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“Chimtewala Baba” – Play review by Hindu

Theatre without frills

DIWAN SINGH BAJELI

“Chimtewala Baba” staged in an intimate setting does justice to the dramatic power and poetry of the text.

Celebrating life A scene from “Chimtewale Baba”

Lalit Mohan Thapalyal was an all-rounder in theatre — playwright, director and actor. He wrote plays in Hindi as well as Garhwali, his mother tongue. His four one-act plays, “Khadu Lapata,” “Achharyun Ko Taal,” “Ghar Jawain” and “Ekikaran,” are considered landmark works of modern Garhwali stage.

His contribution as a children’s dramatist is significant. His award-winning Hindi play “Chimtewale Baba,” which was revived by Sadhana Natya Kala Kendra, Sahibabad, at its auditorium this past week to commemorate the 90th birth anniversary of the playwright, has the distinction of being staged by several groups with varying success.

Directed by K.S. Rajendran, a senior faculty member of the National School of Drama, and Souti Chakraborty, a former artiste of the Repertory Company of NSD, the play boasted an innovative structure. Here, the conflict is not between the protagonist and the antagonist. The dramatic conflict is within the characters. There are eight characters and each of them has a story to tell and a different motive to take the arduous journey to Badrinath. Some of them have a troubled past and are visiting the holy place to purge their guilt. Some are agnostic, but a few others have unshakable faith in the supremacy of divine power.

Sharing stories

During their journey, four of them stay in a small guest house. The owner has a tea-stall. They have tea at the stall and soon begin to interact with each other, and start to reveal their inner world. Chimtewale Baba is a constant subject of these discussions. For one of them, the Baba is an embodiment of spiritual power who can grant man release from re-birth. An intelligence officer considers the Baba a murder suspect. The greedy rest house owner wants to nab the Baba so that he can get a reward from the police. An issueless couple wants the blessings of the Baba to have a son. A professional photographer is desperate to capture the Baba on his camera and sell the pictures to leading newspapers.

They travellers are informed the Baba often visits the tea-stall and they eagerly await his arrival. Like Samuel Beckett’s mysterious Godot, he remains elusive and never visits the stall. Even through this elusive character, the playwright is able to create structural harmony and invest the play with philosophical profundity. Beckett’s play reveals the metaphysical anguish of humanity with no hope of redemption. Thapalyal’s play celebrates life.

Underneath beautifully written dialogues there is a current of pathos, sadness, sympathy and hope. The prose captures the ethereal beauty of nature that exalts human soul. So far the play has been produced by three groups in Delhi. It was directed by Faizal Alkazi for Ruchika and Rajendran for Sadhana Natya Kala Kendra and the third one was in Garhwali . This writer has seen all of them. Surprisingly enough, the present production presented on an intimate, modest stage built by Thapalyal as part of his house, appeared to be more gripping. The play’s dramatic power and poetry could be better explored in an intimate setting with minimal property and sets.

In Rajendran’s earlier production with the same cast, he used heavy sets to show snow-clad Himalayan peaks and it proved a distraction. Sparsely designed and brilliantly enacted , this revival of “Chimtewale Baba” moves at a slow rhythm with meaningful pauses, allowing the performers to reveal their inner conflicts. Souti Chakraborty’s pompous professor, unable to hide his impotency under the grab of male chauvinism, commits suicide. Neelesh Kumar Deepak as the photographer, Somali Bisht as the tortured wife of the professor and Dakshina Sharma as Saroj, a victim of domestic violence disgraced by society, give impressive performances. Keshav Kumar as Natthu acts effortlessly and hence his portrayal is convincing. There is an aura of naivety about his character, affirming the faith that to be happy one has to overcome desires.

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