Direction : Rajit Kapur
Writer : Asad Hussain
Cast : Shubrojyoti Barat, Imran Rasheed, Sukant Goel, Gagandev Riar, Ajitesh Gupta, Nishchal Chandra, Ajit Singh, Asheesh Kapur and Alka Sharma

NAQQAASH Play Review

Nayantara Nayar

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Set in an unnamed village in the hinterland of India where almost all the men have disappeared over time; where the women sing of their despair through a wedding song; where the police are a brutal force to be reckoned with - this is where NAQQAASH begins. The play's plot starts quickly enough, letting us know all these facts within the first fifteen minutes and prepares us for what promises to be a well-paced drama.

The story's central character Aklu is a knife maker and one of the few men left in the village. He has just found his son's dead body. From here on NAQQAASH dips into the ugliness and ruthlessness of capitalism and State injected terror. It is the tragedy of the village and the hapless parent at the same time. Shubhrojyoti Barat plays the character of the despairing and dignified father masterfully.

The mystery surrounding the son's death and the eventual denouement however are in the danger of becoming a clumsy whodunit. Yet writer Assad Hussain's skillful dialogue saves the play from itself, more than a few times. The story goes that Hussain watched a video in which a policeman was jumping on top of a dead body. He was so disturbed that he made it the first scene he wrote. The rest of the play developed around this idea of police brutality and its ramifications. However the play does not address this issue deeply and the character of the guilty police constable is not explored fully. Though cavalier and crude he lacks the fullness of other characters like Aklu or even the Salman Khan-wannabe inspector who arrives to clean up the mess. His violence and brutality remain somewhat token.

The chorus of women is not very underscored for its emotional resonance either. As a theatrical device, their inclusion at first seems a good choice. Their haunting wedding march and little monologues sometimes have impact but as the play progresses, the symbolism of the device becomes frustrating. Their agency is reduced to mourning mothers, sisters, daughters and wives. This rather single-minded use of the chorus was disappointing.

Director Rajit Kapur has tried to highlight the best parts of the story, and succeeds in many places. However the play frequently over-invests in its desire to create pathos amongst the audience, and as a result ignores issues it should have gone after more doggedly. NAQQAASH is a product of the Writers Block edition 2016. It is always worthwhile to find a writer who exposes the darker aspects of India's so-called development and the brutal treatment that its weaker and discriminated sections of the population routinely endure. It is not without reason that the men of the village are all Muslim; the religious connotation is quite deliberate. It is sensitive and telling, especially in our times today. It calls for our empathy and for a larger collective inquiry into the iniquitous systems prevailing in our society, fuelled by prejudice and sheer callousness.

Nayantara Nayar is a freelance scriptwriter based out of Mumbai. She has previously worked as an artistic director and resource trainer for a youth theatre company in Chennai. She enjoys writing about theatre and the arts.

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