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Two hours of perfect, passionate stagecraft

Hardly had the hangover of Naseeruddin Shah’s spellbinding act in Ismat Apa Ke Naam faded, than Guwahati found itself enthralled by New Delhi-based Aakar Kala Sangam with their Hindi play Aath Ghante.

Designed and directed by theatre activist and associate professor of National School of Drama Suresh Bharadwaj, Aath Ghante, staged at Seagull Theatre Auditorium on August 22, turned the spotlight on some new elements of modern theatre. For an audience fed on a diet of placid, tried and tested formulas, the play was a breath of fresh air in terms of content and execution.

Aath Ghante is the story of two typists, Batra and Verma, who spend eight hours a day working at their busy Connaught Place office desk, completely cut off from the world outside. Alone and aloof, they go on working relentlessly, sharing a closeness born out of the proximity of their office seats. They share personal and professional trivia, and quarrel just as often as they sympathise with one another.

They carry on thus for 26 years, detached from the outer world but reassuring themselves all the while that their lives carry more meaning than others’ do.

Authored by space scientist Sujit Saraf, Aath Ghante depicts the conflict between human values and the mechanical life modern man leads.

The director displays subtlety and superior skill in establishing the love-hate relationship between the two characters whose sensitivity gradually wears out. In the course of the play, mundane everyday objects like the telephone, tiffin boxes and wastepaper baskets become metaphors to project the theme. However, the bits where the two men exchange gossip could have been handled better or omitted altogether.

Bharadwaj is ably complemented by some mature acting by NSD alumni Ramesh Manchanda as Batra and Anurag Arora as Verma. The actors were impressive with their voice modulation and restrained use of gestures but the one thing that stood out in the two-hour show was their passionate involvement with their craft. And that was enchanting, indeed.

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