The struggle for food and dignity
By Reema Gowalla
Rating: *** and a half/5
Written by Abhishek Majumdar; translated and directed by Srinivas Beesetty; presented by Kahe Vidushak Foundation
Easily one of the most profound pieces of pandemic theatre, playwright Abhishek Majumdar’s Salt is not about lockdown cooking, but about the food crisis it led to. The narrative draws your attention to this section of the population that works hard, but are often the most deprived. The play calls out the state for its failure to ensure minimum food supply for poor families in the midst of a viral outbreak.
It took us a complete shutdown to take notice of migrant workers who, for decades, have lived in the same cities that we have, the only difference being they have built these cities too. Yet, when the virus broke out and we secured ourselves in the comforts of our homes, they were compelled to pack up and leave. With no work and no wage, testing Covid-19 positive was still a risk, but starving to death was certain for them.
Translated and directed by Srinivas Beesetty, Namak is the Hindi adaptation of Salt. The storyline traces a strange combination of bhaat, namak and kahaniya that a poor mother — played by Avantika Gautam — is trying to feed her two young daughters — essayed by Ankita Jain and Debanjana D — with, while they are still struggling to come to terms with the sudden death of their father — a construction worker who fell off a newly-built property just days before it was opened for new homeowners. He was a painter, who “came flying off the scaffolding” while giving finishing touches to the new set of plush homes, where his wife now goes to do jhadu, pochha, bartan. Plumbing new depths, the three live a strange half-life, where hunger is the pivotal fourth being.
Abhishek’s writing often demonstrates a sense of discernment, and this play is not bereft of that. Namak is a story of strength and dignity, and the indifference shown toward human suffering that we all are guilty of. There is nothing in the 25-minute play that we do not already know about, yet it invokes a strong sense of empathy and introspection. And that, perhaps, is its biggest takeaway.
Within a seemingly simple setting, three women get to share their versions of the story — of hunger and no hope. As the play begins, Avantika immediately catches your attention with her near-perfect portrayal of a despairing mother, so much so that some of the scenes linger in your mind hours later. Ankita and Debanjana, too, add brilliance to the all-woman performance, while Srinivas’ translation makes the show appealing.
One may be of the opinion that sacrifices were made when theatre transitioned to the online space amid the pandemic, but Namak manages to keep the taste of a black box experience on the flat screen.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the digital premiere of Namak at the 2020 Ranga Shankara Theatre Festival