Actor Kumud Mishra understands the fine art of narration. And it is precisely because of him that we are tuned in with Manav Kaul’s well crafted but an almost pointless SHAKKAR KE PAANCH DAANE. Kumud lulls us to believe in the essence of his Raju, a small-town simpleton who introduces us to his life. But the underlying metaphysics of it is simply lost in the play of words and ideas.
It is evident that writer Manav Kaul is interested in words and the myriad associations that they are capable of arousing. Amongst the crop of Hindi theatre groups in the city, his ‘Aranya’ like the young Chandan Roy Sanyal’s ‘Proscenium’ are amongst the very few to bring in a fresh, invigorating spirit to this language theatre. Again Kaul himself is amongst that rare breed of contemporary original playwrights in Hindi. A colleague of mine however feels that he is simply aping the veteran novelist and short story writer, Nirmal Verma.
While the question of Verma’s influence on Kaul’s work can be debated, there is no doubt that the result makes up for an interesting and engrossing enough dramatic idiom. The problem is that Kaul’s technique supersedes content. In some measure, this was the case with his second play PEELE SCOOTERWALA AADMI too. Raju’s story, which is seemingly the story of his life, corresponds to a preview and ends up just being that.
But like in PEELE SCOOTERWALA AADAMI as the words warm themselves into your heart, so in this play, which is actually Kaul’s debut play, the metaphor of the paanch shakkar ke daane elicits a response if not the desired effect. The characters that inform Raju’s story like his mother, Radhe, his uncle Pundalik, the anonymous truck driver and the only boy who spoke in English in his class at school are well etched. All these characters in some way have influenced Raju’s simple mind.
Mishra’s Raju is indeed able to beautifully communicate the subtle nuances of his relationship with the decisive characters in his life be it in his vacuous look to his uncle Pundalik’s philosophy and poetry or in his reminisces about his mother’s red ribbons. The play endears you to sit back and be a part of a very personal journey of a less than ordinary man but the emotion is dampened by the covert glorification of this character. In instances, one actually wonders if one is listening to the narrator or the writer himself.
A simple stage design informs the play. Besides a lone chair, the narrator often positions himself in a small space left in the middle by the four surrounding blocks. This space acts as his small world from which he springs funny surprises such as the day his mother decided to use his friend’s boots as flower vases! Music is more or less limited to the shakkar ke paanch daane, which the narrator, Raju lines up at regular intervals. A backdrop of the narrator’s secret feelings that he wrote on the back of a truck finds expression in an effective light design.
The light and sound design also help in creating an impression of a road, possibly of a highway, which is very close to where Raju lives. At various times, the road to an unknown land seems to beckon him but he appears to be content in his small space and fears the predicament that his uncle Pundalik has left him in. The final poetic denouement is neat, funny, reflective but unfortunately all too expected, all too perfect.