A folk musical on aspirations and abuse

Review of Srinivas Besetty-directed Hindi play ‘Sakal Jaani Hai Naath’

Md Nizam and Shatarupa Bhattacharya in a scene from the play

By Reema Gowalla

Review… Sakala Jaani Hai Naath

Rating: ***

Directed by Srinivas Beesetty; featuring Md Nizam, Shatarupa Bhattacharya, Bhumika Mane, Rekha R and Venkatesh Joshi

There’s a djembe and there’s Sudama on stage. Like these, there are many odds in the play — some compel you to think, some quite not. Lately, director Srinivas Beesetty has been engaging in a method of storytelling that is invigorating and discomforting in equal parts.

Like ‘Namak’ and ‘Contractions’, his latest directorial ‘Sakal Jaani Hai Naathtoo is not telling the audience a new story. This folk musical draws from Narottama Dasa Thakura’s cherished Sudama Charit, but it doesn’t necessarily concentrate on the fabled journey to Dwarka and the reunion of two childhood friends. Instead, the piece sheds light on the Sudama household, which is on its beam ends and bespeckled with instances of unfulfillment, suspicion and domestic violence.

A Kahe Vidushak Foundation presentation, ‘Sakal Jaani Hai Naath’ focuses on elements that are not often mentioned in the narratives we hear. It’s a satire, so humour and quirks help it stay subtle. But there are also moments when you cringe. The Bundeli and Brajbhasha dialects are the stars of the tragicomedy — instantly transporting you from a Bengaluru auditorium to the natak mandalis of rural north India. Adapted from writer-lyricist Vasant Deo’s ‘Sudama ke Chawal’, Srinivas employs his distinctive style of assimilating contemporary life to episodes from the epics.

Actor Md Nizam plays the role of Sudama with ease and conviction, effortlessly dovetailing the mannerisms and sensibilities of this beloved childhood companion of Lord Krishna. As Sudama’s wife Savitri, Shatarupa Bhattacharya exudes both candidness and profundity — traits the actor is noted for.

The setting is minimal. Again, at par with the rural-folk inspiration. Light design, by Raag Urs, deserves a mention. It skilfully separates the two eras, without superseding the plot and cast. High pitches and undertones run to and fro the entire show, accompanied by the harmonium, dhol, ektara and manjiras, apart from the djembe.

Bhumika Mane and Venkatesh Joshi (in the background)

The unmissable in the show, however, is singer-actor Bhumika Mane. She is the narrator of the story and does it quite brilliantly. Her diction, bold folksy tricks and witty commentary, even on the audience, are a major pull-in. But one would wonder why she abstained from speaking when abuses and insults were hurled at a hapless housewife. Perhaps, silence is not the tool to be used here. The message is better spelt out than left unsaid.

Disclaimer: This review is based on the performance at the recent ‘Natak Nama — A celebration of Hindustani Theatre’ festival in Bengaluru.

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