Tear­ing Down Walls

India Today - - LEISURE - —Al­pana Chowd­hury

When Prithvi­raj Kapoor, who criss-crossed the coun­try with Prithvi Theatres stag­ing pow­er­ful plays, per­formed Dee­war in 1945, the au­di­ence was so over­whelmed by his tale on colo­nial­ism that they scram­bled onto the stage to be­come a part of the story. Would the story have the same im­pact to­day?

That is the ques­tion posed at the be­gin­ning of Su­nil Shan­bag’s re­boot of the clas­sic play, which pre­miered on No­vem­ber 3. The open­ing work of Mum­bai’s 40th Prithvi The­atre Fes­ti­val, the new Dee­war be­gins with two young­sters ar­gu­ing heat­edly about what they should per­form. Rishabh wants to stage the orig­i­nal Dee­war that moved his grand­mother to tears 73 years ago. But Lekha says it’s too emo­tional to be ob­jec­tive and out of touch with the times. Fi­nally, they re­solve to in­cor­po­rate both emo­tions and ob­jec­tiv­ity in their ver­sion, and the 2018 story be­gins.

The za­min­dar brothers, Suresh and Ramesh, are pre­sid­ing over a utopian Di­wali cel­e­bra­tion—like Ram-ra­jya with a gen­er­ous maa­lik and a con­tented praja—when two con­niv­ing for­eign­ers ar­rive, claim­ing to be in des­per­ate need of help. The brothers wel­come them and agree to hire them to man­age the es­tate, re­plac­ing the old, loyal dee­wanji. In no time, the for­eign­ers in­flu­ence the brothers to adopt western man­ner­isms and at­tire. The lackey Ramu, played by Rishabh, starts danc­ing to their tune. But the brothers’ wives and Ramu’s fi­ancé, Lekha-turned Laxmi, are not taken in. In a 2018 twist, the women are shown to be more per­cep­tive, and it is to them

The 40th Prithvi The­atre Fes­ti­val opened with a re­booted ver­sion of the iconic Dee­war

that the peas­ants of the land ap­peal when they find their gra­nary be­ing de­pleted by the out­siders.

In 1945, two years be­fore Par­ti­tion tore the coun­try asun­der, Kapoor’s tale, pas­sion­ately en­acted, struck a chord with his view­ers. More so when he ended it hap­pily, with the two brothers mak­ing amends and break­ing the wall they had been tricked into build­ing to sep­a­rate their prop­erty.

To that orig­i­nal end­ing, the 2018 ver­sion adds a sec­ond one with a demo­cratic flour­ish. In it, Lekha con­vinces the peas­ants to tell their mas­ters that hence­forth, they will pe­ri­od­i­cally choose their sarkar. In the fi­nale, the ju­bi­lant farmhands and the za­min­dar fam­ily cel­e­brate with a Faiz Ahmed Faiz poem, Hum Dekhenge, tuned to mu­sic, which looks for­ward to the day when thrones will be brought down.

The bal­anc­ing of the old and the new can be tricky. Though shorter than the four-hour 1945 ver­sion, the 2018 ver­sion seems long drawn, and the anachro­nis­tic cos­tumes and hair­styles of the women ac­tors clash with other el­e­ments meant to sit­u­ate the piece in the pre-Par­ti­tion era. How­ever, Kapoor’s plea for com­mu­nal har­mony is rel­e­vant once again, given the con­tem­po­rary po­lit­i­cal cli­mate.

Dee­war will be staged at the Prithvi The­atre in Jan­uary, and at the Royal Opera House in Feb­ru­ary.

MANGESH MA­HA­JAN

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