Direction : Tushar Tukaram Dalvi
Cast : Rangaai Ke 16(sola) Kalakar


Nayantara Nayar

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Director Tushar Tukaram Dalvi and his team take on five well-known short stories and attempt to retell them as a connected series of short plays called THE DARKROOM PROJECT. The name seems to imply an attempt to play with the original stories as one plays with undeveloped film - to put it through a transformative process, at the end of which something entirely different is created. Add to this the second metaphor of darkness - of secrets and things no one wishes to talk about. THE DARKROOM PROJECT sounds promising. However the actual performance falls short in several areas, most notably in the actual process of adapting the stories for the stage.

The first performance DURGO POOJO is based on a true story that was written anonymously by a young woman who was sexually abused by her once-trusted and much loved paternal uncle while growing up in Kolkata. Survivors of sexual abuse sometimes write about what happened to them. They may seek catharsis, but the words are also an act of defiance by which they tell a society that is embarrassed by rape rather than horrified by it. So in the first instance, DURGO POOJO, is a retelling of abuse that is unapologetic and does not shirk away from difficult imagery and disturbing dialogues. Huda Bhaldar who plays the protagonist tries very hard to make us aware of how traumatic this story really is, but is unable to create an actual connection to the character. This is a problem that dogs all the pieces in varying degrees. Each piece becomes an experiment in storytelling instead of fleshed out coherent theatre. Theatre is not mere storytelling, whatever traits the two forms may share. Theatre is first and foremost the process of transformation and this is no doubt what THE DARKROOM PROJECT set out to do.

In KHOL DO, Manto's heart-breaking story of the violence of the Partition, the actor, Vinay Kamble, gives a strong performance and has some wonderfully convincing moments as the distraught and nearly mad father, but yet there is not enough 'play' involved. In Ismat Chugtai's LIHAAF, there are several moments of actual theatre where we are shown what is happening instead of being just told. This makes the otherwise exasperating, now-grown-up storyteller from LIHAAF bearable. The next piece, Munshi Premchand's KAFAN, breaks from the monologue structure entirely, and is presented as a dialogue between two poor lower-caste men. However even here, the constant use of descriptive and expository lines from the original story could have been avoided. The two actors switch between their roles as the two men and as two storytellers. The difficulties of attempting a monologue or even a dialogue while ensuring that it does not wander into mere retelling can be appreciated, but it would have done a lot for THE DARKROOM PROJECT if both director and cast had been braver about their attempts to turn the stories into plays.

The final performance is something of a jump in time, space and even subject. In taking on Hans Christian Anderson's 'The Little Match Girl', any preconceptions I had about these five stories coming together, were gone. Each of these enacted stories had moments that were enjoyable with innovative props, scene settings, witty lines and a great deal of earnestness. On the whole though, THE DARKROOM PROJECT, could not reach into the core of the stories it told, and nor could it embrace the true nature of the terrifying darkness they imply.

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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