REINCARNAT­ING MARK TWAIN

India Today - - LEISURE - —Al­pana Chowd­hury

Laugh­ter is all we are left with. Noth­ing can stand against an as­sault of laugh­ter!” Cana­dian play­wright Gabriel Emanuel imag­ines Mark Twain con­clud­ing dur­ing an 1896 talk at the Nov­elty Theatre in Bom­bay. To re­cover from fi­nan­cial losses, the much loved writer of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Adventures of Huck­le­berry Finn came to In­dia as part of a global speak­ing tour. Over a cen­tury later, Emanuel has recre­ated the lec­ture he might have given in Bom­bay, though he had no writ­ten record to fol­low. Ap­pro­pri­ately, Mark Twain: Live in Bom­bay! opened last week in the city of its ti­tle, though di­rec­tor-ac­tor Vi­nay Sharma is based in Kolkata.

At the open­ing at Prithvi Theatre, the au­di­ence chuck­led through Sharma’s im­per­son­ation of the sharp-wit­ted au­thor who, in Emanuel’s imag­i­na­tion, satirises swamis, pa­tri­ots and racism and of­fers de­light­ful takes on mon­keys, frogs, cats and dogs. After ex­tolling Bom­bay as “a be­witch­ing place”, he adds, poker-faced, “If it is true that the end of the world is near, I’d rather be in Bom­bay be­cause ev­ery­thing hap­pens here 10 years later.” More wit­ti­cisms fol­low. Chris­tened as Sa­muel Cle­mens, the Amer­i­can hu­morist came up with the pseu­do­nym Mark Twain from the phrase boat­men shouted when they came upon shal­low wa­ter. “I was al­ways at­tracted to trou­ble so I adopted it as my name,” he dead­pans. After he was wrongly de­clared dead, he fa­mously told jour­nal­ists, “Re­ports of my death were grossly ex­ag­ger­ated.”

With sil­ver-white hair, a thick bot­tle­brush mous­tache and a short-stepped gait, Sharma looks strik­ingly sim­i­lar to Twain. Con­sid­er­ing there are no au­dio-vis­ual records, bar­ring a one-minute mov­ing im­age, how did he bring alive the writer so con­vinc­ingly? “You find the man. You dis­card the man. And you dis­cover the per­for­mance,” he said.

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