Walking through a carnival of emotions

Walking through a carnival of emotions


Wait for the third bell after which the actors come out. You don’t have to take your seat beforehand for the sutradhars will take you inside. Once in, the sight of the gleaming merry- go-round, two ferris wheels, humans transformed into kathputlis, actors with loud make-up ready for role-play and a chuskiwallah make you realise that it is not just a play this time. Roysten Abel has put together a carnival!

Welcome to a ‘performance rather than a play’ - of Old Town- A Journey in Time Beyond Time. Staged in the lawns of NSD, Old Town takes you to Mach­a­aland which was once inhabited by extraordinary perfor­m­ers. Their skill and expertise makes them so famous that the villagers are filled with pride, resulting in discord. So acute becomes the problem that even God is led to curse Machaaland with ‘No one in the village will ever cross the age of 25!’

The community starts diminishing making mothers weep each time they give birth. The curse is reversed when Tree Goddess takes pity on a mother of twins who grants the villagers a chance to decide their life spans, if th­ey perform in front of her ea­ch night. Now, they have been performing for 2000 years.

The performances begun thus, include humans dressed as kathputlis, who narrate the tale of Amar Singh Rathore, followed by an engrossing nautanki which received maximum applause for its lyrics. The scenes of seduction of Prince by the Rani are hilarious and articulated well.

Just then, the sutradhar announces a naach on Chikni Chameli by a dark, ugly girl dressed in shimmering gold. Her sleazy moves invite wolf-whistles initially but when she refuses to stop, the audience quietens down. But ‘Chameli’ continues to move unabashedly. It is only when she stops that one realises that silence in the audience is deafening.

But the continous performance that the villagers once looked forward to and longed for, is now taking its toll. The nautanki performers drop facades to fight for essentials like food and begin abusing each other. The katputhlis come alive, pull off their strings in anger and express their anger and tiredness at the tedium of their lives, through Kudiyattam.

And so, begins the unravelling of a ‘play within a play’ where reality merges with drama and one no longer can distinguish the two.

It may appear as though all this is too much to contain within the structure of a single play but Abel is aiming for something more spectacular. He is trying to encompass the navarasas in the space of an hour-an-and-a-half. The actors go through anger, joy, pain, jealousy and more until they realise that they have to make ‘peace’ with their lives.

In the absence of a formal setting, the audience is as much a participant in Old Town as its a spectator, as it walks with performers and becomes a part of the‘ir’ story. Abel conceived and rehearsed Old Town in just 45 days. The director says that “this presentation is an extension of my previous work. When you get into popular entertainment, there is also a price to be paid but what is seen is only the entertainment, not the price.”

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