Khurafati and Conscientious these two words sum up the superbly crafted play in two acts “A Walk in the Woods”. In the last scene as the lights dimmed, Jamaluddin Lutfullah and Ram Chinappa sat at two ends of the stage, one dejected with the frivolity of the peace circus and the other still filled with the hope of arriving at this Neverland.
While Jamal questions the governments’ real commitment towards peace, Ram believes in the process of diplomatic dialogue and strategic understanding. Over four seasons they will question assumptions, challenge idealism, ride mistrust, one-upmanship and ponder over lost opportunities on both sides. But at no point does the play try to be preachy; however, it does put it out in the open skies of Geneva that honest communication and intent can bring the most estranged at least on the same latitude in this dangerously transforming world hurtling towards a nuclear winter.
Adapted from Lee Knowles Blessing’s A Walk in the Woods by Faisal Raja and Randeep Hooda, this play seems to be more relevant that the original. The play begins with an honest focussed and hard bound Ram Chinappa and a flippant almost maverick Jamaluddin Luftullah taking a walk in the woods away from the negotiation tables, diplomats, paper works and media to find a method in this madness in the sombre solace of the woods. Soon we realise that Jamal, the senior of the two, has no intention of talking serious intermediation for he knows that the two are merely play acting on behalf of their governments with none having real powers to break ground towards peace. “Aap ko sharm nahin ata hai Hindustani hone par, Mujhe ata hai!” sticks like a dagger through your heart making you sit up and take notice of the sham we encourage, enjoy and even promote.
Directed with passion and élan by Ratna Pathak Shah, Motley’s A Walk in the Woods has Naseeruddin Shah and Rajit Kapur putting up towering performances. Naseeruddin Shah is so believable that at some point you actually begin to think of him as the self-serving Paki interlocutor with who floats through peace conferences in his Italian shoes and French suits. In sharp contrast is the steely jawed relatively inexperienced diplomat Ram Chinappa, for whom this negotiation is career defining. Rajit Kapur is sterling as Chinappa. In the course of the play the non-conformist Jamal will give his career and luck one last chance pushing the envelope for peace and Chinappa, who only harboured doubts and deep rooted bias for Jamal, will put his career on line to see Jamal remain as his rival not adversary.
As two nations continue to embroil and make a living out of pretences for meaningful dialogues these two bond on the backdrop of the deciduous flora of the Swiss Alps. You are left wondering whether to feel good for them or bad for ourselves for living in this world where nothing is as it seems to be.
The North Rises
When it came to English plays it was always G D Birla Sabha Ghar or Kala Mandir. South Kolkata was the preferred destination for English theatre or even Hindi theatre or for that matter any theatre that came from outside the state. But that is changing. Rabindra Bhavan in the last two years have become the destination for annual theatre carnival with plays from Hyderabad, Ranchi, Madras, Lucknow and Mumbai coming for shows in this part of the city. Suddenly after so many years the Northern fringes of the city seems to have risen the social ladder, the people, previous considered insular and regional, open-minded and global. And all this thanks to the initiative of one man—Bratya Basu. His love for theatre, art, culture and literature has transformed Dum Dum into a hotbed of cultural churning. A Walk in the Woods was the closing play of the theatre festival patroned by him. As Naseeruddin Shah himself said that they have come to Kolkata several times to perform plays but in South Kolkata; this was the first time that he visited the North and it was not the last time. My heartfelt gratitude for bringing the world over to my balcony.