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RISE AND FALL

Theatre

One festival brings hope, another declines. We wish that Storytellers continues with their inaugural Calcutta International Performing Arts Festival which, though centering on dance, embraced theatre and puppetry too in its liberal vision. JustUs Repertory’s Sarpasutra (picture, from Chennai) exemplified the equal union, in a triangular floor plan where dance occupied the downstage apex, music the upstage right and the dramatic text upstage left. Gowri Ramnarayan, known for directorial experimentation, must have realized the theatrical immobility of rooting the artists in specified places, yet merits praise for her concept.

Promoting an ecological message, she adapts the Khandava inferno and genocidal snake-yajna in the Mahabharata as a revenge tragedy, weaving passages from Vyasa, 11th-century Telugu poet Nannayya and Arun Kolatkar’s English Sarpa Satra, charging the epic of prejudice against the inferior Nagas. This is not entirely accurate. The Adi Parva also narrates a double curse, by both human and serpent, and clearly implicates Parikshit’s impulsiveness and Kasyapa’s greed for gold, which caused subsequent events. Among the three performers, young Carnatic singer Nisha Rajagopalan enthralled with both classical and contemporary vocals, whereas Sheejith Krishna’s Bharatanatyam became repetitive in expressivity.

Ishara Puppet Theatre (Delhi) contributed Simple Dreams, which I looked forward to since Calcutta never gets the chance to see the work of Dadi Pudumjee, one of India’s preeminent puppeteers. But the production relied too much on the adjective in its title, in a negative sense. It distressed me to find Pudumjee resorting to such prop clichés as sticks, umbrellas and huge sheets under which the cast moved: all recycled by Indian groups for decades. The theme combined well with Sarpasutra — respect given to nature in all her diversity — but apart from occasional images, did not strike us as remarkably innovative. Several troupers also appeared too watchful, glancing at others to time their coordination.

Meanwhile, Odeon plummeted to its nadir by opening its twelfth edition with Ashvin Gidwani Productions’ Two to Tango, Three to Jive. If you like sex farces (in whatever disguise), you can now count on Odeon as an unlikely patron. Saurabh Shukla pathetically justifies his play as one on male midlife crisis, claiming that all men suffer it. In this hackneyed version of the seven-year itch, he attempts an extramarital liaison with three women serially. The first rendezvous comes littered with sexist and racist lines. The second features Mona Wasu as a total wacko, luckily the saving grace. Apparently the third encounter redeems everything with some home truths. But as it took 90 minutes to come to this point, a walkout at the interval seemed the right thing to do. Dinyar Contractor can rest in peace that he has a worthy successor in Shukla. Odeon’s other import, Adhe Adhure, had already come to town earlier this year.