Missing a target can be excused if you have set your eyes on a difficult one, it is said, but getting set for a lower target can never be excused. Drama students of J G College of Performing Arts read and rehearsed Mohan Rakesh’s play Ashadh ka Ek Din, a game-changer in post-independence Indian Drama, during vacation and staged it on the rainy ninth day of Ashadh. Its strengths and weaknesses apart, the endeavour gave the students a welcome exposure and learning experience. It was heartening to hear director Diana Raval, a brilliant NSD alumna and visiting faculty at JG, say at the end, “We would keep doing plays ordinarily not done outside.”
The curtain opened on a promising, surprisingly refreshing stage décor and (inaudible) lines from two of Kalidas’s epics culminating in the nayak holding the nayika in a warm embrace following separation at the central door opening onto the large open space overlooking a mountain range and the endless expanse of the valley. On either side of the door are creepers, their lengths relieved with whitish buds. Overall, even with a touch of the antique inside, you get a sense of open space and air, welcome to a near claustrophobic urban existence. The music makes the ambience pleasing.
As the play unfolds in its neat three-act structure, at the end in each act Kalidas leaving Mallika, his beloved of the playwright’s imagination, the dialogue sounds emptied of the rich dhwani the text brims over with, Tarika’s Mallika faintly echoes it from time to time though. Yuvraj as Kalidas being handsomely tall and having a positive disposition is not enough. He needs to be something of a poet, to seem to feel the presence of nature’s luxuriance around and the interaction between the two is expected to get felt intimate and lyrical by the audience.
Matul and other young men are in a natural mould of conversation and look credible. Two levels of life are beautifully juxtaposed here, one romantic and the other realistic. At the level of realism, Sonali as Mother is reasonably good with her physical action and modulated speech. All the three however rather uncontrollably raise their voice when impatient. Yuvraj and Tarika – she has a sustained role – in particular need to get the voice from within in their lyrical moments, even when alone. Perhaps a month or so was not enough for these young actors to slough off the way they walk and talk in real life and get into the characters of uncommon stature.
The same cast has the potential and the director the skill to bring it out with particular attention to modulation and suggestion through speech. Incidentally, the two anuchars following the Queen and the two royal officials before her entry need finishing touches too for the intended humorous effect for a change. With the advantage of a coded visual language and the traditional clarity in enunciating words, a dance student in a cameo role, it must be noted, walks away with intelligible communication! One tends to find anachronism in the natural backdrop, references to the Mahakavi’s famous works, their printed volumes and blank pages, and the outfits, all taken together.
The charm of Ashadh ka Ek Din (1958) is embedded in its richly resonating poetic expression in prose. It establishes the playwright’s kinship with the creative genius of Kalidas even in contemporary life, which is far removed from the idyllic existence it once upon a time enjoyed. Its beauty lies as well, with a tragic tinge to it, in dual calls – one from within and the other from without – made in the life of a sensitive individual at a point of time. A choice is made and later it is not possible to return to that point of time desiring to make the other choice. Time doesn’t freeze. It flows on like air. You cannot reclaim the decisive moment, shape life and circumstances afresh.
With the luxuriance of the land, the creative freedom it afforded, the muse and the literary works they inspired, young Kalidas is not ready to leave the village for the court in Ujjaini. Ironically, it is Mallika who persuades him to go. There his creativity declines but he is wrapped up in glory, marries the daughter of an aristocrat and is appointed governor of Kashmir. Kalidas visits the village with the Queen, who meets Mallilka and offers her marriage to an attendant, which she declines. Kalidas chooses to not meet Mallika. She feels let down. She had rightly felt she contributed to his creative growth. By the third act, she has married Vilom and has a child. Renouncing everything Kalidas returns to her for ‘a new beginning.’ He sees the reality and leaves, disappears into the rain and storm.
Photographs: Marmik Shah
Also read: Mohan Rakesh’s play Aadhe Adhoore
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