It is never good to compare theatre productions by college students and those by professional troupes because the primary aim of the former is to expose students to the magic of theatre and all that goes into its making. These could be — and indeed have been — the proverbial launching pads for future actors, writers, directors and stage technicians. The text in these productions is usually treated with more reverence and any alterations made are usually superficial. If there are goof-ups and bad acting, there are also sparks of unexpected talent and a freshness of perception.
Take the case of Molière’s The Imaginary Invalid that was recently presented at the Max Mueller Bhavan by the Jadavpur University Department of English. Staging the play, which was taught over an entire semester, is part of the students’ final evaluation. But with Jude, it is never just an academic exercise because their guide, Ananda Lal, believes in combining freedom and restraint.
As Lal puts it, “The director only functions as the overall supervisor and editor... students must be given freedom to improvise and provide inputs with their individual talents.” Instead of Molière’s original prose text, Jude used Timothy Mooney’s adaptation of the three-act comédie-ballet, “Le malade imaginaire”. The musical compositions by Marc-Antoine Charpentier were rearranged, and the interludes from Martin Sorrell’s translation were spiced up with parodies of popular numbers in three languages. These songs were “Bela Bose”, “Fevicol se”, “Sun raha hain na tu”, “Hare Krishna Hare Ram” (from the film, Bhool Bhulaiyaa) and “Where Do I Begin?” from the album, Love Story.
To make the play more accessible to the audience, Jude changed the names of the characters, and to give credence to the French textual nuances the department switched the setting to pre-Independence “Chandy” (short for “Chandernagore”). So the character once played by Molière himself — the hypochondriac Argan — is Arghya, and his saucy but sensible maid, Toinette, is Locket. Argan’s daughter, Angélique, is Anjali, and her lover, Cléante, is Srikant. Mayurakshi Sen as Locket aptly enlivened the stage while Sayon Banerjee, Ananya Kanjilal and Adrija Ghosh fulfilled their roles. It was an entertaining presentation that elicited quite a few laughs. The music team, led by Bhawana Theeng Tamang, deserved appreciation for pieces like “Gather rosebuds while you may/ Youth must decay/ The time for love is now.”
Having said that, Mooney’s rhyming couplets seemed synthetic. One wishes that the ‘Indianization’ had not been merely cosmetic, and the satire of both hypochondria and quacks had found a contemporary interpretation, as was done in early popular adaptations such as Jyotirindranath Tagore’s Hotath Nabab (Molière’s Le Bourgeoise Gentilhomme) or Amritalal Basu’s Kripan Dhan (Molière’s The Miser). We have moved on in terms of theatre language, and doing anything several centuries old, even a classic, needs to be rethought.