Direction : Sapan Saran
Writer : Sapan Saran
Cast : Jaimini Pathak, Siddhesh Shelar and Debtosh Darjee


Nayantara Nayar

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Set at the Prithvi Theatre in Juhu, the play WAITING FOR NASEER, written and directed by Sapan Saran, and produced by Tamaasha Theatre, tells the story of two actors, an experienced, but never-famous thespian played by Jamini Pathak, and a young, barely-been-on-stage, upstart played by Siddhesh Shelar. Both characters, we are told, are actually dead. But they have conditions that need to be fulfilled before 'passing on' to whatever next...and the two men have been given the chance to meet Naseeruddin Shah, who is important to both of them for different reasons. However the supernatural entity that controls such matters is bureaucratic in the extreme, and there is only one ticket available for Shah's latest play, so the two must decide who gets to use it.

WAITING FOR NASEER is about theatre. That is clear enough at the very beginning. It is about people who love theatre, and who are so absorbed by their passion for it, that it even follows them to death. However as a play, it seems to wish to succeed on the strength of its dialogue alone. It is almost devoid of any action and its several, long bits of exposition gets the audience through the basic premise. Some of the dialogue is quick and sharp, but the script meanders when it should flow true, and rushes when it can afford to take time: what audiences are left with is a play that has the potential to be a wonderful story about the nature of theatre and the desires of those who see their life's purpose as the purpose of the stage. It is thematically similar to Neel Chaudhuri's delightful play TARAMANDAL, but never quite gets there. Chaudhari and his team don't just create interesting characters; they also give these characters time to develop and transform through the action of the play.

The premise by which actor Naseeruddin Shah is the be-all and end-all for these two actors is in itself somewhat ridiculous and one senses that it is meant to be. When Jamini Pathak's character describes his reasons for wanting to meet Naseerudhin Shah, the real ridiculousness of the situation is captured with tragic hilarity. Here the play suddenly gains heart, and there is real pathos created for this man who never quite made it to the top. It speaks to all the frustrations of a life fuelled by competition, elusive fame, and everything else that distracts us from the reality of whatever work it is we choose to engage in. Pathak delivers this facet of his character with real grief and in that moment, the play takes on new life, but sadly only to lose it again in an ill-conceived battle that ensues between both characters. The play seeks to ground itself in the very real desires of its characters, and this would have been more than acceptable as it provides situations with potential for conflict, misunderstanding and comic unburdening. However when actually moving through these situations, the play loses itself in its half-hearted bid to be 'philosophical' and 'absurdist'.

The play's title is an allusion to Beckett's landmark and very influential WAITING FOR GODOT, but it is not absurd theatre, no matter how much it may wish to be. The effectiveness of the absurd theatre lies not just in its trappings of cyclical scripts, dark humour, despair-laden-settings, but in its knowledge that while all life (and death) is a ridiculous farce that has no greater meaning, life must not be lived under the pretense that we have no choices. Instead it encourages viewers to face an uncaring universe and still choose to live meaningfully. This is the essence of plays such as WAITING FOR GODOT, Max Frisch's THE FIREBUGS, or Eugene Ionesco's THE BALD SOPRANO. By comparison the connection to the absurd in WAITING FOR NASEER lies only within the play's form and the real substance of the Theatre of the Absurd is abandoned.

*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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