If one just starts revealing the secrets and untold incidents of a single family -- it may turn out to be a long and intriguing narration of various multi-dimensional conspiracies, intricate relationships, tragedies and, of course, some happiness too. What is Mahabharata but a story of a family and its lineage?
Distinguished playwright Mahesh Elkunchwar’s play Vasansi Jeernani at once reminds of Eugene O’Neill’s Desire Under The Elms and Tenessee Williams’ A Streetcar named Desire. The elements of neorealism are very skilfully woven into the plot which feels very close to an average life -- a man on his deathbed, his family reminiscing and one by one, brick by brick, the seemingly well-knit family starts crumbling. The secrets, the unsaid various relationships in the family, the greed, grudges, the betrayal and unrequited love -- all unravel gradually as the comatose man’s soul keeps desperately looking for his end, his soul mate.
The play’s title is taken from the famous shlok from Geeta that goes, As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones (Vasansi Jeernani -- tattered clothes), similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies while giving up the old and useless ones. It was performed by the first-year students at the National School of Drama. Directed by Surya Mohan Kulashreshtha, the play started promisingly with an impressive set design and lighting. Music direction by Kajal Ghosh too fused with the setting.
But, the students' performance was like a river flowing through huge rocks -- uneven, sometimes subtle, sometimes coarse and even untrained but, then, there were moments when the actors came across as seasoned ones. The dying man starts his search for his soul mate (you may read death) with expressive dialogue delivery but by the end, his desperation starts sounding more like exasperation, loud and jarring.
In the same manner, the actor playing his eldest son portrays successfully a young man frustrated at not being as successful as his father and doubting his wife of having an extra marital affair, a young man, tragically caught in the web of many complexes, but by the end of the play the actor starts sounding exhausted though (under directorial instructions ostensibly) starts chanting shlokas from the Geeta rather loudly, again coming across as very loud and shrieking. But the actors were just students doing their first year of their three-year course. Considering that, they all proved to be promising.
Perhaps, the director read the climax as a very loud one. Is the end after all so screeching? I wonder, I am almost sure the playwright wanted it to be more subtle, more intense. Of course, the din created at the climax reminds once again of the neurotic chaos conveyed in A Streetcar… and Desire under the... but there, the chaos is reflective of the breakdown in social/individual relationships but here the end is basically mukti for the dying man, his reunion with his soul mate, whereas the relationships of this world will continue as they are, with their intricacies, betrayal and hurt.