Manch Parva 2012 – An unforgettable theatre experience

“To be, or not to be: that is the question”- These immortal lines of Shakespeare’s Hamlet found resonance when I received the invitation of ‘Manch Parva 2012 – World Theatre Day Festival’ from my close friend, Jay Merchant, to attend the four-day theatre festival at CC Mehta Auditorium, Vadodara. To begin with, my experience of watching plays had never been enjoyable.

So the very first thought was: To be, or not to be a theatre audience. Whether it’s nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of slow progression of a play replete with heavy doses of words laced with literature, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by attending, end them? To die the death of ignorance or to sleep at home after witnessing an inspiring performance: That is the question. Fortunately, I chose the latter. Each play infused life in the script with performance of tall order.

The first play (Hindi), ‘Aur Tamasha Na Hua’ written and directed by Bhanu Bharti was indeed an eye-opener, in fact, an ice-breaker. The moment it began with a group of youngsters enacting the play ‘Muktadhaara’ by Rabindranath Tagore, I was sure this one was going to be yet another addition to my ‘theatre torture’ experiences. The reluctance was shred to pieces in the first ten minutes of the play, where an actor seated among the audience, stood up and indulged in a debate with the actors.

The actors expressed their grudge of enacting a play which the audience might not understand. The director convinces them that it’s worth performing and commands them to focus on their performance. However, the actors aren’t convinced and break into a heated argument. The debate flares up the frustrated patriots in them, and ensues to a conflagration where the play doesn’t take place, precisely what the title states, ‘Aur Tamasha Na Hua.’ Actors like Ravi Khaanwilkar, Teekam Joshi, and Danish Iqbal truly steal the show.

The second play (Hindi), ‘Hum Tum’ reiterates the quote, “Theatre has no national identity. It is something for the world, whether it is Irish, English, or French.” by Irish actor, Cyril Cusack. Based on Arbuzov’s Russian play ‘Old World’, this play completely catches you unawares with its witty dialogues and spontaneous performance. Actor Dakshina Sharma essays the role of Sarita Hazarika with aplomb and lends certain amount of dignity to the light-hearted dialogues, which are mostly used in slapstick comedy.

Actor Ramesh Manchanda plays Dr. Singh, the head of a Sanatorium where Sarita has been put up to recuperate from her illness. A stickler for discipline, Dr. Singh finds Sarita Hazarika a nuisance in the Sanatorium and they end up arguing each time they bump into each other. Gradually, they find their common ground in their age and they begin to bond well and celebrate life. The play has an undercurrent of a strong message, which is peppered with humour and served live on the platter of the stage. The use of background score is indeed worth a mention, especially when the characters are cooling their heels at a beach. Suddenly, the wooden stage appears golden sand and the clapping hands seem like rising waves.

The third play (Gujarati), ‘Viral Rajvi’ portrays the helplessness of a king during the colonial regime in India. Written and directed by Avinash Captaan, ‘Viral Rajvi’ is a play based on His Majesty, Shri. Sayajirao Gaekwad. Actor Anil Aadi brings the Maharaja alive with his excellent performance. The tone, the tenor, the gait – this actor seems to get everything right, when it comes to playing one of the most prominent figure of Gujarat. More so, there hasn’t been any other major play on Maharaja Sayajirao for him to refer, which is both boon, as well as bane. The dialogues sound so authentic that the actors manage to transport you to the days of yore.

The humour and sarcasm are aptly placed to keep those ‘history yawns’ at bay. The play never loses its focus on portraying the Maharaja as a ‘in the closet’ patriot. As a king, his duty commands him to bow before the British, but as a patriot, he rebels in his own way. The scenes where he covers up for his ‘mistakes’ truly stand out, though one wishes they could have done away with the emotional scenes of his son being passed away. The scene served just one purpose – depicting the Maharaja’s commitment to nationalism despite personal grief. The scene deviates from the theme a bit, but the director is smart enough to end ‘Viral Rajvi’ on a positive note of ‘the show must go on’.

The fourth play (Gujarati), ‘Sagpan ek ukhaanu’ is undoubtedly the most hilarious play among the ones staged at ‘Manch Parva’. In fact, it belongs to a different genre altogether, which makes it a cut above the rest. Directed by Rajul Mehta and Prabhakar Dabhade, the play is based on a German play. The original play, ‘The Good Person of Szechwan (German: Der gute Mensch von Sezuan, first translated less literally as The Good Woman of Szechwan) is a play written by the German theatre practitioner Bertolt Brecht, in collaboration with Margarete Steffin and Ruth Berlau.

The play is embellished with live music and dance performances based on Gujarati folk dance, Bhavai. The actors, Prabhakar Dabhade (playing Lord Bramha), Mehul Vyas (playing Lord Vishnu), and Chirag Bhatt (playing Lord Shiva) steal the show with their nuanced performances. The bonding between the actors is evident in their performance, which flawlessly makes you believe that they are actual incarnations of the gods in guise of western outfit and seeking shelter in a village.

Gordhan, a village bumpkin brilliantly played by Rakesh Modi comes to their rescue and takes them to Gomti, a village nautch girl played to perfection by actor Sonia Nihalani. The Kathyawaadi accent of the actor is commendable, but it also becomes deterrent to decipher the dialogues, yet Sonia Nihalani’s electrifying performance makes you ignore the dialogues and keep watching ‘Sagpan ek ukhaanu’ (which roughly translates as: Relations are a puzzle) with rapt attention.

Each play of Manch Parva 2012 offers a glimmer of hope to the waning number of theatre enthusiasts. The packed houses go on to prove that theatre still has the power to pull audiences and enthrall them with quality content rather than brainless comedy films and escapist cinema.

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