30 September 2008

Theatre Review: Tyagpatra

Rajinder Nath's theatrical adaptation of Jainendra's novel Tyagpatra: my review.

Tyagpatra is based on Jainendra Kumar’s classic novel of the same name, masterfully adapted for the stage by Delhi theatre veteran Rajinder Nath, founder and director of the theatre group Abhiyan. Tyagpatra is not the first novel that Rajinder Nath has worked with – he directed an NSD student production of Dharamvir Bharati’s 1950s novel Suraj Ka Saatvaan Ghoda in 1975, and staged Nirmal Verma’s Raat Ka Reporter in 2003.

The current production, however, is possibly more difficult to bring to life for a contemporary audience. Published in 1937, the play centres around a woman called Mrinal and her struggle to find a space for herself and her desires within the constricted contours of traditional society. The story is told by Mrinal’s nephew Pramod, now a middle-aged and highly-regarded judge, who has just received news of her death. The older Pramod is played by seasoned actor Banwari Taneja, whose narration superbly evokes the self-reflexive complexity of Jainendra’s character – nostalgic, angry and guilt-ridden by turns.

The first third of the play – the weakest portion – focuses on the child Pramod’s closeness to his aunt, the adolescent Mrinal (movingly played by Mallika Taneja). But this blissful shared childhood is cut short for good when Mrinal first gets romantically involved with a friend’s brother, and when the affair is discovered, is hastily married off to an uncouth middle-aged widower (V.K. Bindu in a nice cameo). This is the point at which the play stops being a rather predictable tale of oppressed Indian womanhood. Nothing so far has prepared us for what happens next – Mrinal’s disillusionment with marriage, her failed efforts to found her marriage on honest foundations and her final radical break with middle class morality. The two main scenes where Pramod (Ishwar), now a young man, seeks unsuccessfully to confront his Mrinal Bua, who has cut herself off from “civilized society,” astutely plumb the depths of middle class schizophrenia, and gain a great deal from Suchitra Gupta’s sharp-edged portrayal of an older, embittered Mrinal.

Like all Abhiyan productions, sets are minimal, and lighting is used sparingly. The play’s primary achievement is its credible revival of a story that must certainly have been shocking in 1937 – although what is really revealing is how much its candour can still surprise us today.

Published in Time Out Delhi, March 2007

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