The play conflates its ostensible focus on ex-criminal tribes with the problems that beset Dalits as a whole which, given the narrative that is emerging post the murder of Chindaki, is not entirely a departure. The tribal question and the caste question can be still tackled together.
In a self-referential moment, Ms Saraf complains about her limited part, and is promptly cast as Punnu, but it would seem that Sassi remains a giggly damsel in distress for perpetuity. But this is meta theatre that works. The play makes several such nods to female empowerment, which sometimes smacks of tokenism. But it is also a good thing because semi-mainstream Hindi theatre is notoriously wedded to the status quo.
These are not pathetic clowns with great sad eyes or little dawdling duck-like movements, working up a lather of emotion for the whole dichotomy of a clown’s existence, ever ready to shoot upwards into bathos. No, we don’t have crying clowns here. Bonhomie is the creed. No circus clowns either, with large red noses or flying trapeze acts. They are not fleet-footed except when engaging in repartee.
These little pockets of urban desolation include many women, but Notes on Chai is not in essence a gender-piece (to follow a current trend in Indian theatre). Here, human follies take centrestage rather than the baggage of male privilege or the spectre of feminine victimhood.
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.
S/He is Nancy Joe doesn’t shy away from the prickly matter of transitioning. Scissors loom large, as the spectre of corrective surgery raises itself. At one point the backdrop is splattered with paint — the peeling off of dried paint evocative of the intense moulting Joe has to undergo every day, with little respite.
The glide of a violin in the corner, used so often for comic relief, sometimes uncovers the dint of a real emotion and similarly, straddling a thin line, The Glass Menagerie continues to grapple with its material in little rewarding ways that makes it a compulsive watch, flawed but poignant.