That Taramandal is a special play is not an overstatement on many accounts. Apart from the fact that it is based on Satyajit Ray’s short story Patol Babu, Film Star, the play comes with three “firsts”. It is for the first time that the Vinod Doshi Memorial Theatre Festival is staging a multilingual play in Pune — Taramandal is a Hindi-English-Bengali play; it is the first time the venue, Yashwantrao Chavan Natyagruha — is hosting a multilingual play; and it is also the first time that The Tadpole Repertory will be performing in Pune.
“I had read this story in 2002 when I was pursuing MA in Film Studies in Delhi; it captivated me. I always felt that the story had the potential to be converted into a play or a film,” says Neel Chaudhuri, who went on to translate his notion into action after 2009 when he founded the theatre group, The Tadpole Repertory. “We were all brainstorming about the story for our next production and I suggested Patol Babu, Film Star; everyone loved the idea. However, we added some more fictional characters to it while keeping the basic structure of the story intact,” says Chaudhuri, who has directed the play. Since its maiden show in Delhi in 2010, Taramandal has been showcased in Hyderabad, Bangalore and Chennai. Last year, it was staged at the Dublin Theatre Festival, Ireland.
Written in the ’70s, Patol Babu, Film Star revolves around a character called Patol Babu, about 50 years old, who has lived quite an unexciting life. His only passion — acting — never really culminated into anything, barring a few theatre performances at school or in the neighbourhood as a child. However, one day, he gets an offer to play a small role in a film. Though the role is only of a pedestrian, Patol embraces the opportunity. While Patol Babu, Film Star is about Patol, Chaudhuri says that Taramandal extends the short story by constructing parallel narratives that mirror Patol Babu. “In Ray’s story, where the protagonist remembers his childhood, we have introduced five different characters, who have different stories,” says Chaudhuri, adding that all the five stories portray fragility of ambitions. While the central character, Patol Babu, is essayed by Andrew Hoffland, others in the cast include Bikram Ghosh, Kriti Pant, Mallika Taneja, Neel Debdutt Paul and Sandeep Shikhar.
Besides Taramandal, the Delhi-based theatre group has staged several English plays in the past — including Rhapsody (2011), Ich bin Fassbinder (2011), Still and Still Moving (2012) and The Winter’s Tale (2013). “Our plays are both humorous and melancholic, turning a mirror towards our contemporary experience and telling stories that seem to be about people we know or have known in our lifetime,” says Chaudhuri.
The director adds that besides Ray’s story, there is another factor that became an inspiration for Taramandal. “The motivations to write are most often selfish. I do it so that I can work with actors. The politics, poetics, if there are any, develop later and make very little sense to me in the absence of players. This is perhaps most true of Taramandal, a play written with actors, about people who want to be actors,” he says.
Citing an incident from four years ago, he says, “I was in Mumbai for a theatre workshop. During the conversation, I heard actors talking about their ambition and their careers so far, looking back and looking ahead. Back in Delhi, I interviewed another set of actors. All this material — copious notes of it — stewed in the workshop with the actors, who became the cast of Taramandal,” says Chaudhuri.