Two Hindi groups have courageously introduced their young teams to works, both written in 1976, by controversial authors. Padatik-Rikh’s Kya Tum Mujhse Pyar Karte Ho? theatricalizes portions of psychiatrist R.D. Laing’s Do You Love Me? partly in Hindi and partly in English. Opinions on Laing’s highly unorthodox approach to mental illness go to extremes: some authorities consider him a charlatan or, at best, himself verging on insanity; others understand his rejection of conventional psychoanalytical methods and adoption of apparently bizarre therapies. This background may actually help potential spectators, though Do You Love Me? does not ostensibly fall within his clinical writing — he subtitled these 62 dialogues and poems, “An Entertainment in Conversation and Verse.”
Vinay Sharma, director and translator, selects and rearranges 15 of them into a dramatic progression, prefaced wryly with a curtain call. Viewed through the prism of these snippets of relationships, a world of dystopic love appears, summed up comically by the finale (picture), where a couple talk in bed. She keeps asking him if he loves her, and despite all his assurances, ends with “Do you really love me?” But most of the scenes remind me disturbingly of Beckett’s lost souls placed inside urns and trashcans, replaced here by tin trunks.
Sharma’s talent for design once again comes to the fore. Not only does he clothe and light the actors in sanatorium white, he forces them to move and react with the empty trunks, one for each. The image of confinement is striking, and frightening. And of course, from which other director in Calcutta can we hear such a classily eclectic soundtrack including Puccini, Charles Mingus, Anthony Braxton, Michael Brecker and The White Stripes? He should have turned the knobs louder, though, to show the lovers shutting each other out. Padatik’s new recruits (Araf, Pratigya, Vijaylaxmi, Arnab, Karanjit, Kartikey, Sushil) receive object lessons from the right person.
Director-actor Ashok Singh has started his own group, The Ultimate Theatre, retitling its Haye Ghalib Ek Ladki Ne from Jat Hi Puchho Sadhu Ki, Vasant Dev’s translation of Pahije Jatiche, the Marathi satire on casteism by our very own maverick, Vijay Tendulkar. Anjul Chaturvedi suits the antiheroic middle-caste professor, underprivileged because neither upper nor lower, and Joy Badlani (the college tough), Sneha Mundhra (the chairman’s niece) and Ajit Jaiswal (the village strongman) support well, but the overall impact is scrappy compared to the many other versions Calcutta has seen. Singh’s added songs fail to lift the production, too.