A migrant’s dilemma and Tagore’s pathos

The somnambulant Chingari has risen with a sparkling new play In the Dark by the Israeli writer Motti Lerner and directed by K. Madavane, the veteran director (50 plays in English, French and Hindi) and founder member of Chingari, a group that was very active in the Eighties. Lerner is one of the pioneers of radical political theatre in Israel. A well-known writer of documentary drama for TV, he also founded and directed the Meduga Experimental Theatre as part of the Jerusalem Theatre.
In the Dark is about the immigrants in Israel and the problems they face and above all the insecurities that drive them to desperate measures. Oroon Das plays the pianist, Joel, who returns to Tel Aviv after 18 years in the United States. He comes home to discover his mother is in a mess. She is on the brink of losing her mind after the death of Joel’s father a month ago. She has become very possessive about her house and who all can live in it. Upset with Joel because he left her she neither speaks with him nor does she want him to stay. His brother Fredi cannot forget or forgive Joel for being the centre of attraction of the family because he played the piano, an instrument their mother loved and played too.
Fredi sees his house, or his mother’s house, which he thought he would inherit, slipping away with the temperamental mother’s belief that the great pianist Joel is in Tel Aviv as a replacement pianist and going to play in the philharmonic on the invitation of the maestro Zubin Mehta. For Joel, this performance will fulfil his dream of playing for his parents.
The strange woman Joel meets in the apartment, Trudy, played by Shena Gamet in a nuanced performance, and to whom he feels an instant attraction, is a nurse who is pumping drugs into his mother at the behest of her boyfriend Fredi. She too declares her intention of travelling back to the US with Joel. An incensed Fredi decides to expose Joel for a fraud. He finds an ally in Joel’s son, Izzy who hates his father and is here for the property.
However, Fredi brings back a watertight proof against Joel’s claims, son Izzy blasts his father’s assertions about his prosperity, and fame in the USA. Joel is not swayed. It is the fear of dispossession that drives passions. All the three males are there because of the property. Their greed makes them less than human as they lose sight of all that is decent in relationships propelled by their materialistic desires. The mother too feels threatened by the men and is losing her space. Fin-ally she tells them both to get out of her house. Very much a Jewish mother, she favours her artistic son for whom she has been making eggplant every day for 18 years. Divya Chandra was effective as the old mother.

Jeevit Aur Mrit, a story by Rabindranath Tagore was staged by Pehchan, a group of newcomers whose enthusiasm far outreaches their talent. Written and directed by Dinesh Khanna, the play spoke about life and death. A child widow, in a rich zamindar family is reviled for losing her husband at the age of 15 and is generally neglected, dies in the prime of youth. Her body is sent for burial through professional buriers. They do not complete their task and the woman who is not quite dead rises from her deathbed. She decides not to return to her home for the fear of reprisal and instead goes to her childhood friend.
Initially welcome, her friend begins to imagine her young husband’s involvement with Kadambini, the living dead woman. Kadambini returns to her home where no one welcomes except her-nephew, the little boy, whom she has brought up. He is also taken off her arms. No one believes her story, for according to the buriers “her bones are ash”.
In order to prove that she is made of flesh and blood, she hits her forehead on the steps of the house. She bleeds from her forehead and ironically loses life in trying to prove it.
The production is impeccably mounted. The set looked good on the Muktadhara stage where the play was staged over two days. The lighting by Himanshu B. Joshi is excellent and the effect of mist and rain ably created. Pallavi Biyani as Kadambini showed promise in her physical actions, but her dialogue delivery hurt the ears.
In fact, the entire cast had a flawed dialogue enunciation. When Kadambini and her friend Yogmaya were speaking, it was difficult to distinguish the voice of one from the other.

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