June - July 2004
Dehaktay Angaray Based on "Look Back in Anger"
in the 40s, the Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA) has contributed
significantly to the cultural renaissance of South Asia. It has set
trends and their pace in serious drama and nurtured several generations
of committed artists, some of whom are now well-established names on
the cultural scene. Rifat Shamim was inspired and trained by IPTA in
the '60s in Mumbai, and has since then written, adapted and directed
a number of plays for his Hindustani readers and audiences, first in
India and now in Britain.
Adaptation of any play is a hazardous undertaking. It can easily become
an exercise in literalism, imbibing much of its datedness without capturing
its universality. Or it can become an effort in originality without retaining
any of the significances of the original. The stakes in the case of Look
Back in Anger would be forbidding. The play disturbed Osborne's contemporaries.
It was squarely placed in post-war Britain, and much of its vitality derived
from its contemporaneity and yet it was also disturbing in its existential
relevance. Rifat, therefore, had an awesome job before him. On the whole,
he has acquitted himself well, in his script as well as in his production.
Equally, his cast have loyally carried out his remit..
Some of the translations were, however, easy enough. The bohemia of
Birmingham becomes the Bohemia of south Asia (Bohemia in any case is
a state of being, rather than a spatial-temporal context, and south
Asia itself is a huge metaphor for Bohemia), and the characters are
Indian (by extension, south Asian). But Rifat's achievement is two-fold.
He has appropriated the core values of Osborne's themes and consciously
and, by and large, successfully, remained focused on discovering new
nuclei for them in the south Asian reality. In the process he has been
able to find an appropriate medium for their communication. His idiom
is authentic Hindustani, exploiting successfully the inherent, rich,
resources of the language, in both Urdu and Hindi varieties - depending
on the context, and unself-consciously flowing from one into the other.
The forcefulness, freshness and vividness of Osborne's dialogue, particularly,
Jimmy's, is matched by Ajay's. Thus anyone unacquainted with Osborne's
play can enjoy Dehaktay Angaray as an original play.
Yet, a playwright who has set out to adapt a master also aspires to
be judged against him. And anyone who has been privy to the insights
of both cannot ignore the claims of either. Rifat's success in this
regard has been impressive, yet one felt some more effort should have
been put to address some of the disjunctions found between the original
and the adapted version.
For Ajay, at times comes across as a ranter whose aggression is free-floating.
Ajoy is undoubtedly a complex character, who even in Osborne appears
at times to be an irrational and impulsive character, which he is not.
In Riffat's play the impression of irrationality suppresses the intimations
of a thought out set of compatible and inter-related ideas. The predominant
impression one gets from the Indian play is that of a husband who feels
that he has been humiliated by Savitri's family and the abject acquiescence
in their snobbish behaviour towards him. The matter goes perhaps much
deeper. Osborne has made explicit that Alison's family is middle class
- her father is a colonel back from India and her brother is an aspiring
MP. Osborne had the advantage that he wrote and got his play at a post-war
time, when he could get his message across with the minimum of ideological
cues for his audience. In Riffat, Savitri's brother's election meetings
are shown to have been disrupted by and his friends, and the comment
by Savitri on that projects Ajay's friends as simple thugs. In an Indian
context, their behaviour would appear to be plain hooliganism.
It was not so in Osborne's play. There their counterparts are subversive
of the ruling classes as Ajay inherently is. They are rebels to the
existing order of things. In the Indian play they appear to be disruptive
of democracy itself. It is unfortunate that the scene in Osborne in
which the colonel appears was thought fit to be taken out in the Hindustani
performance, perhaps because of the constraints of time.
In Osborne, the colonel's imperial moorings are underlined but he is
shown to be a bewildered soul enveloped in post-colonial reality though,
apart from Alison at the end, he is the only character who begins to
show some understanding of Jimmy's mind . Osborne was reacting to the
previous generation (Edwardian), which was an imperialist generation.
If he was implacably opposed to Alison's family, he was showing his
rejection of the Edwardian mores, which in turn originated from an
imperial hangover, in turn a continuation of a thousands of years old
He is not angry with Alison because he has any problem with their sexuality
or her refusal to stand unequivocally with her against the high-handed
behaviour of her family. Jimmy is angry because he feels that while
by marrying him she has surrendered her place in the bourgeois set-up
and is seeking her place along with a member of the working people,
a bohemian, she is still captive to the norms of bourgeois politeness
(hypocrisy, evasiveness, etc).
He seeks in her a new woman. He is disappointed. Helen, Nimmo's counterpart
in Osborne, is not a feminist, whereas Nimmo is portrayed as a feminist.
Helen's bondage to the church is unmistakable, and therefore her feminism
is fake. Here the church (and its bells as a symbol) point to the seamless
inter-relatedness of the Edwardian morality and the church. Unfortunately
the relationship between the temple bells and the overall ideological
existing sub-continental set-up has not been fully brought out in the
Indian play. It is not the hypocrisy of the dominant ideology of the
church that is the over-riding concern of Osborne. It is the crippling
effect of the dominant ideology on a potentially radical in Savitri.
Osborne's greatness lies in digging deep into the drama of ordinary
individuals and bring out the intricacies of social relationships that
inform that drama. His anger is not directed against Alison (Savitri)
or his family. They are merely symbolic of the order that Osborne,
and like him millions of people in the post war generation in Britain,
had perceived to be moribund but which continued to hold them in thrall.
In the end, after the death of her child (symbolic of a fusion between
the best of the Edwardian past and the promise of future), Alison (Savitri)
crumbles to conquer.
Riffat's effort will be reckoned among some of the rare exercises in
serious drama, an effort to explore large social themes in south Asia
- something salutary in the context of much of the vulgar and commercial
drama that goes around in Britain these days.
More articles by Amin Mughal
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