Finally, a city group has realized the applicability of Ionesco’s absurdist classic, Rhinoceros, to our land and times. Though The Red Curtain staged it in English seven years ago, the last long-running production probably was Bohurupee’s Gandar, directed by Tripti Mitra as far back as 1972. Little Thespian’s Urdu Gainda, understandably, reaps the reward of sympathetic audience response, like some of their explosive previous works.
S.M. Azhar Alam has translated it from the English translation fairly faithfully, except for Indianizing the characters’ names and the rare inaccuracy, such as referring to “Mongolian” instead of Asian or Indian rhinos. As director, he does not interpret rhinoceritis too specifically, so we can receive it on at least two levels — the popular fascination with the “holy terror” of fascism or fundamentalism in any hue, and the pressure on an individual to conform with collective trends and lifestyles. The “beautiful” rhino dance takes the shape of a fearsome two-step. Gainda, therefore, covers both the political and social significances of the original for us, and becomes a paradigm of sensitivity to minority concerns, whether about the Hindu Right or Islamic rigidity.
Alam also acts the Muslim everyman, Sarmad (Ionesco’s Berenger), in one of his strongest performances, heroically resisting the urge to transform into a rhino while everyone around him does. Surendra Kapoor (his friend Arjun) should put more effort into his alteration, specially his voice, which does not change consistently. The troupe has found talented new recruits, of whom Nandini Panjiyara plays Sarmad’s girlfriend (picture). Joy Sen makes a sinister green tinge dominate the lighting. Only one aspect requires rethinking: the converted rhinos squatting in the foreground like statues in the last Act creates a static picture and puts those actors under considerable strain to remain motionless for too long a stretch.
In a much lighter vein, Kalapremee’s Karishmati Phul, a Hindustani adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shah Jahan Khan and Syed Ali Ahmed, introduces many first-timers to enjoy the experience of theatre. Partha Bandyopadhyay directs colourfully, with substantial use of scenery, properties and music, but there is no justification for a jester, nor for Tagore’s paintings. The younger actresses (Sabiha Khatoon and Sanhita Dutta) surpass their male opposites in the best traditions of Shakespearean romantic comedy.