Direction : Mohit Takalkar
Writer : Dr. Gowri Ramnarayan
Cast : Ipshita Chakraborty Singh


Manvi Ranghar

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Gowri Ramnarayan's MATHEMAGICIAN, directed by Mohit Takalkar, and which opened at the Prithvi Festival 2017, is tedious in spite of its epic-like narrative and its hyper-stylised directorial choices. The set design is bare, save for a potent piece of visual imagery. The beautiful hardwood Prithvi floor was covered in white tarp, and one sensed immediately that there was to be an inordinate amount of blood. To what end remained to be seen.

At the heart of the story set in ancient Babylon, circa 500 CE, is Nikor. Castrated at the age of eight and sold into slavery, Nikor's mathematical acumen has earned him the Chief Economist's mentorship. Led down a path of power and wealth that proves too much for his innocence, we watch Nikor's story unravel. Betrayed by his own family, and later to be a traitor himself, one watches Nikor's helpless descent into an anti-god. Nikor sums up loneliness and horror, with the naivety of a young boy still trapped within him.

The greatest disappointment is the set design's obvious symbolism. It is as much as a cliché as when art students experiment with broken doll heads. The design felt misplaced, occupied too much space, and broke the line of vision. Besides nothing substantial is done with this 'bold' artifice and its evocations, handled blatantly, fall flat. Its symbolic references to gender are addressed far too literally and its gory presence is cringeworthy. The entire performance it appears is driven by an intention to shock.

Mohit Takalkar's direction has a calibrated pomp. The storytelling, while on the right path, needs toning down, and may relieve the burden to be taken too seriously. The script is cleverly crafted with a deliberate focus on pace and flow. However the dramatic moments repeatedly accentuated by blood take away any subtlety.

Pradeep Vaiddya's light design also declares itself in a show meant to show off. The central piece of imagery on which the production hinges is often given the spotlight, reiterating its forced intentionality. The lighting is well timed and constructed, but far too over done and nearly excitable, which in essence can be said for the overall production. The soundscape on the other hand was careful and craftily handled. It included sound effect, song and the voices in Nikor's head. The castration scene thus gains a valuable sonic palette, which is unnerving and precise. The ageless, genderless, period free costume design is intelligent; its layers reflecting the character's baggage, while its headgear the savagery.

A more toned down production may have enhanced the richer elements of the story. The director seeks to use blood almost as a co-actor alongside the otherwise solo performer Ipshita Chkraborty Singh who plays Nikor. She clumsily drags its alleged horror across the stage with her body and feet. Her monologue and her performance envisage a devilish, somewhat deranged Nikor. The director's use of space in an attempt to inhabit every corner of the performance arena appears contrived as well. Slowly and somewhat skillfully, Singh proves a decent but un-elemental actress. Her work often felt too rehearsed than heartfelt. It was a hit and miss performance. Her overly rehearsed style did manage to break away at a few places, revealing a deeper potential to surrender and become, yet her weaknesses showed up in basic instances such as her imaginary handling of objects that were not actually available.

MATHEMAGICIAN may still emerge a better script. For all its flaws, it did sustain a narrative flow, yielding to its epic form. I would have preferred to read the script over "Sulaimani" chai outside the theatre. For shock value, the show is there to be seen.

*Manvi Ranghar is an actor, writer and environmentalist from Mumbai. She studied Literature and values freedom.

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