Review by Manju Sampat
Quasar Thakore Padamsee and his QTP theatre group performed Bertolt Brecht’s epic play Mother Courage and her Children, at St. Andrews auditorium over the weekend, for Aadyam 3. This is an Aditya Birla Group theatre initiative in collaboration with the Times of India group. It provides a wonderful platform for new as well as established theatre groups to regale Indian audiences with meaningful and entertaining theatre.
Brecht wrote this play in 1939, as a resistance against the rise of Nazism, while the Second World War was raging. He set it over a period of twelve years in the seventeenth century during the Thirty Year war. The central theme of the play deals with the futility of war, and how people with vested interests need to keep their country at war for supposed economic gain and also to distract the common man’s mind from day to day pressing matters. Mother Courage, the protagonist of the play, is a survivor and in order to do so, she too needs ” War” to peddle her wares to make a living. Padamsee makes a brave attempt to stage this difficult play and sets it in an Indian context but ensures that it is not regional. The war that rages is between Extremists and the army and could be anywhere in the country.
The play opens with just a large wagon like cart onstage. It is laden with all Mother Courage’s wares and possessions. It is pulled by her children Swameed (Junaid Khan) and Alif (Abhishek Krishnan). Swameed’s father is supposedly a Gujarati while Alif’s is South Indian. There is a daughter too, Kamrin (Bhavna Pani), who is unfortunately dumb. Ironically, Mother Courage, the survivor, loses her children to the very war she tried to profit from. This adaptation happily uses generous doses of our regional languages, Gujarati, Marathi, Kannada, though most of the play is in English. It is part musical as well, and some of the songs are in Hindi, Kannada and English and they too are a commentary on social, religious and political issues. Many of the concerns of this play, like religious conflict, the struggle for survival and the strong arm tactics of the mighty, are very universal worries even today. However, the treatment of the play and parts of the script seemed simultaneously clever and dated and not engaging enough to some members of the audience. Perhaps editing the play to make it tighter and reducing its length would help.
The veteran actress Arundhati Nag as Mother Courage, gives a wonderfully powerful performance, and she has essayed this role earlier also in the Kannada production. It is perhaps because of the glaring contrast in acting caliber between her performance and most of the other cast members, that makes this production seem somewhat amateurish. However, Asif Ali Beg as the priest and Bhavna Pani as Kamrin are most effective. The costumes by Meghana Khanna are very apt as is Arghya Lahiri’s lighting design.