City Culture – Brecht in Delhi, Sri Ram Centre
Good persons of our capital.
[Text and photos by Manika Dhama]
On the Christmas Eve of 2013 theatre enthusiasts lined up outside the Sri Ram Centre in Central Delhi to meet Ramkali, the central character in ASMITA Theatre Group’s adaption of Bertolt Brecht’s The Good Person of Szechwan. This adaptation of the famous and theatrically challenging play was directed by Arvind Gaur, known for his innovative and thought-provoking work.
In the crowded theatre packed with people seated even in the aisles, the show began with a setting on the streets of Delhi. Three Gods descend on earth in search of a night shelter and after a laborious search by the humble water-seller are graciously accommodated by Ramkali (Shui Ta in the original), a poor prostitute. Being rewarded for her goodness brings nothing but misfortune to her as she finds her tobacco shop inviting more freeloaders than customers. Her solution is the creation of an imaginary cousin, Ramlal, who sternly sets things right by being ruthless. What follows is a glimpse of the trials and tribulations of this “good woman” and her attempt at reconciling the two personas, even as true love eludes her just as happiness does. She is pushed to the brink trying to do the right thing in the wrong place.
With strong lead characters, especially in Shilpi Marwaha who portrayed Ramkali (and the impersonated brother Ramlal), the play held the audience’s interest through all the drama that unfolded over two hours. Rhythmic songs and fine-tuned stage movements added flavor, though the last act seemed to stretch on for longer than desired.
Mr Gaur is no armchair director. He began the show with a solemn request to all for keeping their mobile phones silent (there were several rule-breakers during the show). After the curtains were raised he could be seen moving his hands about boisterously to guide his actors from the small window behind the spectators.
The audience cackled at snide remarks, laughed raucously at loud physical humor and watched silently at the emotionally charged moments during each act. Thunderous applause resounded in the end for the team that had brought it all alive, allowing each spectator to forget their passions within and the winter chill without.
Even as the audience filed out into the cold Christmas night, members of the backstage team could be seen carrying an empty bench used during the play back to where it belonged, in a neighbourhood park as a homeless man’s bed for the night.
This piece originally appeared on the author’s blog Eggfacemomhead.