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Ennui in two acts

Watching the recent Artistes' Repertory Theatre production of Girish Karnad's The Dreams Of Tipu Sultan was like going to a chic restaurant, ordering the most expensive soup off the menu, and then finding it was essentially lukewarm water.

What could have been a serious exploration of one of the most fascinating tragic heroes of Indian history was turned, for all practical purposes, into a fancy dress pageant with hardly any more artistic depth than a high-school production, with little to offer to the serious theatregoer.

The "dreams" of the play's title refers to a secret record of Tipu's dreams maintained by him, found after his death. This dream-book thus becomes a metaphor for an exploration of man behind the image of the warrior. Consciously composed in the style of a historical melodrama, Karnad's play nonetheless is an interesting exercise in narrative technique and presents Tipu as a man of both apocalyptic foresight and childlike curiosity. Keeping that in mind, one has to say that director Arundhati Raja has not done justice to the script. Her interpretation fails to plumb the play's emotional depths and thus reduces it to a farrago, further crippled by technical glitches and pedestrian acting.

The acting on the whole was stiff and antiquated. It was also evident that some of the actors were quite uncomfortable with English, with L. Balaji as Mir Sadiq and Raheem Darediya as Osman Khan, sounding quite ridiculous because of their thick accents. Among the creditable performances of the evening, Deesh Mariwala as Col. Colin Mackenzie was quite restrained, both in his delivery as well as his bearing, and did a competent job of portraying the soldier-scholar. Jagdish Raja as the guilt-ridden, ageing Mir Hussain Kirmani, Tipu's earstwhile court-historian now working for Mackenzie, also delivered a dignified performance. Shahid Siddiqui as Poornaiya was also watchable. V. Mahalakshmi as Ruqayya Banu was quite cringe-inducing, while Kartik Kumar as the Chinese envoy indulged in buffoonery.

The pick of the actors was undoubtedly Raza Hussain in the title role, who gave a genuine human feel to his character through his understated portrayal, though, one must say, at times he was too understated and did not bring out the emotional intensity of the character as well as he could have. Among the younger actors, Mikhail Sen holds promise.

The set consisted of a circular wooden platform set against the backdrop of shimmering red silk curtains. Scene changes were conveyed by changes in props and lights, which worked well on the whole. Maitri Gopalakrishna did a competent job with the lights, but the same cannot be said for T.T. Venkatesh on sound. The sound was jerky and abrupt, and the many voiceovers, suddenly bursting in upon the audience's eardrums, added to the irritation.

All in all, a production that is noble in the intent, but fails in the conceptualisation and execution.

ARKA MUKHOPADHYAY

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