Dreams And The Truth: The Plays of Manav Kaul

1. Too Long, Didn’t Read

I saw two plays – Laal Pencil and Mammtaz Bhai Patangwale by Manav Kaul. The plays are Brilliant! No, they are better than brilliant!
Also, when compared to his contemporaries who murder Ghalib/Faiz and as shaggy haired, mustachioed, pseudo-philosopher-artist-types peddle boring trash, Manav Kaul’s work is not only heads and shoulders above, but also light years ahead in every way.

If you’ve not seen his plays, try to catch them at the earliest.
They are, in one word, magic.

2. Not Nostalgia

This year started with me making a trip to my home town after 7 long years. A place of painful memories and fortuitous events. The Swimming Pool From The Past

There, the dried up carcass of the swimming pool, I had so loved once, wanted to talk to me. Today’s fat Shaurya floats, unlike the lean shark that rocked those waters of the past. I also visited my school and touched the trees that still stand in its playgrounds. I found myself thinking of the things gone by.

I week later, I was back in Mumbai and watching Midnight In Paris for the umpteenth time. Somehow, Cinema Paradiso, Amelie and Waking Life also kept cropping up in conversations.

Already on an overdose of, what I thought was, fond nostalgia, I got a chance to witness two plays – Laal Pencil and Mammtaz Bhai Patangwale by Manav Kaul. This shook me up enough to bring this blog out of its stasis. It was not nostalgia that I was brooding upon. It was romance. A different kind of romance, that I found the two plays echo as well. Read on.

3. The Writer/Director

A good director, in my humble opinion, must be a courageous, honest, thieving, cheating, immoral, arrogant, rouge Saint. To an extent, this applies for a writer as well. He must know how to channel his talents or passions through hard work and honesty. To be able to objectively grade his work, be a litmus for his own benchmarks and yet love it all like his own baby.

Like a snake with a sweet tooth, a vampire in love, a kind carnivore or a benevolent dictator, the director must be a dense, charming bag of contradictions. Manav Kaul, comes close.

He is the best that Prithvi has on offer, today. While some of his ilk are craftsmen of repute – their work all polished and sanitized, Manav Kaul represents the other end of the spectrum, the very best of art – fresh, spontaneous, ripe with meaning and a sense of purpose.

I am a fan, you should be too. Further, for your sweet reference, check out: Aranya Theatre’s WebsiteManav Kaul’s Blog.

4. The plays

Laal Pencil and Mammtaz Bhai Patangwale – like a young, confident magician, whose sense of romance is still alive yet one who wields complete control on his craft and expression, Manav Kaul has woven two beautiful tales of dreams and truth. They are full of metaphors, of multiple layers of message and meld truth with beauty. The narrative is immersive and engaging, it is extremely uncommon to find a play where the transitions carry as much coolth as the scene they flank, this is that rarity.

Laal Pencil – The red pencil in ‘Laal Pencil’ is a metaphor for all the false facades, the superfluous skills, that we acquire choosing to mask our incompetence and emptiness instead of addressing the problem directly. It is a metaphor for the easy way out, for the quick and dirty solutions, for the grab-job mentality. Like pivot tables and charts a McKinsey-ish MBA ponders on instead of trying to understand how to actually run a project. Like the over-rated, unneeded ‘educational’ degrees we acquire to vainly adorn our resumes with. Like the photoshop filters or CGI that a photograper uses to mask the flaws of a photograph. There is a red pencil for us all. There’s one in your pocket and in mine too. The play then urges you to reject these facades and embrace the truth. To recognize the beauty of truth, like the beauty of grand, rock-hard, cut-you-hurtful, dangerous-cliffed-yet-grand mountains. Recognition of the beauty in the reality, it is a difficult fist step towards true greatness. The nobelest of pursuits, even if it demands the rejection of the immediate praise, prizes and validation of your peers.

Mammtaz Bhai Patangwale – Mammtazbahi’s kites are a meataphor, a mirror, of dreams as well. Representing our desires. The play plays upon the constant struggle between living for the art/dreams vs. the livelihood of commonplace existence. Mammtaz Bhai Patangwale’s protagonists need the constant din of jokes to insulate themselves from being reminded of their dying dreams. Meaningless cheap comedy, jokes, funny SMSes – anaesthesia to the painful tedium that we tie ourselves in as we ‘grow up’ – marriage, vocation, money, matters material and mundane. The grown up Vivek a perfect counterpoint to the child Bikky.

The scenes of intentional cacophony and gibberish dialogue carry more meaning and emotion than pages of philosophical monologue (like this post). They are not only surprisingly musical, but also, poetic (sometimes).

The best part of the plays are the endings. They leave a hole in you, that may egg some of us to wake up and act. Try to live and break the status quo.

I found the plays talk of a different romance. The same way Peter Pan is a romance. They were intricate romances of reality, told in fables and dreams.

5. The Cons

There has to be a negative right? A friend keeps telling me to not dwell on other’s shortcomings too much. So I’ll keep this short. There’s very little to complain anyway.

The biggest sore thumb in Laal Pencil was the performance of ‘Pinky’. WTF? She delivers her dialogue like a spoilt little brat. Always whiny and complaint ridden. Fumbling and forgetting her dialogues, uncoordinated movements and wierd graceless gestures are jarring to your nerves. Like nails on a blackboard. One bad performance lets the stellar efforts of the rest of the cast down. Folks sitting around me (and I saw five different shows of this play – yes the play is that super-good) never stopped complaining. It is to the director’s credit that this harsh sore is reduced to a mere road bump for the over all play.

In the case of Mammtaz Bhai Patangwale, the music left me a little cold. Although, in all fairness, I still found myself welling up in several scenes (all credits to the cast and the writing). I have just seen one performance of Mammtaz Bhai Patangwale, so I am hoping the music will grow on me.

6. All In All

Great Plays! Awesome work! Wait, WTF? Didn’t you read the beginning of this post?