Direction : Vijay Kenkre
Writer : Madhu Rye
Cast : Madhura Velankar, Sharvari Lohokare, Vivek Gore, Sushil Inamdar, Lokesh Gupte and Tushar Dalvi


Jayashree Hari Joshi

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KOI PAN EK PHOOL NU NAAM BOLO TO written by Madhu Rye, is regarded as a cult Gujarati play and proved to be very popular. The play is a psychological thriller drama and a tragic comedy as well. HA SHEKHAR KHOSLA KON AHE? produced by Bhadrakali and directed by Vijay Kenkre re-creates this Gujarati classic for the Marathi stage.

Even so, it's a far cry from the glory days of Bhadrakali productions when the patriarch Machindra Kambli reigned with blockbusters like VASTRAHARAN and BHAIYA HAAT PAAY PASARI. With his passing, his son Prasad Kambli has been trying to re-invent the Bhadrakali idiom with stagings such as CP Deshpande's DHOL TASHE and SHEKHAR KHOSLA. Prasad Kambli has put his money where his mouth his. The question is will today's Marathi audiences back him as much as they supported his father's ''Tatya Sarpanch''?

Be that as it may, Vijay Kenkre in his earlier avatar at Antarnatya (a Marathi prayogik theatre group) has had an affinity for Rye's plays - which is what makes the re-birth of Rye's play, interesting. The new production runs the risks of erasing the novelty that had made the play worth visiting in the first place. Two worlds collide in Rye's playful opening scene. A play is being rehearsed. There are the usual affairs and stage one-upmanship. Then there is a gunshot. It is about life and art, reality and illusion.

Madhu Rye is a Gujarati playwright who stays in the USA. His theatre influences indicate the DNA of KOI PAN EK PHOOL NU NAAM BOLO TO. Rye's favorite texts are the Bengali adaptation of Pirandello's SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR. Rye also likes Pirandello's ambiguity, his magic with the real and the fantastic. He admires Gujarati writer Suresh Joshi's short stories and the narrative prose of Chandravadan Chimanlal Mehta. All these elements are visible in his play, which was first staged in 1969.

But exhilarating as it is to see this work back on the Marathi stage in our times today, Vijay Kenkre's production over-elaborates an already complex work. You see the twists and turns from one mile away. In the first act, the actors stress the prankishness of the 'play within the play' format more than its psychopathology, and the play turns into a farce. The second half which is the interrogation of Madhura becomes a straightforward trial with a few explanatory scenes on the sidelines.

Even if the play's psychological pain is muted, Kenkre extracts better performances from his actors in a slightly awkwardly staged second act. That Madhura (Madhura Velankar- Satam) is doomed is clear. That she is a woman sacrificed in a world of men is clear. Indian law says that a person is innocent unless proved guilty. But Madhura is held responsible for the death of the imaginary Shekhar Khosla. In a way she is being implicated for having ambition, being greedy, and for her cunning to climb the ladder in a male-dominated world.

In a year where the Indrani and Sheena Bora case has hypnotised the nation, themes like trial by media and selective leaks by the police, the role of Courts, plus what constitutes a conspiracy is foremost in our minds. SHEKHAR KHOSLA - a play that has an undercurrent of evil, could have provided a mirror to this horrifyingly banal type of evil in which we have had full and robust discussion about Indrani's state of mind, driven by the sensational media.

The point is, does Madhura deserve similar talk-time? Unfortunately, no. And that is the failing of a 45-year old play. Perhaps Kenkre realises this. Therefore he makes the theatre people and their antics the focus of his drama. Tushar (Tushar Dalvi) as the producer is all swagger and drunk. Lokesh (Gupte) as the boy-friend and lover is the epitome of smooth officiousness. The second act is a parade of characters - from the ubiquitous writer Sushil (Sushil Inamdar), who is infatuated by Madhura, and the actor couple, Vivek (Vivek Gore) and Sharvari (Sharvari Lohokare), whose marriage is also not hunky dory. A warm strategy is that the characters carry the first name of the actors´real names.

But the end is underdone and underwhelming. One thing is clear. Madhura may have thought her crime was exceptional, if not unprecedented, and that as a result, demanded a new approach to legal judgment in which she shall be the star of the show.

In spite of the doubts raised above, this play is quite a compact experience, with just the right stage design and lights – though not much scope there. As Chitra Palekar observed - a play that was initially presented in an experimental style decades ago, has entered the popular drama arena - this is no mean achievement.

*Jayashree Hari Joshi has done her M. Phil. Her thesis is a comparative study of Rasvighna / Natyashastra and the Experimental Theatre of Bertolt Brecht. She is working with the Goethe Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan Mumbai as Officer - Cultural Programmes.

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