Bhopal: Talghar conveys Gorky’s maxim: There’s nothing to be afraid of

Bhopal: Talghar, the play staged by the students of Madhya Pradesh School of Drama at Bharat Bhavan on Tuesday conveyed Gorky’s maxim: There is nothing to afraid of.

Alok Chatterjee directed Talghar, a Hindi adaptation of Maxim Gorky’s play – The Lower Depths – written in 1902 that depicts the life of poor Russians living in a shelter. The theme of harsh truth versus the comforting lies dominates the play because most of the characters choose to deceive themselves about conditions they are living in. When it first appeared, The Lower Depths was criticised for its pessimism while the portrayal of lower classes was viewed as dark.

The setting is a grimy lodging house where poverty and existential anger battle for supremacy. The only things that sustain the wretched inhabitants, 16 characters, are drink and pipe dreams. They come on stage, ramble and rant and leave. And then do it all over again for four acts.
Chatterjee has been able to create the right atmosphere to convey the message of Gorky through costumes, settings, music and lights.
The characters include a cap maker, a locksmith, a self-styled baron and a thief.

Two events cause a stir. One is the arrival of a pilgrim Luka who offers them hope and tells them, “Whatever you believe exists.” The other is the violence that erupts when the thief, who has been carrying on with the landlord’s wife, shifts his love to her younger sister. What strikes one instantly is the huge debt modern drama owes to Gorky. The battle between truth and lie influenced O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh and the works of Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter among others.

But if Gorky’s play endures, it is because of its blend of compassion and cruelty. Luka’s Christian charity and Satin’s hymn moved the audience. Yet Gorky, the pioneering realist, also shows that deprivation breeds hard-heartedness. After the death of locksmith’s tubercular wife, the cap-maker’s only comment is: “Stopped coughing, has she?” Chatterjee has directed play with dialogues that suit the Indian audience without disturbing Gorky’s rhythmic balance.

Ankit Das lends the philosophical Luka the wryness and charm of a Russian. Isha Pandey as Natasha, Aditi Lohati as Nastya and Meghna Agrawal as Anna reminded the audience of the condition of women in Gorky’s Russia. Ankit Mishra’s hymn to humanity as Satin comes from a brain befuddled by drink. Gorky’s writings never portray a pessimistic picture of life because he creates Luka to tell the world: “There’s nothing to be afraid of -nothing.”

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