Comedy born out of irreverence is perhaps the most difficult to achieve. While many today believe that they have mastered the art of creating humour out of irreverence, what most of them generate is only contempt or mockery and not irreverence. While the former two take resort in creating humour by making fun of or laughing at individuals or by stereotyping them, they often end up reinforcing the power structures, relations and norms prevalent in society. This kind of comedy is constricting and not liberating as it aims to generate laughter at the expense of someone. Irreverence on the other hand creates humour by dismantling all existing norms, structures and beliefs. It doesn’t hold sacrosanct anything and therefore in jokes arising out of this style, everyone ends up being the loser or in other words, no one wins the joke.
There is no moralising in this kind of humour, an impulse that even the most contemptuous or mocking comedians can’t avoid. On, Monday, the third evening of Ranglok Natya Mahotsav (Ranglok Theatre Festival), a great effort was put up by the Ranglok Sanskritik Sansthan in creating comedy out of irreverence in its presentation “Tum Sam Purush Na Mo Sam Nari” written by Dr. Urmil Kumar Thapliyal. A line picked up from the epic Ramayana, it translates as “Neither there is a man like you, nor a woman like me”, a dialogue spoken by Ravana’s sister Shruparnakha to Rama when proposing to him. However in this play the dialogue was interpreted quite differently.
The story featured two characters Baliya (man) and Ramkali (woman) who are wedded to each other but are constantly at each others’ throats throughout the play. Divided in two acts, both the stories featured the same characters, however while Baliya was played by two different actors in both acts, Ramkali was brilliantly portrayed by the same actor throughout. In a story of classic one upmanship, the two central characters constantly outdo each other as both try to pull wool over the other’s eyes. What underlined this story was the complete disregard for ethics or moralising as each and every character was self-serving, selfish and completely unethical. Conning, plotting and planning, revenge and manipulation, the play had it all. But what was unique that all of it played out in a hilarious comedy that tickled the audiences from start to finish.
What remained a contrast however was the final scene where Ramkali’s nose is chopped off for her evil designs, similar to the story of Shruparnkha in Ramayana. This moment right at the end of the play ended the sense of comedy and created a poignant moment in which Ramkali’s face is flooded with red coloured light. While the entire play was a comical satire on the way things work in rural India, this moment suddenly made things realistic, portraying the kind of kangaroo justice that still prevails in many villages.
Irreverence can only be created when nothing is held sacrosanct and this is precisely what the play did. It treated all characters equally with a self-serving agenda and did not attribute any moral superiority to anyone. But it can often lose its edge if the actors playing the characters do not match up to each others’ energy. This pitfall was avoided by the actors as all of them held their own and created powerful performances by playing off of each others’ reactions and holding perfectly on to their comic timings. Using folk traditions and songs and rural dialects only served to enhance the earthiness of the play.
Presented in the classic folk tradition of Hindi speaking north-Indian region, ‘Nautanki’, the play was a comedy interspersed by narrations in form of dialogues as well as songs sung in the style of folk tunes. The language used throughout the play was also inspired by rural dialects of the region. The entire play was staged in a rural mise-en-scene. The light arrangements of the Sursadan auditorium, the venue of the theatre festival, were efficiently used both in the foreground and background for not only creating different times and places but also energetically moving along the narrative of the play.
The play directed by Dimpy Mishra served as a contrast from the previous two nights, when on the first day Raghuvir Yadav’s ‘Piano’ starring Roshni Achreja and Raghuvir himself, had portrayed the struggles of alienation and loneliness arising out of urbanisation in 70’s Mumbai and the following day, Jayant Deshmukhs’s ‘Natsamrat’ starring Prof. Alok Chatterjee, tried to represent the classic tussle between modern and traditional values underlined by generation gap. The last day of the festival will feature ‘Paansa’, a play written by Gulzar and directed by Salim Arif, starring Lubna Salim, Amit Behl, Bakkul Thakkar and Yashpal Sharma among others.