Samjhouta, the first Hindi play to be showcased at the 7th Meta was a much awaited one, with the Kamani hall packed to capacity before time.
The journey from Sup – Ek Prahashan to Samjhouta was, for the lack of a better word, a heady one. Even as Sup – Ek Prahashan was packed with a full cast and stage, Samjhouta was driven by just one character, played by Manwendra Kumar Tripathy.
The play, adapted from Muktibodh’s work of the same name and directed by Praveen Kumar Gunjan, is a first person narrative of an unnamed man who, even as the play starts, is seen contemplating murder and suicide. These existential concerns are finally found to have roots in this unnamed man’s unemployment.
The man, defeated, finally finds his way into a circus and refuses to move from its gates till he is given a job. He is taken into the circus or, rather, dragged in, and isolated in a room for many days and then in a cage for some more. Finally, this anonymous man is forced to act his part in the circus as a ‘reech’, or bear, and fight the circus’s tiger. Even as the anonymous man completely resigns himself to being killed at the hands of an animal, it is discovered that the animal in front of him is a man much like himself, equally a victim of circumstance.
Indeed, Samjhouta is an entry into the world of the absurd, with the anonymous man fighting circumstances (in this case unemployment) by compromising on his ethics and values, ultimately realizing that he is no better than an animal trapped in a cage told to do tricks in an increasingly globalized, corporate-governed universe.
What became particularly gripping in the context of Samjhouta was the sheer power of the leading actor himself. Even as he was supported by musicians at the back, Tripathy utilized the stage space in its entirety, not only orating and performing, but even singing. Tripathy, as the anonymous man, exuded immense stage presence, and even as he moved all around the stage that was cordoned off to represent the room/state of mind that the anonymous man is trapped in, he paradoxically created an atmosphere of paranoia and of being trapped in a tiny space.
Of particular note were the play’s sexual overtones, with the anonymous man taking pieces of clothing off as the play progressed, symbolic of the nakedness of an individual in the face of faceless but powerful private enterprises that reduce humanity itself to a mere shadow of what it used to be.
A scene that stood out towards the end of the play was the way the anonymous man painted his body, dousing it wilfully in colours, finally implicating himself with the system, engaging in a ‘samjhouta’ with agencies of capital, even as he condemned himself for it. Dramatically, the moment started out because of its pure theatrical quality, but it had deep moral implications in that the audience was forced to look at the ways in which they themselves lay implicated in the systems that they might be displeased with.
At the close of this review, it must be repeated that the dramatic quality of the play was immense and it was extremely interesting and unexpected as a member of the audience to watch how the subject matters of unemployment and bureaucracy – of both government and the market – were handled by the director. Of course, much credit for this would go to Muktibodh himself. However, the manner in which it was adapted too deserves proper mention.