Theatre Review

Quill & Ink


I generally wish that credit is given where it is due. However, in this 6th May, 2006 performance of the Vijay Tendulkar satire 'Shantata! Court chalu ahe' at Gyan Manch, one wonders if the translator Priya Adarkar does not breathe a sigh of relief at the fact that she is not credited in the posters, tickets or even the brochures. For neither the playwright nor the translator had any apparent intentions of presenting caricatures of different communities rather than hit the collective conscience of the society in this classic social satire. In 2004 during a festival at New York where Padma Bhushan awardee Tendulkar was honoured with performances of his plays, Deepa Gahlot commented "… the mock trial on stage castigates men who attack a woman’s character, when they are not all that blameless.” However, during the course of this performance of the English version of the play, the acerbic tone of the radical is lost to a jester’s histrionics.

    “Silence! The Court is in Session” is a drama-within-the-drama. Benare, the lady lead, is unmarried, sexually exploited and has to abort her pregnancy to maintain the facade of honour. In a community play, she is cast in the role of an unmarried young girl accused of an abortion and abused on legal and ethical grounds. During the course of the rehearsal, Benare breaks down because of the striking similarity of the character with her own life. The external appearance gives way to the truth about the life of Benare, the play taking a bow to the stark realities of real life.

        Ronaan Roy, the young director of the play belongs to the sudden Youth Theatre Movement that has besieged Kolkata in the last couple of years. While his peers have decided to either produce original plays or to adhere to the scripts with their own interpretations, our young director here has credited Shri Vijay Tendulkar (who won the Sahitya Academy Award for the play, and went on to see the same play being banned by the government!), but has chosen to devise a script far removed from the original. It would have been amusing to see the reaction of Mr Tendulkar at Mrs Kashikar (Prachi Tulsan) settling her pallu , Mr Kashikar (Gaurav Banerjee) pricking his ears , and above all at Karnik (Sumeet Thakur) imitating some one most people in the  audience hardly had a clue of. And somewhere in the middle of all this imitation and caricature of different communities, Tendulkar's true intention of the script is lost. When such creative liberties are exercised, they should be advertised as an 'adaptation', rather than crediting a hapless playwright who, most certainly, does not have the vaguest notion of what is being done to his creation.

Ronaan and his cast do manage to entertain the audience though. Purti Simon as Leela Benare had her moment with the last monologue which was indeed a difficult piece. One has to give credit for the honest attempt by this aspiring young actor, especially considering her age and experience. Agnidev Roy as the lawyer is impressive but the accent used by him and the others appeared 'forced', satire often being lost as slapstick in the process.

The light design by Gautam Ghosh makes one wonder why amateur theatre in the city depends so much on follow lights. The auditorium has its own fixed lights which can, perhaps be put to better use. The set, though minimal, is well executed and serves its purpose well. The costumes, too, were well chosen but in Tendulkar's play the characters are from the same Maharashtrian community and distinction in stature and class is not so much the supposed intention as collective social hypocrisy is.

The Red Curtain is one theatre group that believes in the concept of "good theatre for good cause". The revenues earned from the productions are forwarded towards charity, Dignity Foundation being the chosen one this time. For this one reason I wish the Red Curtain would continue to touch many lives as they have been doing over the years. It would not be too much of a digression here to draw attention to Mr Tendulkar’s present tragic state of being as shared by Mr M S Sathu, the famous Set Designer & Director and a champion IPTA (Indian People Theatre Assiciation) personality. After the death of both his children, Mr Tendulkar today is not living a most comfortable, financially secured life in Bombay. One is wistful that like Red Curtain, other theatre and non theatre groups would take positive steps to ensure that proper respect is accorded to these literary stalwarts. Perhaps some theatre group in the city could stage a performance to honour this finest of playwrights.  After all, the theatre person’s responsibility does not end with mere staging of plays scripted by such legends.

(c) Tathagata Chowdhury May 2006