The play concerns itself with the breakdown of language and discourse, and how a herd mentality appears to be emphasized in communities online, stringing together a series of set-pieces that are little more than non-sequiturs, and flit in and out of the vacuous preoccupations of India’s post-millenials.
Given the political upheavals currently rocking the country, especially in major universities, it is always an interesting exercise to look at what theatre groups has come up with that could be described as political. This is not in some nebulous ‘all theatre is political’ sense, but in terms of actually taking a stand on the politics of the state. Choosing sides, as it were.
There is, of course, the Jana Natya Manch that has always worn its political affiliations on its sleeve. They recently performed a street play, The Last Letter, based on Rohith Vemula’s suicide note, interspersed with poems by Dalit poets, at the Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Admin Block, during a solidarity event. When it comes to the otherwise apolitical experimental theatre space, one doesn’t have to look any further than Pune. The Natak Company, a group of intrepid young theatre enthusiasts, possibly represent the same demographic as the youth agitating on the streets. Perhaps, this is why they are not entirely impervious to the turmoil ensuing around them. This was most discernible in their recent staging of Bin Kamache Samwad (or, Useless Conversations) at the Little Theatre Auditorium in Delhi, during the National School of Drama’s Bharat Rang Mahotsav. Ostensibly, the play concerns itself with the breakdown of language and discourse, and how a herd mentality appears to be emphasized in communities online.
The play strings together a series of set-pieces that are little more than non-sequiturs, and flit in and out of the vacuous preoccupations of India’s post-Millenials (both writer Dharmakirti Sumant and director Alok Rajwade are under 30). In one sequence, actors Siddhesh Purkar and Akshaya Deodhar delightfully play a couple constantly engaged in chat-speak, as characterized by cutesy half-formed words and mimed gestures that evoke the liberal use of emoji, and the constant exchanging of virtual presents that pile up in large stacks. At one point they start flinging the gift-wrapped boxes away like they were squares in a game of Tetris. This is one of the rare occasions that the play attains a visual language that matches well with its ambition.
Even if Bin Kamache Samwad is an unsatisfactory piece, with several longueurs, one idea that strongly emerges from the play elevates it to some extent. When the denizens of its virtual microcosm turn up to vote for the elections, all of them invariably end up voting for Narendra Modi. Their mealy-mouthed protestations as they do so mark them out as a set of people who have lost the ability to think for themselves, and have been caught up in the sway of electoral propaganda that Mr Sumant and Mr Rajwade appear to correlate with the hurtling down the rabbit hole of our rational sensibilities. This sounds the alarm bells for a wonderland in distress, yet there is also a gnawing sense of ‘them and us’ that pervades the piece. The ‘them’ in this case, and for many of us who have chosen sides in recent debates, are clearly those who provide uncritical and non-reflective support to the ruling dispensation. Interestingly, the play saw several theatre-goers walk out during its NSD show. The language may have been too oblique, and the play too obtuse, but one gentleman in particular, who didn’t speak Marathi, felt that the play was pro Mr Modi. It was anything but, and the irony was all the more delicious because it was being performed a stone’s throw away from Kamani Auditorium, where the exemplar of tolerance himself, Anupam Kher, was regaling a full house with the tepid romance, Mera Woh Matlab Nahin Tha. Of course, if Bin Kamache Samwad had been more intellectually realized, it could have been a potent weapon in the hands of the Natak Company, and a counter to the actual meaninglessness around us.