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Arts » Theatre
June 16, 2011
Staging Tagore's Thoughts
DIWAN SINGH BAJELI
"Bhanu Bharti talks about his upcoming play “Tamasha Na Hua”, to be presented in New Delhi later this month.
“This year, as we celebrate 150 years of Tagore, I felt that his ideologies merited a revisit in the context of the tumultuous modern times. As a tribute to his work and ideas, the play ‘Tamasha Na Hua' depicts a group of theatre actors rehearsing one of Tagore's most popular works – ‘Muktdhara',” says Bhanu Bharti about his latest venture. “The narrative is essentially a discussion among the actors on the relevance of the play which leads to a serious debate about freedom of men in the present political, technological and cultural context.”
One of the front-ranking theatre artists of India known for his exploration of different presentational styles and treatment and interpretations of complex themes to evolve an indigenous drama idiom, Bhanu has produced more than 60 plays over the years, including his landmark works like “Chandrama Singh urf Chamku”, “Aks Tamash”, “Yumgatha”, “Katha Kahi Ek Jale Ped Ne” and “Ek Sane Ki Maut”. Bhanu is choosy about the selection of plays for production. Often he prefers to write his own script. “Tamasha Na Hua” is written by him and is also directing it. What are his prime considerations while making selection of a play? He says, “Every time I look for a script my primary concern is why I am choosing to perform a play. What does it mean to me, my audience and the time we live in.” He continues, “I am aware of the problems contemporary theatre faces in India and abroad. Theatre is a collective work of the community and not an individual pursuit. Therefore, it is becoming difficult to practice theatre in an individualistic time. We find ourselves today in the blind, materialistic rat race. Coming together in itself has become difficult and more difficult is finding a common cause.”
He finds the present Hindi playwriting scene “pathetic and disturbing and sad”, saying, “I was forced to write the present play to reflect on the dilemma of the contemporary society and man as we are celebrating 150th anniversary of the great poet Tagore. I thought of revisiting his plays and thoughts and write ‘Tamasha Na Hua' as a tribute to the thought-provoking words of the poet who continues to live on in our angst, hopes and dreams.” In the past he has written, adapted and reworked on various themes that are critically acclaimed as fine pieces of dramatic writing in Hindi.
It appears that “Tamasha Na Hua” is not a conventional play. Bhanu says, “The traditional concept of a well-made play has lost its relevance. Tradition demands that a play should have a moral and the action should lead to a resolution or conclusion of the conflict. In the present time I find resolution impossible. It seems to me any resolution will take us to some kind of simplistic view of a complex situation.”
A recipient of several prestigious awards, he is the first director to have discovered the Gavari, a tribal theatre form of Bheels of the Mewar region of Rajasthan, and for the highly innovative production of “Pashu Gayatri”, “Kaal Katha” and “Amar Beej”, a remarkable theatrical work, synthesising tribal art with modern technique and sensibility. He is also credited for discovering Bhuwaneshwar Prasad's plays and staging them. He says, “The discovery of Bhuwaneshwar Prasad as a playwright and writer was thrilling. Here is a playwright who was so prophetic and so much ahead of his time. It is a pity that Hindi literary criticism is yet to come to terms with this writer even in his centenary year. His plays are revolutionary both in content and format. His dramatic dialogue has no parallel in Hindi dramas.” He admits that while writing “Tamasha Na Hua” Bhuwaneshwar's style of writing dramatic dialogue subconsciously influenced his style. Right now, Bhanu is busy in rehearsing his play which will be open at New Delhi's Shri Ram Centre on June 28.
The light design is by R.K. Dhingra and the cast consists of leading actors of the Hindi stage like Mahendra Mewati, Ravi Khaan Wilkar, Tikam Joshi and Diksha Sharma. Produced by Aaj Theatre Company and presented by Aayam, a local group, the production promises to be a fine work of collaboration between the light designer, actors and the director-writer-designer Bhanu that touches on problems faced by humanity and the theatre in the era of globalisation and neo-colonisation.
(“Tamasha Na Hua” will be staged at Shri Ram Centre, New Delhi, from June 28 to June 30)
Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore's emblematic play, Muktadhara, (The Waterfall) has come alive in a retelling by noted director-playwright Bhanu Bharti whose production Tamasha Na Hua (There was no Fun) is timed to coincide with the poet's 150th birth anniversary this year. "The re-enactment of the 1922 play which raises vital issues about man, machine and the conflict between humanity, development and nature in a contemporary light is a tribute to the bard from Bengal," Bharti said.
"Muktadhara, often hailed as one of Tagore's finest plays, is interpreted as the poet's admiration for Mahatma Gandhi's peaceful co-existential philosophy and the poet's denouncement of the machine in favour of human freedom," he added.
The action of the play takes place in fictional Uttarkut, ruled by an autocratic king. The waterfall flows from a headland in Uttarkut downstream to "Shiv Terai" - a valley which sustains on the cascade. The king decides to subjugate the people of "Shiv Terai" by damming the waterfall to deny them water. The royal engineer, Vibhuti, works for 25 years on a monstrous engineering contraption that looms high over a shrine of Lord Shiva to dam the waterfall at its heights. The heir to the throne, the tyrannical king's adopted son, who was found abandoned by the waterfall, frees the cascade from the confines of the dam by demolishing the machine. The torrent from the waterfall sweeps everything in its stride, including the prince who becomes a martyr for the cause of freedom.
"My production is a play within a play. While rehearsing the play, the actors argue about its relevance in the present time and raise a crucial question - the fight between machine and man which has been bothering us for two centuries," Bharti said. "The argument leads to a famous debate between Tagore and Gandhi about freedom," he added.
Bharti's play picks up the threads of narrative action from Yantraraj Vibhuti - the royal mechanic's endeavour to set up the damming device.
"The issues that the characters argue are more complex than those articulated by Tagore because machines are taking over in a big way in all spheres of our lives. Machines have become so important to human existence that it has bred an addiction for them," Bharti said.
The dam on the waterfall symbolises this widespread mechanisation, the playwright said. The play also touches on the other side of the dam versus man debate that "big dams are important to development and existence", he said. "Through the arguments of the rehearsing actors and the debate between Tagore and Gandhi, we visit Karl Marx, the 20th century ideologue, and the romantics to comment on modernism and post-modernism - the divergent political and social ideologies," Bharti said. "The message in my play is that there is no single path, ideology or philosophy which can define freedom. We have put up a lot of dams around us."
Tamasha Na Hua is being staged at the Shriram Theatre in the national capital June 28-30, following which the production will tour the country.