their latest play,Old Town. I was possessed by the demon of nothingness, says director Roysten Abel,When I was asked to do a production with the NSD Repertory,my first response was to say no because I had nothing to offer, he confesses. He,however,created Old Town,which,like all his plays,has been developed with inputs from the cast and crew.
When the audience troops into the National School of Drama lawns for the show,they find themselves in a village fair complete with a ferris wheel,a merry-go-round and actors dressed as puppets. The fair offers many other attractions live music blasts from somewhere,a clip from a B-grade Hindi film plays in a makeshift basement,and puppets dance. The audience is free to eat chuski and sit or stand as they choose.
Is this a play or a visit to a carnival? Both,as it turns out. The carnival itself,with sequences unfolding on the ferris wheel,merry-go-round and other areas,bring alive the concept of navarasas or the nine emotions of traditional Indian art.
It also shows how the villagers make the most of their short lifespan,enjoying each day at a time. The nautanki performers,for instance,recreate a play within a play one loaded with the choicest expletives. But,it is when the performers remove their practiced smiles and fight for essentials like food and whos turn it is to clean up,that the audience gets to view the darker colours of a carnival. Abel doesnt only depict the flip side of performers lives he makes the audience a part of it.
Old Town is on at National School of Drama till May 30.