Theatre thrills because drama, when at its best, helps feel and understand life better. There is a battle between the haughtily headstrong dacoit Ghelo and circumspectly cool-headed Monghi he has brought into his house unlawfully in Jasvant Thaker Memorial Trust’s ‘Dhaad’’, directed by Aditi Desai. It’s not a seesaw battle. One-sided, as it is bound to be generally in a social setup uneven in gender equality, it keeps building up till the end, when suddenly there is a reassuring dramatic anticlimax. The simmering anger of the oppressed remains beautifully visible to the viewer, who anticipates a storm.
The action, most violent sexually, which becomes a turning point, gets played most dramatically with control and suggestion. I won’t spell out details for viewers to see and appreciate the innovative idea with thrill. The climactic moment of the play turns subtly symbolic. It’s dark and the three women, Dhanbai (Hetal) and Ratni (Jhanvi) besides Monghi, all pretty and understandably tongue-tied, docile and submissive earlier in this cage of a house, stand in a row holding up lanterns, their faces glowing with enlightenment. The connotatively rich scene assumes social significance, as often words do in a text, in the light of the telling context. Words of triumph keep ringing in the background.
With the theme close to her heart, Aditi Desai is at her creative best in producing some of these scenes, giving stage props, décor and sounds as well semiotic value. And in such an ambience as this, Devaki gives a cherished portrayal of Monghi, a girl abducted with brute force, with a subtly expressive face, particularly eyes, a body language that is controlled and pithy in its communication, not losing grace even where she is repulsed with savage aggressive action. The well-modulated voice has grown a bit heavy, it seems, with a lot of recent hectic activity and rehearsals.
Gaurang Anand has a challenging sustained role as Ghelo. The dacoit’s very name wherever he goes and his presence in the family spell terror. The writer has had him emerge from an arid barren land of the Rann of Kutch that has seen failure after failure of monsoon and from dire domestic circumstances leaving little room for values and creativity in life. Appropriately Gaurang, looking dark, sturdy and wayward, is gruff and raucous. He is yet a bit short of establishing the dhaak – the terror – that Ghelo is supposed to be. He has the reserves of the depth of voice – emerging as they say from naabhi, from under the navel – and of measured pace of action, which if tapped can take all his interactions, particularly those with Monghi, to a higher level.
An educated Pranjivan (Ankit Gor) who visits this house becomes a catalyst for a change in the attitude of the women, who seemed hopelessly resigned to their fate. He exhorts them, ‘Resist torment. If you don’t, you get used to it.’ There’s a world outside beckoning to them, he says. Sans a commercial angle, it is Aditi Desai’s USP to contemporize her themes, as in her earlier three successful plays, with an empowered woman standing tall in the centre. With suggestions to Vinesh Antani, who has dramatized Jayant Khatri’s original story and his novel based on it with an enhanced literary value and social relevance to them, she has remained consistent.
In the robust dialect of the region, the images surprise with their freshness – Ghelo would like to have a girl who smells like a saandhani (she camel). Like a brute he tells Monghi, ‘I don’t like to hear even ‘ugh’ when I’m riding.’ People here have no inhibitions in mentioning the choyno getting wet in fear! Four bhungas with their simple elegance remain in the background all through. When stretching her neck out of one of them Dhanbai (Hetal’s voice) sings, ‘… maara vhaala-ne vadhi-ne ke’jo re …’, it pierces the stillness of the night. Dressed in authentic colourful attires, the young women become a cynosure of all eyes in compositions and the folk-dance (contrasting with their male counterparts!). The indigenous instruments of the land, though played a bit faintly, and camels’ grunts, in the background, create a feel of being in Kutch.
Aditi Desai’s ‘Dhaad’, like ‘Akoopar’ and ‘SamudraManthan’, carries the khooshboo of Gujarat.
Photographs : Rajkumar Rao and Milind Shah
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