Five plays present diversity with fidelity

Bengali play
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Tamil play. Pics Swagato Basumallick

Presented as a collage of plays showcasing the multicultural and multi-lingual diversity of the Indian nation, Mela ’17 by Naatak strode across the stage and into the hearts of its audience last weekend at Cubberly Theater in Palo Alto. A medley, not only of languages, but also of attire, characteristics, situations, locations, roles and nuances that native speakers could pick up on, Mela’17 presented the diversity with fidelity.

The most surprising and entertaining addition to the whole slew however was the segment, Naatak Improv that enlivened and entertained with creative and imaginative renderings rife with audience participation. Totally unscripted, this five part piece brought out the spontaneity in actors, while the viewers felt truly a part of the creation. Kudos to directors Neha Goyal and Abhay Paranjpe for displaying a controlled free-will to the show.

The quick scene changes, rapid dialogues, coupled with situational changes kept everyone on their toes and delighted with anticipation. A chat with Abhay revealed that this is a young partnership with Naatak and that they are also looking for independent performances at other Bay Area venues.

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Marathi play

Of the five plays performed, some hit the nail right on the head with complete audience engagement and buy in, while others were a bit of a miss. The Marathi play, “The Mad Man on the Fifth Floor” (Anil Sonar) stimulated viewer curiosity and speculation as to the final outcome. It was a nuanced capture of a situation dealt with frivolity in the beginning that ended with an unexpected serious twist.

Another notable mention was the Bengali play, “What will people say” (Based on He Said, She Said, by Alice Gerstenberg, and translated and adapted by Sudipta Chatterjee and Harish Agastya) with similar elements of a surprise ending, which was actually the result of executing directorial privileges. The story of the rumor monger dealt her own medicine had the viewers roaring with appreciation.

To be effective, short features have the onus to end with a punch line after a 20 minute storytelling, and require adequate character development up to that point to make the ending believable. A task much harder, arduous and needing more creativity from the writer and execution by the director.

The Hindi play, “The Window” based on a well-known story by Saki (H.H.Munro) did not depart from the original story of a young girl with a fertile imagination, and delivered the surprise twist with aplomb. Good acting by all four players on stage supported the unfolding tale well.

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Bengali play

In the Tamil play, A Tragedy in Kanchi” (Oscar Wilde) the complexity of dialogue was a distraction, necessitating rapt attention to the super titles in order to keep pace with the evolving nature of the story.

The reaction from the audience was mixed at best and the gist seemed to be literally lost in translation. The Gujarati play, “Everyone Loves an Errand Boy” (Saadat Hasan Manto) while well-acted missed out on providing a well wrapped ending, and fizzled out depicting the mundane, daily life of a harassed householder.

All in all, Naatak has grown and expanded, not only with the plethora of play offerings, but also the variety with which they seek to bring culture to the Bay Area, namely, the radio plays, and the short Mela plays, along with the usual full length features.

Archana Asthana

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