The play,Comrade Kumbhakarna,deftly combined political commentary and theatrical performance
The 4th Annual Vinod Doshi Memorial Festival couldn’t possibly have ended on a more resolute note. On March 2,Yashwantrao Chavan Auditorium hosted the final play,Comrade Kumbhakarna. The presentation was a tour-de-force theatrical piece that left the audience gasping for air in some moments. Directed by city-based director Mohit Takalkar and peopled by a brilliant cast from the National School of Drama Repertory Company,the 90-minute show unleashed a wave of song and dance,pithy dialogues and fearless political commentary. The much-celebrated play has travelled many cities,but made its first stop in Pune as part of the theatre fest.
The play relates the story of an impoverished touring street theatre group that performs Ramleelas. The backdrop to this story is the political upheaval caused by the Black Shirts Movement started by ‘Periyar’ E V Ramasamy in Tamil Nadu. The son of the prima donna of the group is fascinated by the character of Kumbhakarna and attempts to portray him in a less demonic light. This ultimately invites arrest and a charge of being a threat to national peace,finally leading to his death.
“It’s not exactly a folk theatre group that is shown,” Ashish Mehta,set designer,clarifies. “It is a touring group that performs in cheap costumes. The main character’s fascination with Kumbhakarna grows over the years; he looks at him as a pacifist and not an asura.” Apart from the apparent Black Shirt connotations,the proceedings refer to the unfair branding of some people as Naxalites on flimsy grounds. The social and political commentary here is razor-sharp and delivered in immaculate Hindi. The script is an adaptation of an original English story by Mumbai-based playwright-director,Ramu Ramanathan. Santwana Nigam steered the Hindi translation.
Apart from the linguist/separatist tussles that the government employees and Kumbhakarna indulge in,the Ramayan strand of the play borders on the controversial. The Ramleelas of the group are far from chaste religious discourses. The Sita here is bawdy and loud,while Ram takes smoke breaks from the acting. Hunger,sweat,sexual molestation and unsanitary living conditions are de rigueur here,and it’s all shown with the help of remarkable lighting and props.
Infusing the narrative with rhythmic punch was the live musical score. The insistent percussion sound of the mridangam and dafli switched the tone of the play from time to time,from rhetorical to emotional. At the end of the show,after the cast took a bow,Takalkar took to stage to introduce the cast. In halting,feeble words,(he is just recovering from an illness),he said,”I have nothing against people joining serials or films,but I am glad that there are these crazy people who are still doing theatre.