Many ideas of ‘self’

Ambika Shaligram
Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Mahesh Elkunchwar’s Pratibimb will be staged on Friday in the city. We catch up with its director, Sachin Joshi to learn more about it

With Mahesh Elkunchwar’s name as a writer associated with Pratibimb (Reflection), you know nothing in the play will be at face value. Nothing is what it seems. It is difficult for commoners to get into Elkunchwar’s mindspace, which is precisely the subject of the Marathi play, which was staged earlier in August and will now be performed again on Friday, September 15 at Sudarshan Rangmanch, Shaniwar Peth.

While watching the play, it’s evident that the viewer has to peel various layers to get to the core of the story — Who are you? What does ‘self-identity’ mean? Is it so bad if your reflection goes missing or if you have no identity?

Thokale (a white-collared office goer) wakes up one morning and finds his reflection missing. Enters Bai, his landlady, who tries to assure him that nothing is lost. In fact, it could be a ‘breaking news’ for the newspaper. This perhaps could have led to a lot of chaos physically. Instead, we are led to the darkness looming large in our dystopian minds. There’s manipulation and the seeming destruction and numbing of empathy and inability to face our fears.

All this and more is what Pratibimb stands for, says Joshi, who joins us for a quick tête-à-tête about the play. “Pratibimb deals with fundamental question of existence. When I first read the play a couple of years ago, I had difficulty comprehending it. In Jan-Feb, this year, the cast of the play approached me to direct it. I was a little busy then and asked if they could wait. I had decided to go with the cast’s idea and framework and make changes wherever necessary. But it was agreed that we would do a lot of rehearsals and readings of all the plays written by Elkunchwar, not just Pratibimb. We wanted to find out the commonalities in other plays and ingrain the underlying meaning,” he begins.

Except for one change to the original cast, where Naresh Gund graduated from playing Bavate (a union leader of sorts) to Thokale (the protagonist), the play proceeded smoothly. “Thokale was one self-absorbed character, someone who was in love with himself. Naresh suited this character and he could easily grasp the nuances of the play. Bai is played by Anjali Joshi and she is the manipulator here. Bavate, by Krutharth Shevgaonkar, is one rabble rouser, but gets petrified when his secrets are on the verge of being revealed to everyone. And, Kersuni (a broom) by Ankita Naik, is a symbol for all those women who are accomplished, but still prefer to live in their husband’s shadow — to be made use of, when deemed fit,” adds Joshi.

The play is set in the late ’70s, early ’80s and Joshi decided to stick with it. “The props used — the dialing telephone, the old radio and the doorbell, have a similar tone. And, so when one rings, there is confusion as to which one pealed out. They add to the confusion and mental chaos and eventually become a character of their own. To make the play more contemporary, I would have had to use mobile phone or an ipod, or substitute Liril advertisement with a new one, but that would have just created cosmetic changes. The core of the play would not have been disturbed. So it made sense for me to retain the play as it was,” explains Joshi, who has also directed Chafa.

At the moment, the team is looking at it as a study project and would stage at least 10 performances of Pratibimb. “If it catches up, then we hope to sustain it much longer,” he concludes.

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