by Manju Sampat
Acclaimed playwright Vijay Tendulkar’s 2001 Marathi play Mitrachi Goshta, has been translated into English by Gowri Ramnarayan. Renowned theatre director and actor Akash Khurana has directed A Friend’s Story, the English version of this play, that was recently performed at Bandra’s The Cuckoo Club. This play has been around for a while now and will be staged later this month at London’s Globe Theatre. It’s lead actress, Sayalee Phatak won the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre award for best actress. The fact that despite this being our second viewing of the play, we were equally if not more engrossed, says a lot for Khurana’s production.
A Friend’s Story revolves around the lives of three college friends, who study in Pune in the 1940s. Bapu (Abhay Mahajan) through whose eyes we see events unfolding, is shy, diffident and unassuming. He has a crush on the headstrong and bold Sumitra, a class mate. But since his love for her is not reciprocated, he settles for a platonic friendship with Mitra, his friend and symbolically the “friend” from the play’s title. It is her story that he recounts in a most sensitive and sympathetic manner. “You cannot be dispassionate about a love story, even as you narrate it, it becomes your own”, he says both at the beginning and end of the play. Sure enough, through his effortless and natural performance Abhay Mahajan draws us into his world and we the audience become part and parcel of the events unfolding on stage. Perhaps it is also the intimate nature of The Cuckoo Club’s stage, that contributes to this immediacy.
Even though the story is about Sumitra, his friendship with her draws Bapu willy nilly into her world of struggles and complexities and he becomes the guardian of her secrets. He seems to be experiencing her pain and turmoil as she tries to come to terms with her identity and inner turmoil and her sexual orientation. Sayalee Phatak plays her role to perfection and lives the role of the protagonist Mitra. Parna Pethe as Nama Deshmukh, Sumitra’s love interest, is also excellent in her portrayal of a confused homosexual lover, who is plainly fascinated by Mitra but is unsure of her own sexuality and is equally attracted to her other love Dalvi. Adhir Bhatt, as Pande, Bapu’s roommate is also attracted to Mitra till he learns the truth about her sexuality. As expected, the play veers to a tragic end.
A Friend’s Story is a very bold play as it deals with a subject that is by and large taboo even today. Akash Khurana handles this sensitive subject with a “pure” sensibility in his direction. At no point is it crude and is instead a poignant and powerful production.