A disturbing tale of mundane existence told in a manner that makes it easy to relate—and therein ignites the fear that we all are caught in the same whirlpool, sighs Anupama Chandra
Title of the Play: Aadhe Adhure
Writer: Mohan Rakesh
Director: Ashok Pandey
Cast: Ashok Pandey, Komal Chhabria, Saadhika Syal, Urvazi Kotwal and Udhav Vij
In these last two weeks, I have watched plays belonging to the pre-independent Progressive wave and post-independent Nayi Kahani literary movement in the correct chronological order. It felt like watching the evolution of our society through the playwrights’ point-of-view and yet the distinct idea of it all is that not much has really changed in all these years that have gone by.
Of a time gone by
In the 1930-50s, Saadat Hasan Manto stabbed with his blunt words and phrases, silences and stares, while novelist and dramatist par excellence Mohan Rakesh was the celebrated record-keeper of the preoccupations and phobias of the “new” middle class of a 1960s Bharat in a “new” biting dialect. While in the first play, the streetwalker Sugandhi is the aggrieved party who takes back a modicum of control, in the drama “Aadhe Adhure” the entire family is distressed and each one plays both the roles, that of the aggressor and the aggrieved, by parts and yet comes out a loser.
‘Aadhe Adhure’ is unarguably a seminal experimental Hindi play, holding a mirror to the uninspiring aspirations of most “urban middle-class” people and underscoring the inherent bleakness of routine life, told in Rakesh’s sharp, sensitive yet understated storyteller’s tongue, and had won the Sangeet Natak Akademi award. It is an unparalleled study of emotions at war with the coarse realities of life and the breakdown of the institution of marriage, and is outstanding in its dramatic relevance, resulting in multiple productions in various languages each year.
Of a family that is not one
Right from the start, the untidy drawing set draws powerful parallels to the lives of the family peopling it. And even before you are introduced to them, the “Man in the Black Suit” greets you with a “Who am I,” throwing in that bit of existential exploration in the already bubbling cauldron we are prepared to jump into. Immediately, the first lines of the original text flash in front of your eyes, and it is understood that the director’s adherence to it is complete.
The cowering Mahendra and purposeful and weary Savitri open the next scene with repartee that further clarify that the drama is chiefly about the search for identity and purpose of living. There isn’t a single individual of this dysfunctional family and its tag-ons who aren’t flawed in some way or the other. There is edginess, a sense of looming ruin and then a promise at redemption.
The powerless and passive-aggressive Mahendra, who fails to support Savitri and resorts to verbal whip-lashing but deters from taking any concrete decisions, fuels the resentful Savitri to run on aggressive mode all-day long as the true and only provider to an (what-she-feels-is) ungrateful family comprising of an unemployed and happy-to-be-so son Ashok, an unhappily married, and generally vacillating between supporting and hating her mother, elder daughter Binny and a recently sexually aware teenaged daughter Kinni.
At home or out in the World?
With the family on the verge of crumbling thanks to the chronic fault lines, Savitri seeks fulfillment outside of this universe in different men with the same result each time—rejection. And yet it is not easy to judge this daring feminist lead, played by a dignified Komal Chhabria, who is undeterred in the face of all worries and by failures both monumental and small. She provides the main supply of strength in the play, supported ably by Ashok Pandey as Mahendra, Mahendra’s friend Juneja, her boss, and latest lover Jagmohan. While Pandey dresses each character distinctly in his expression (what a powerful set of piercing eyes), body lingo and clothes, tone of voice and personality, it is his diction that stands out. A well-trained UP diction is hard to mask and surfaces unmistakably across roles. The series of confrontation between the couple, a mainstay of the play, is stark and telling with underlying meaning.
The beautiful Saadhika Syal as Binny and delicate Urvazi Kotwal as Kinni play their parts well, one a quiet rebel with telling eyes, the other a no-one-understands-me teen with reason to say so. At one particular juncture, your heart goes out to Kinni as she is slapped roundly by her ma and sister, and you hope she was not really hurt. Udhav Vij plays Ashok in a different vein from the rest— his constant usage of mobile (when a harried-as-hell mother avoids carrying one), his dialogue delivery and his body language runs contrary to the timeless middle-class setting presented by the rest.
The production is tight, the lights done well, and sound effects seem minimal and spot-on, and yet fall just short of bringing forth the true troubling spirit of the drama. Or maybe that is how it is supposed to be—how does one conclude an exposé of an urban, middle-class emptiness properly?
A bright production
Quite like the majority of the 15 productions of the Jeff Goldberg studio, Aadhe Adhure is intense and serious with unexpected patches of humour. The pace goes from a staccato uneasy quiet peppered with bristling dialogues fired at full gear to ultimately submit to an unquiet silence. The studio is an apt setting for the play; let’s hope the Royal Opera House can create the same intimate and oppressive atmosphere.
Aadhe Adhure is not a sordid tale and therefore you cannot summon up outrage but empathy for each of the characters in you. It is utterly relatable and totally abhor-able — as it should really be.