Shifting stories of aspiration, loss and exploitation

The third play bounding out of the Aadyam stable this year, is a comedy-satire from Rage Productions, titled Mosambi Narangi, which is directed by Pune-based auteur Mohit Takalkar. It is a Hindi translation of Irish playwright Marie Jones’ Stones in His Pockets. After Gajab Kahani, a stage adaptation of José Saramago’s The Elephant’s Journey, this is Takalkar’s second stint with the Aditya Birla Group’s theatre initiative, now in its fifth season.

Two Indias

Jones’ original play is set in a rural Irish town taken over by a rambunctious Hollywood crew, who’ve marshalled the townspeople into working as extras in the film. In Mosambi Narangi, this setting is translocated to the ghats of Varanasi, where the Bollywood blockbuster, Isaq Banaraswala (a title that already adds an element of spoof to the proceedings), is being shot with as much alacrity, or lack thereof. In a casting coup of sorts, the eponymous characters in Takalkar’s version are essayed by Rajit Kapur and Ajeet Singh Palawat, redoubtable actors both. They are local wastrels who sign up as junior artistes in the potboiler-in-the-making, and true to their Irish predecessors, they nurse cinematic aspirations and find themselves promptly smitten by the film-within-the-play’s unattainable prima donna. The teeming crowds and milling crew never actually make an appearance in the play, except in the persons of Kapur and Palawat, who play every single character, 15 in total, spanning gender, age, class and social proclivities. It’s certainly a two-hander that provides amazing scope for an actor, and as the director puts it, “It is a theatrical wonder in which the actors [carry] the play entirely on their shoulders, that too without any aid, relying solely on their bodies and voices.”

Billed quite rightly as a rollicking rib-tickler, and indeed it won an Olivier (the British equivalent of the Tony Award) for Best New Comedy in 2001, Stones in His Pockets is nevertheless marked with a strong undercurrent of melancholy — the title refers to how a young teenager drowns himself, after being humiliated by a female member of the visiting crew he was trying to socialise with. It’s a key moment in the first act that sets up the second. Translator Ashok Mishra, whose screenplay for Shyam Benegal’s Welcome to Sajjanpur, gently but pitilessly satirised small-town India, has woven the Hindi production into the fabric of Indian life. “What starts off as a simple tale of simple people slowly shifts [into becoming] a poignant story of life, with multiple themes of aspiration, loss and exploitation,” explains Takalkar. At some level, Mosambi Narangi might come across as the clash between the so-called two Indias.

Beyond the familiar

Jones is one of an ultra-slim roster of female playwrights programmed by Aadyam, and only the second international name after Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage — a play on bickering suburban parents — was helmed by Nadir Khan for Q Theatre Productions in the initiative’s first year. However, recent years have seen many more international works by women hit Indian shores. For instance, in his rare stage sojourns, Rehaan Engineer has brought us Caryl Churchill’s Far Away and Naomi Wallace’s One Flea Spare, two wildly different dystopian pieces. In other examples, Ira Dubey has tackled the multiple Middle-Eastern personalities in Heather Raffo’s 9 Parts of Desire, Arghya Lahiri picked up Rona Munro’s gritty Iron, a psychological drama set in a women’s prison, and not to be undone, Ila Arun and K K Raina have directed a production of Tammy Ryan’s Baby Blues, a harrowing take on postpartum depression.

Takalkar had himself taken a stab at mounting Jennifer Haley’s sci-fi drama, The Nether, before the production was called off. These plays are by some accomplished names, many of whom have, quite regretfully, limited name recall in India, so it is heartening that theatre-makers are looking beyond the familiar and the tried-and-tested to unearth their voices.

Mosambi Narangi will stage at St. Andrews Auditorium, Bandra West, on October 12 and 13; more details at Insider.in.


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