The staging of Hindi play ‘Janch Partal’ took place at Padatik Little Theatre 2, Kolkata on September 14, 2019 as a joint venture by Padatik Theatre and Reekh though this review is based on the performance happened few months back on April 28, 2019 at the same venue. Inspired by popular Ukrainian-Russian satirist Nikolai Gogol’s ‘The Government Inspector’, Sanjay Sahay has adapted the Hindi play, which has been directed by Vinay Sharma.
Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852)had written the play in order to mock the corrupt government officials in the small towns of Imperial Russia. This play holds up a mirror to the society where people can see their dark selves clearly. The original play was written in around 1836 and even after two centuries it hasn’t lost its importance and relevance in any part of the world today. The adaptation by Sanjay Sahay, too, is well known and has been staged numerous times. Vinay Sharma has brought the play forward once again but in a completely intimate form.
Previous Kaahon Theatre Review:
One of the characteristics of this play is that all the characters here are extremely greedy and selfish without even a trace of honesty. Among the characters, there’s the mayor and other officials from the departments of law, education, health and post office. Everyone of them is tremendously inefficient and corrupted without a single hint of being shameful about it. But they are quite scared because when they hear about a high official coming to inspect the city in disguise they become very cautious. Strangely enough, they mistake an insincere fraud to be that high official and starts flattering him. Playwright Sanjay Sahay has set the play in a North Indian context. In the original play, the fraud had a sidekick, who is absent in Sahay’s adaptation. As a result, the scene comprising a conversation between the sidekick and the family of the mayor had to be left out. It didn’t affect the main message of the play rather it made the play compact and crisp. The characters of two squires have been changed to that of a priest and a radical making the aspect of religion significant to the contemporary Indian society. The extreme power of the established government officials seemed a bit unrealistic in the context of the Indian federal government structure but since it’s a satire, where most of the characters and situations have been exaggerated, it wasn’t tough to accept the representation of the characters. Here, one can realize the importance of the form.
Vinay Sharma has depicted the play in the form of a folklore blended with the modernistic style of intimate theatre. In this form, only the necessary requisition is used rather than a realistic and grand set. The actors wonder about in the performing space before the play begins. Their mechanical and repeated activities convey a sense of absurdity to the audience. The most interesting piece of set is a commode being used as a chair, which reminds us of Spanish director Luis Bunuel’s film ‘The Phantom of Liberty’ (1974), bringing in a wave of parallel reality. But when the character of the fraud uses that same chair as a toilet (although the chair is turned around then), a breach can be felt in the vision. The characters wear almost the same kind of costume which might be called a symbolic undergarment. The play begins with the wife of the mayor looking at herself in the mirror. Actually, all of these apply to the idea of social misconduct. The director himself has designed both the set as well as the costume. The light design has been done by Sudip Sanyal but its use here is simply that of accompaniment. The best part is the teamwork by the 13 actors who performed together to form a nearly flawless production. The style of acting is a bit loud but matches with the quality of the play. Krishna Sonika as Baby and Sayak Chakraborty as the magistrate have put forward an effortless acting even within the loudness. Overall, it is a great professional play, which is also intellectual and entertaining to the audience.
But there must be some conditions while staging a 200-year old play. The adapted play could be set in the time of the original one while letting the audience decipher its relevance in the current era. It could also be placed in the 21st century. Anything that remains in the intermediate space can be criticized mercilessly. Even if a play is set in an imagined time and space, it will consist of certain rules and regulations that, if not maintained, would cause the logic to break down. There is an enormous relevance of the post office as well as that of hand written letters in this production. Now if the term ‘e-mail’ is mentioned, the conviction of the sequential events starts to fade. What also needs to be mentioned is that, in the last 30-40 years, the importance of corruption as an example of crime has become diluted, at least in the context of India. Even the susceptibility of the audience towards corruption has decreased over time. Therefore, the production needed to be more attacking in order to bring back the strong sensitivity in the minds of the audience. The chance was there since the format was that of intimate theatre – for example, in the last scene where one person is reading the letter and the others are laughing out loud. The audience could’ve been accused/attacked with the use of dialogues in this particular scene. But the creators probably didn’t want to put the audience in any awkward situation. Consequentially, what happens is that despite being a satire, a classic play, an innovative execution along with strong teamwork and performance of actors, the production stays within the confinements of a comedy. The audience exits the hall with a smile on their face, says in front of the camera that they loved it and forgets everything once they reach home. But isn’t this ultimately affecting the actual aim of their production? We are expecting a lot from Padatik and Vinay Sharma, which isn’t only healthy entertainment but a lot more.
Translation- Kankabati Banerjee