ANANDBHOG MALL seeks to unload the baggage of caste through the introspective tale of a small-town couple from Maharashtra. On the one hand is their yearning for a tomorrow of collective choice; on the other is the daunting struggle to break free of the clutches of their respective castes.
Their caste identities, though disowned in marriage, continue to define their personal as well as professional existence. What they have managed to shun in public, they are unable to shed in private. The play unfolds this irony of the couple's life. which leaves them hapless and stuck with the labels of a 'Maratha doctor husband' and his 'Brahmin professor wife.'
The quandary follows them everywhere...even to the bedroom. Hard as they try, they simply can't even shed the robes of their castes during their intimate moments. What follows is desperation and dejection as the excitement of their foreplay is eclipsed by a litany of afterthoughts. The heated interactions mar the prospects of intercourse and both are left fuming and panting at the end to no avail.
The play employs dark humour to narrate a poignant tale ...one that flowers solely through the dialogue between man and wife - an intricate mix of debate, confession, allegation and resolution. While they begin exchanging sweet nothings of love, they end up exploding over bitter realities that rule their world - where a man's status & character are coded in his caste and where one's surname seems to tell much more than one's name.
Despite their non-conformist marriage, the Brahmin-Maratha feud looms large in every conversation. Many concealed skeletons pop out of the cupboard at the slightest provocation. Both give vent to what they feel is worth condemnation of the other caste and with retrospective effect.
The playwright Ashutosh Potdar and the director Mohit Takalkar obviously have great insights into the dynamics of caste, especially in rural and semi-urban Maharashtra - a system with prominent social, political, cultural and economic undercurrents. Through the couple, the play authentically unfolds both Brahminic and Maratha pride and the prejudice that has seeped into the married life of the protagonists.
The players breathe their roles with remarkable ease. Girish Kulkarni as the husband looks every inch a scheming-yet-innocent doctor, caught in a tug of war between the blaring diktats of his Maratha clan and the desire to establish a new global identity. Anita Date as the wife portrays the subdued, doting and ambitious professor with elan - thoroughly convinced of her Brahminic supremacy while half-conscious of her vanity and hypocrisy. Both realize the futility of their extremist beliefs and resolve to "tolerate each other" like religions do.
The play ends on an elusive note of hope - hubby and wife seek shelter in a Mall-in-the-Making where the lustre of commerce promises to outshine every other identity. As they are almost convinced of their safe haven of merriment, they mull over the manpower to build and run the mall and the same demons of caste come back to haunt them as they typecast people in line with the casteist value proposition - Brahmins would be the architects of the Mall and the Marathas would comprise the work force to run it.
While ANANDBHOG MALL highlights the deep-rooted, pervasiveness of caste in the everyday lives of a majority of Indians, it thankfully does not get prescriptive in promoting any for-or-against stance. Mohit Takalkar's direction is astute; it dexterously narrates the story through the couple's conversations, save for a few drags. The last fantasy part that actually lends the title of the play could have been more succinct -the degree of abstraction could be easily lost on the audience.
Prima facie, the imbedded caste factor proves to be the prime cause of the couple's sexual dysfunction. This seems an exaggeration - however hard the influence, can it get so fatal? Also, the coarse talk at the start of the play, to some extent, plays to the gallery. Agreed, it's in line with the theme but the play should not be leaving the audience in splits for the wrong reason. That would prove appalling for a sensitive play such as this.
*A cost accountant by qualification, Sudhir Raikar brings with him over 17 years of experience in writing that includes journalistic reports & stories, book and film reviews, analytical writing, critical appreciation, marketing communication, translations and business writing for leading media houses and corporates. His passion is fit-for-purpose writing.