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AT BREAKNECK SPEED

Manoj Mitra, one of the finest Bengali dramatists of his generation, has not earned as many non-Bengali productions as his achievement warrants — the state of intra-Indian translations being so pathetic. Consequently, one must applaud Little Thespian for rendering Alakanandar Putrakanya into Hindi as Alka (picture), even though it is not my favourite among Mitra’s plays.

It has a basic melodramatic scheme absent in his best work, which pushes every character towards predictably climactic moments, and which translator-director-lead actor Uma Jhunjhunwala follows assiduously. At the same time, it presents a female protagonist who does not say die regardless of the most hopeless situations, thereby painting a positive picture of woman empowered. The rest of the main cast contributes equally: Azhar Alam as her invalid husband, Heena Parwez as their abused daughter, Poltu Polley as their son driven insane by ragging, Arpita Basu as the single-mother neighbour. Little Thespian’s fourth national theatre festival, Jashn-e-Rang, featured two Hindi productions from outside — Ham Tum by Akar Kala Sangam (New Delhi) and Ghost by Amateur Theatre Group (Jammu). Both amazed me by the sheer audacity with which the translators, Rahil Bharadwaj and Mohammad Kazim respectively, compressed their full-length sources down to about 70 minutes each. I know of speed reading, but speed viewing is new to me.

Ham Tum originated in Aleksei Arbuzov’s Russian play, Old World, about two lonely and aged strangers growing close, so sensitively expressed for Calcutta’s Hindi audiences twenty years ago by Asit Mukhopadhyay as Sham bhi thi Dhuyan Dhuyan. Despite getting into their personalities, Dakshina Sharma and Ramesh Manchanda treat the adaptation as a memory test done at Rajdhani pace, instead of taking their time over and relishing every speech, communicating between the lines. Suresh Bhardwaj, a professor at National School of Drama, directs most disappointingly.

Ghost (sic) cut Ibsen’s Ghosts into virtually a quick dramatized reading almost as if to enable the group to make the 23:55 departure of the Jammu-Tawi Express. The three principals — Delight Sarah William (Mrs Alving), Mridul Raj Anand (Osvald) and Aparna Kapoor (Regina) — show no evidence whatsoever of having done any deep analysis of their characters in Ibsen’s classic. The revelation of Osvald’s syphilis does not seem to bother his mother at all. One did not expect such lackadaisical direction from Mushtaq Kak, leader of ATG for over fifteen years.