(This article first appeared in the Mumbai Mirror)
Niranjan, in his 20’s and Rama, 50, meet accidentally in a costume shop one night and get locked in. Irawati Karnik embellishes this basic weave of her play Aaltoon Paaltoon with their transformative exchanges through the night. Their conversation, which is the text of the play, is about human frailties, sexual power play and coming of age time and again. Rama has just been told her husband is having an affair and she needs to talk even if to a complete stranger. Her frank outburst encourages Niranjan to air out his own area of darkness- childhood traumas which spiraled from the seemingly innocuous act of a hair cut. Rama challenges his belief system which is rooted in the moral codes prescribed by society. She makes him drink alcohol and convinces him that there is no God with remarkable ease. By the end of that night he is a freer man, having broken bonds of taboos and personal fears. In turn, she finds in him the compassion, camaraderie, trust and warmth her husband could never provide. The stories they tell each other are poignant and perfectly constructed to explain their inner emotional landscape. Their sexual chemistry follows a smooth graph to combustion. What comes to pass between them is the ideal of human touch and connection.
But in the trance of its perfection the script steps across the line into the realm of the unreal. It wishes away the awkwardness of first meetings, prejudices, the stubborn nature of habits, and the all too familiar difficulties with communication- verbal and non verbal. In a real world the stories they choose to tell, the clarity and ease with which they tell them and readiness with which they are understood by the other, would seem contrived and romantic, but if the play is perceived more as a fantasy born out of the loneliness of the human need to explore one’s desires and follies, then it could work.
Even an abstract interpretation of the play as a reflection of an individual connecting with his or her own male and female, younger and older sides, would be more understandable-and supported by the script for Niranjan wishes to dance and Rama seeks liberation; Niranjan needs to come out of his protective shell and Rama needs to feel young and hopeful again.
The problem is, the director Adwait Dadarkar, treats the text realistically- the movement, gestures, sets and even the light and sound design. Hackneyed devices are used for flashback and lovemaking scenes. Within the realm of this realism the use of a melodramatic film song and a popular romantic instrumental seal the script with a pretty neat bow leaving it’s rough, raw and perhaps best parts concealed. In the end the director uses a wonderfully simple device to enunciate Niranjan’s journey, doing complete justice to the subtlety and range of the script for the first (and last) time.
The play is moving and fragrant with hope. The complete believability and humanity of the two characters that Karnik creates goes a long way in helping it overcome its weak moments. But despite sincere effort, it does not manage to lay out all the treasures from the depths of its human situation for the audience. Evidently perfect communication is not as easily achievable in the real world. Not even for a play which portrays it is.