Love and loss in the times of tragedy, war

DOCU-DRAMA

The searing reality of Bombay Docks Explosion comes alive through the narrative of two actors.

In the middle of a narrative that touches issues ranging from Mahatma Gandhi to the Hindi film industry, suddenly the lights turn red and a loud bang sends shivers across the audience and a child starts crying demanding to go home in the middle of the play. With such an impact, the light and even sound effects of the English play 3, Sakina Manzil by Desires Unlimited grabs attention. But is that all that is required make one sit through the 100-minute verbose production?

Scripted on Mumbai-based playwright Ramu Ramanathan’s original work by the same name, the play directed by Deepak Dhamija gives an account of 14 April 1944 when the Bombay Docks Explosion shook not just the Bombay harbour but a lot of lives. Amidst this, is depicted a platonic love story of Shashi Kumar and Shashiji whom fate brings together and then conspires to separate. 

Penned beautifully, the love story makes the audience yearn for the union of the two protagonists while they remain entangled in narrating their never-ending dialogues. In being honest to the script, the director takes up the challenge of incorporating everything that the playwright documents. One does appreciate the research that Ramu has done but is it necessary to also like the same in a dramatic adaptation, is the question that occupies the audience.

 An evidence of this are the many profound phrases that both the actors deliver throughout their performance. Some humorous, such as “Love at first-sight is a great labour-saving device” while others ardent like “Love is like gold”, the phrases seep well into the narrative but are hurriedly delivered at times, leaving the audience wondering about the second half of the sentence. What the audience is able to recall is Shashiji’s amusing categorisation of rats (as Robert Clive, General Dyer and Lady Mountbatten) and Shashi Kumar’s description of theatre and films. 

While it would have been quite pleasant to read these, it was not-so-pleasant to remember them as part of the play. Feeling burdened by information-overdose, one tries to appreciate the individual performances of Puneet Sikka (who plays Shashiji) and Tarun Singhal (who enacts the role of Shashi Kumar). 

While Puneet is able to make a graceful transition from old age to youth and vice versa, Tarun appears a tad unconvincing. The latter's dialogues in his own words are hilarious and depict the woes of a man unable to express himself to a woman. Even his stammer and hiccups get a raving response from audience considering his projection of a simple personality. Yet both remain quite average during the staging at India Habitat Centre.

Their description of each other's actions is captivating as is the rendition of the song Do Naina Matware Tihare by Puneet. There are a lot of old melodies included in the play to support its depiction in the pre-independence era when the Hindi film industry was still nascent. These additions by the director get appreciated for they help in digestion of hard facts. Else, watch the play if only you are passionate about theatre or interested in history and familiar with ‘Bombay’ as it was in its old days.

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