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Seeing the past through the present

ROMESH CHANDER

"Spartacus" made another appearance this past week. Despite its shortcomings, Anees Azmi's Urdu translation had some engaging moments.



SOME APPEAL A scene from the play "Spartacus"

This past week we saw a revival of a play that some of us had first seen some 27 years ago. One is referring to Badal Sircar's "Spartacus" based on Howard's novel of the same title, and first presented by Prayog in Anees Azmi's Urdu translation. The new presentation of the same play by Bahroop is directed by Ajay Manchanda who has come back to the mainstream theatre after 14 years. But he has not been idle all these years: in the intervening period he has been concentrating and researching on children's and youth theatre. At present, he is artistic director of Sumer Mal School of Drama, Delhi.

Whereas M.K. Rana's presentation was for too long drawn: Manchanda along with Faiyaz Ahmad has drastically edited the script to about 90 minutes duration turning the presentation into one of the best productions of the season so far.

Back to "Spartacus", Howard Fast's novel presents a most touching picture of slavery in Rome more than 2000 years ago. In our own context the story is just as relevant today as it was then. The only change is in its manifestation.

As the curtain goes up we see in Devashish Karmakar's atmospheric lighting design slave being auctioned on the stage. The scene changes to a drummer announcing the opening of a new road leading out of Rome. The road is lined by dead bodies hanging from the poles. Flawious, a beggar, invited the travellers to hear stories of the dead. Princess Heline, pointing towards a dead body, wants to know if it was that of Spartacus. "No, his body was never found," says her companion; but Flawious adds, "This man was caught alive. Like Spartacus he too was a gladiator.

He was strong but it took him four days to die. His last words were: "I will return again - in hundreds and thousands - I will return again. As we go along we have most inspiring lines between Spartacus and Crasus and his followers: "This fight is not yet over. It has just begun. Whoever takes us towards our destination will be our leader. We will have to fight... ," says Spartacus.

The slaves leave the stage and one of them returns as a narrator and tells us that this was the beginning of a revolution.

The playwright introduces a memorable character, Varinya, a beautiful slave and a devoted admirer and follower of Spartacus. Both Gracus and Crasus, the two senators, using Flawious, want her at any cost. Crasus is willing to pay whatever she wants just for one night. Crasus will do anything for her, if only she told him the secret of Spartacus's popularity.

"Spartacus" as translated by Anees Azmi and directed by Ajay Manchanda, is most meangingful, and its language has a flow and rhythm, that is easy on the ear.

The cast speaks and acts well. Prabhat Raghunandan as Spartacus, Jyti as Variniya are outstanding. Ghufran as Flawious, Hameed as Crasus and Fiyaz Ahmad as Gracus live their roles well.

But the last few minutes are a little pedantic. The play is certainly worth a visit despite its shortcomings. One hopes Manchanda and Azmi will give the production another look before it is on the boards again.

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