by Manju Sampat
This last weekend Akvarious Productions staged “Under the Gypsy Moon” for Aadyam Theatre at Bandra’s St. Andrews Auditorium. This was the premiere performance.
Veteran actor and director, Akash Khurana has successfully adapted Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s novel “Srikant” for the stage, and directed it as well. By “distilling the essence of the novel for the stage”, and then ably directing it, Khurana has mounted a classy montage in his adaptation of “Srikant”.
This novel was set during the age of The Bengal Renaissance and touches on many social and cultural issues which are still valid today. The need to do away with superstition, women’s rights, saving the environment and more. The action unfolds on stage, as the older Srikanta (ably portrayed by Arghya Lahiri), recounts the events of his life from his memoirs, to his friend and old soulmate Abhaya (Reshma Shetty), who he imagines is sitting besides him. Various characters and incidents from his life from his childhood to the present, are recounted and these events are simultaneously enacted on stage. This is a very clever and effective way of adapting a novel for the stage.
Music also plays a big part in this production. The Baul music of Shantiniketan, the Rabindra sangeet of Bengal, the thumris from Hindustani classical music and the ‘kirtans’ of Nasrul Islam, are beautifully woven into the play, at the most apt moments.
We see the young Srikant (Omkar Kulkarni) with his childhood mate Laxmi, and then as a young man (Shivraj Waichal). with his good friend Indrakant. To dispel the superstition about ghosts, they go to the cremation ghat in the forest. Here they encounter a tiger, who scares the villagers gathered there. However, it turns out to be only an environmental activist dressed as a tiger, who wants to drive home the point that “without the tiger, there is no Bengal”. Later they meet and befriend Ananda bai (Rajshree), the wife of a snake charmer in the forest. She teaches them that “love is the biggest thing in this world”. Unfortunately Indrakant succumbs to a snake bite in the forest. Later, we are introduced to Pyari bai, a famous “Mujra” dancer (Aastha Arora). She turns out to be Srikant’s childhood friend Laxmi. They fall in love but she is not able to break away from her shackles yet.
Srikant then moves to Burma in search of a job. On the ship to Rangoon, he meets Abhaya who is travelling to Burma in search of her husband. She is accompanied by Rohini babu, her husband’s friend. Srikant and Abhaya form a deep bond with each other, and this bond is further strengthened by their love for Charles Dickens. When they learn that her husband has married a Burmese lady, Srikant hopes to connect with Abhaya, but it is not to be as she prefers Rohini babu.
On his return to India, Srikant runs into a group of nuns who are going to the ashram. He is fascinated by Kamal Lata (Radhika Chopra) a nun in the ashram, and even meets Pyari bai again here. But yet again he is spurned by her. Even his old poet friend Gauhar Khan (Amey Mehta) dies. It seems that like the hero of Charles Dickens’ novel A Tale Of Two Cities, Sydney Carton, Srikant will always be unwanted by the woman he loves.
The director has made wonderful use of space by creating a multi purpose stage set. There are large trees, a platform in the foreground, and hogging the limelight on stage is the luminous and full “Gypsy Moon”. With clever lighting, the moon changes its hues as do the trees. The platform in the foreground functions as a crematorium, a bordello, as a ship, and more, with just the addition of a few props. The idea of using two live actors to portray the still, masked idols in the ashram, is brilliant and very effective. Do try and catch the show when it comes around next.