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The wonder of words

A chat with theatre doyen Shyamanand Jalan

Photos: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

Gripping Shyamanand Jalan and (right) a scene from “Lahron Ke Rajhans”


Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus — the old cliché that’s still relevant was quoted cheerfully by veteran Kolkata-based theatre director Shyamanand Jalan to his friends as they came to congratulate him on his successful production of “Lahron Ke Rajhans” this past week. The play by Mohan Rakesh was presented by Jalan’s group Padatik at the ongoing Bharat Rang Mahotsav of the National School of Drama.

The story is based in Kapilavastu, when the Buddha returns to the kingdom after attaining enlightenment. It focuses on the contrasting life views of Nand, brother of the Buddha, and his wife Sundari. Nand is torn between his yearning for the contemplative life and his desire for his beautiful wife. Sundari, however, is unequivocal in her acceptance of the sensory gratifications life offers and celebrates them unabashedly.

While the Mars-Venus analogy might not exactly illustrate the predicament, the play does bring out, as Jalan points out, the inability of the husband and wife to understand each other, though neither is quite wrong. A perennially modern story though its characters are drawn from the 6th Century B.C. This is the play, notes Jalan, that was in a sense the precursor to Rakesh’s “Adhe Adhure” — a more commonly staged saga of failing relationships and a troubled middle class family set in modern India.

Fascinating exchange

Jalan first produced “Lahron…” in 1966. The brochure reproduces two fascinating letters. In one the director humbly asks the playwright for clarifications and guidelines, and in the second Rakesh responds, albeit nearly two months later, just as sincerely. After discussions the playwright rewrote some of it. Jalan, however, says he never produced the new version, till now, nearly 42 years later. Having mainly produced plays by Rakesh and Badal Sircar, he says — like many directors — that there is a dearth of good playwrights today. But unlike many, Jalan says he takes no liberties with the script. “I neither edit them nor change a word,” he states, but adds that time constraints might dictate editing on rare occasions.

He appreciates words. “People don’t write good language any more,” he remarks. In “Lahron…” notes Jalan, he did not subtract a word from the script. Today, with Hinglish an accepted medium, some feel this should be the language of theatre too. “That is also true,” says the veteran, known for pioneering modern Hindi theatre in Calcutta. “There is no harm in it. But this kind of language has its own beauty. I take a very positive attitude.”

Yet this production of “Lahron Ke Rajhans”, he says, “establishes the power of words.”

ANJANA RAJAN

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