Old battle, dramatised for late edition

Stale News

Old battle, dramatised for late edition

Oppressed by the British, trapped in extreme feudalism, the Santhal tribals of colonial Bihar had dramatically risen up in revolt. That’s history, as distant as 1855-56, but the spirit of that uprising was powerful enough to trigger a flood of literature. Deftly tweaking the saga of that bloody feud to a contemporary, city setting, a reimagined Badal Sircar’s play “Stale News --- The Latest Edition” had a 11-show run at Jagriti, Whitefield here last week.

Sircar’s script, more attuned to a street play format, was potent enough to stir up a high-energy performance. Rehearsing for weeks, researching for months, the team had a tough task at hand: To package distant history as relevant social drama, one that appealed to a largely city-bred, middle class community.

The revolt had to sync with the present. The passionate angst-ridden struggle of the Santhals had to find an echo among the urban citizens, struggling daily with an information overload. The data fed from a thousand textbooks, newspapers, radio, and literature, had to be filtered, made sense of. In “Stale News,” the protagonist waded through that struggle in distanced stupor.

But the passive, subdued acting of the character was juxtaposed in stark contrast with the dynamic lead cast. Unleashing every tool in the theatre book, the actors brought the Santhal conflict back to life. One fumble here and a slip there failed to dim the collective visualisation of the historical feud. The battle scenes seemed real, the expressions near perfect.

The damning facts of the Santhal revolt of another century were presented in trademark electronic news narrative. The protagonist, like most in the audience, seemed missing the point. The question, “Isn’t that news stale?” loomed large. But the moment the confused protagonist screamed out loud, the lead cast took the cue. Regrouping one moment as the victimised Santhals, and the next as the British troops, they dramatised the relevance.

Director Ajith Hande and his entire team had spent weeks and months researching and devising the play. “This allowed us to form a unique interpretation of the story of Santhals, who were cheated, chased and killed by the British to usurp their land. There were no sets, and that made the actors’ job doubly difficult in painting scenarios,” Hande explained to Deccan Herald.

The team of Ashiqa Salvan, Amaan, Kanchan Bhattacharyya, Pooja Shankar, Bhavna Rajendran and Nikhil Bharadwaj combined creatively to don roles without sets, and meet the demands of a challenging script. Hande was prepared. He said, “When I read this play, I felt it could be very relevant if it's made current. I chose it for the sheer challenge it posed.”

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