The National School of Drama student production of “Garbha Nataka” captures a complex theatrical work, but it is more than a play within a play. DIWAN SINGH BAJELI
Avant-garde playwright Peter Weiss' “Marat/Sade” translated into Hindi by VK was presented as “Garbha Nataka” by second year students of the National School of Drama at Abhimanch recently. It is a multilayered theatrical piece which is shocking and disturbing, resonating with contemporary ideological confusion and distorted vision of the revolutionary transformation of human society.
A drama within a drama, the full title of the play is “The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade”. This exceptionally long title gives us the basic thematic idea of the play. The drama deals with the two different historical periods. It has two different types of spectators — the spectators who occupy seats in the auditorium specially designed to provide an intimate view of the dramatic action, and those who are a part of the play and drama who often react melodramatically. Apart from structural complexity, the play incorporates elements of the Theatre of Cruelty propounded by Artaud and the epic theatre of Bertolt Brecht.
Set in the historic asylum of Charenton, the play is enacted by inmates of the asylum. The story within the story deals with the French revolution in 1793. There are historical characters like Jean-Paul Marat — who was murdered by Charlotte Corday — and the Marquis de Sade. The asylum director supervises the show and tries hard with the help of nurses and supervisors to keep the ‘lunatics'-turned-performers, who frequently go wild, uttering slogans for revolution and countered by slogans in favour of Napolean and the nation, under control. The play within is directed by Sade.
Through the polemical clash between these two characters, Marat and Sade, the ideals of revolution represented by the one and the hedonistic philosophy projected by the other are intensely debated. Suffering from an incurable skin disease, Marat remains in a water tub to get some relief from the constant pain, attended by a devoted nurse. Despite his physical discomfort, his revolutionary zeal and his commitment to create a classless society, in which special privileges have no place, remain strong. He keeps on sending his revolutionary instructions to the dreamers of revolution. Sitting on a raised chair, Sade enjoys his position as the director. In the midst of the lunatic-actors a woman named Charlotte Corday with a knife in her hand moves surreptitiously, determined to kill Marat and finally succeeding in killing him, considering him responsible for the murder of men suspected of being counterrevolutionaries.
This Hindi version of Marat/Sade is directed by K.S. Rajendran who is better known for his expertise in Sanskrit classical theatre. His directorial treatment of this contemporary masterpiece reveals that he has a deeper understanding of western dramaturgy and theatre. The production has enriched his repertoire and its range. He captures the exciting atmosphere of a complex theatrical work that reconstructs glimpses of the French Revolution and its aftermath.
However, in his directorial note Rajendran writes, “I decided to name the Hindi version ‘Garbha Nataka' after the Sanskrit term for ‘play within a play' found in the Natya Shastra”. In fact, “Marat/Sade” is not a mere ‘play within a play' — this is only a format. The play presents bizarre spectacles of human suffering, bloodshed, the absurdity of human conditions, and the degeneration of revolutionary movements into a new form of tyranny. Because of these deeper philosophical connotations the play attracted the attention of a director of the calibre of Peter Brook who presented it on stage and also directed its film version. The Hindi title of the play hardly conveys its intense philosophical intent.
Rajendran's directorial artistry displays its fine creative collaboration with set designer M. Natesh, choreographer Anjana Rajan, music composer Ajay Kumar and light designer Souti Chakraborty. The interplay of these theatrical expressive means creates complex imagery on the stage, charged by intense dramatic vitality and vivid flow of action, illuminated with the variety of colours and fine performances by the members of the cast. In this process a madhouse is created, a world of violence, of discontent and of unrest, a world inhabited by people infected by paranoia. However, at times the form becomes overwhelming, which obscures the thread of the story.
Kiran Deep Sharma's Hindi translation of lyrics is beautifully written in a rhythmic way which is easy for musical renderings. Though the role of the lyrics is not to further the plot, they help us to reflect on human conditions intellectually. आलेख " द हिंदू " से साभार.