The Park’s THE OTHER FESTIVAL
Dance. Drama. Art. You.
1-7, 2003, 7pm
Heritage Centre, Harrington Road, Chennai
Dec 6, 2003
THE PHOENIX PLAYERS (Mumbai)
“Sufiana” (Theatre / Group)
rose on a Mulla Nasruddin dialogue with unseen voices. Salim Ghouse, who
played Mulla in this Phoenix Players production titled ‘Sufiana’, was on
his back with his head hanging down the side of a step on the platform.
Wonder what the surprised audience looked like from there.
From the handout:
(Like the Koan of the Zen masters, the Sufi divines use the persona of
the wise fool as a means to effect a breakthrough, to a higher learning
and understanding. The Mulla therefore, is variously portrayed as
profoundly intelligent, wilfully capricious or downright stupid. Sufiana
is a contemporary perspective of the delightful Dervish’s escapades that
have entertained and enlightened the world through the ages.)
through the performance, supported by adept role-play by his wife Anita,
and Rakesh Iyer, both of whom donned multiple roles. Backed by a strong
script, the Players glided smoothly through scenes with effortless transition.
the man, has an air of superiority and a self-declared knowledge-guru aura
that was evident in the manner in which he turned the usual after-performance
Q & A session into a philosophical discourse. A befuddled audience,
nevertheless, participated enthusiastically in what turned to be Mr. Ghouse
actor, was guilty of impregnating Mulla with his offstage persona. As a
result, Mulla came across as slightly stiff and the humour looked forced.
To start with, Salim’s Mulla was quite unlike the jolly, rotund, really-idiot
character that many in the audience carried in their memory, from books
they read as kids. Salim is solid, purposeful and looks a very serious,
practical man. The problem was in the fact that Salim looked incapable
of extroverted, self-deprecating humour. This ability to laugh at himself
was what characterised the Mulla of those famous anecdotes. Salim is not
a natural joker. He is more like Shah Rukh Khan in reverse. The Khan is
a great comic, but hams barefacedly in his melodramatic roles.
Mulla’s wife to perfection. She brought sparkling spontaneity to the role
of a woman who is quite resigned to her husband’s uselessness. Her comic
timing and expression upstaged Salim’s theatrics. Rakesh Iyer, playing
a variety of characters, showed a talent for subtle slapstick.
was well written, with society, politics and life finding their way into
the lines. The repartees though, were mostly clichéd, and sometimes,
stale. But apart from these attempts at clever tongue-in-cheek, Salim did
come up with a few winners. The scenarios were placed intelligently, without
insulting the sensibilities of the audience. They were constructed pretty
decently too, like the ass (donkey!) auction and the meeting with the woman
What was completely
out of place was the 1-minute martial arts exhibition at the end of the
performance. It didn’t have any relation to the play, and was probably
done to showcase Salim’s Tai Chi skills. Maybe martial training takes the
humour out of a person. What’s that? Jackie Chan? Never heard of him.
It was an enjoyable
outing for the audience. Even though it was humour-theatre with a straitjacket-ed
Mulla right out of Shakespeare, the play was good for a substantial quantity
of laughs. I laughed too. Seriously!
Ranjith Bhaskar lives and works in
Chennai and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org