Source : The Tribune
The Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi, in collaboration with the Himachal Academy of Arts, Culture and Languages, Shimla, had organised Balwant Gargi Natya Samaroh at The Gaiety Theatre in commemoration of Gargi’s birth centenary. Besides a musical ensemble ‘The golden era of Balwant Gargi’ presented by the Manchan Arts and Research Centre, Mohali, and directed by Dr Atamjit Singh, who was also designated as the director of the festival, five plays of Balwant Gargi, four in Punjabi and one in Hindi, were staged here. “It made theatre lovers of Shimla understand Gargi in a better way,” spoke the theatrewallas of Shimla.
The festival started with “the golden era” that depicted portions taken from three plays of Gargi and concluded with musical compositions of songs taken from his several plays and done under the direction of Atul Arora. If I overlook the drama part, the music ensemble took the audience to heaven where ‘manna’ was flowing. It was soul stirring simply superb.
The plays that followed reflected Gargi, a controversial man himself, who created controversial characters. The first play was ‘Shaukan’ by Manch Rangmanch, Amritsar, directed by Kewal Dhaliwal. The play is based on complex feelings of a woman for her son. The protagonist finds herself trapped in two feelings – sexual as well as motherly for her son. She ultimately kills her daughter-in-law and with no remorse announces that she has killed her ‘Shaukan’- the other wife. A question that arises here: “Is woman-body only for entertainment?” Gargi had replied earlier that the play ‘Shaukan’ had challenged the social awakening and traditional value. The presentation of the play was mediocre although mother acted well. Baldey Tibbey (burning sand dunes) by Theatre for Theatre, Chandigarh, was the second play directed by Sudesh Sharma. It is literal translation of ‘Desire under the Elms’ written by Eugene O’Neil in 1924. I must say that Gargi had the eye and ear for anything controversial. He picked up this play of Eugene O’Neil which was banned in Boston, the USA, and the entire cast of the play was arrested in Los Angeles for the lustiness being depicted in the play. Gargi raised the play in the land of Punjab by developing the characters of Preeto, Sarwan, Nihala and Dyala (See photo). It was a tolerably good production and the director of the play, who himself was doing a major role, did not let the other characters go unbridled.
Alankar Theatre, Chandigarh, brought ‘Kanak di Balli’ directed by Chakresh Kumar. The play is considered a milestone in reflecting the truthful rural Punjab. It is a critique of social and economic structures of feudal society, it dissects the class and caste antagonism. Chakresh Kumar says that he did the play as if ‘celebrating love’. But to celebrate love or depicting the naked truth of rural Punjab one has not to show Bhangra, Giddha, Phulkari, bush of ‘ber’, masks of bulls and horse, the pair like that of Bikram-Baitaal, the instrumentalist playing ‘algoja’, flute like instrument played in rural Punjab, unbalanced cut-outs of moon and clouds and many more in one go. It is like a poem in which one imagery is followed by another and yet another and so on. It becomes boring. Lighting, which is significant in creating moods, was not up to the mark. It was below the level of Chakresh from whom we were expecting a better production. ‘Abhisarika’ was production of the Amateur Theatre Group of Jammu. The play was directed by Mushtaq Kak. Abhisarika is one of the eight heroines in ‘Rasikpriya’ poem by Keshavdas. She not only loves but, whatever hurdles be, goes out of the way to meet her lover. Her character is such that she does not break, but she breaks in the play. Why? No fault of the director. It was a neat production. The festival concluded with Loha Kutt (ironsmith) in Hindi and directed by Mahendra Kumar for Shabash Globians, Chandigarh. It was the first play written by Gargi in 1944 and dragged at places. Syapa scene (mourning scene) was played outside the stage that looked awkward. The good background music was cherry on the cake.
Balwant Gargi’s stature was such that some people said he had suddenly stopped while growing or he had slipped into his elder brother’s trousers.