In Purva Naresh’s Pashu, one of the five stories in Atul Kumar’s new play, Aaeen, a man and a woman sit guarding their field, afraid that an animal will eat the crops. “They cannot harm the animal. All they can do is shoo it away because that animal has become very dangerous,” says Kumar. The animal is not specified in the production, but when the play had its premiere recently in Bengaluru, the audience members in the two house-full shows had no problem absorbing the reference.
A theatre production on the Indian Constitution, Aaeen literally means ‘constitution’ in Urdu. Commissioned by Centre for Law and Policy Research Trust (CLPR) and supported by The United States Consulate General Chennai, The Company Theatre’s new play is a musical comedy about the impact of the historic document in different spaces and in our lives.
When Kumar was approached to direct the play, he jumped at the opportunity to work with Indian writers, something he had not done before. “It was really interesting to have multiple writers and their multiple thoughts working towards the same subject and it was a challenge to weave them as a whole,” he says.
The seriousness of the subject also made it a challenge to imagine it as a satire—to make it funny, yet pick on extremely crucial aspects of history, its making and its value from when it was made to now. The anthology of stories in English, Hindi and Urdu have been written by Naresh, Lawai Bembem, Amitosh Nagpal, Sarah Mariam and Varun Grover. Bembem’s story traces the history and making of the American constitution and how during its making, the food eaten by the members formed the politics of its making, and draws parallels with the Indian Constitution. Nagpal’s story is about a man who sets up his own country and passes around his autobiography as the book to run the country. In Mariam’ story, there is a mysterious wedding in progress where nobody has seen the groom and in Grover’s piece, a female Muslim stand-up comedian is arrested in a sedition case for a joke, the punchline of which she is not allowed to deliver.
There is a lot going on when it comes to the music of the show as well. Different genres lend their own charm and heft to the different stories. While Nagpal’s piece has a rap song, Bembem’s story has a DJ vibe going for it. “There was no music in Purva Naresh’s piece so we introduced a folk song from Rajasthan which the protagonist sings without any music,” Kumar says.
Each of these tales is staged with the kind of tongue-in-cheek humour that Kumar’s theatre is often associated with. “Comedy is always a wonderful device to make people think. You can make the audience laugh and then they realise it’s not the character or actor who is slipping off the banana skin, it is them. That identification with the character/actor in distress makes them laugh, but it also makes them very uncomfortable,” explains the director.
“Even the writing of the Indian Constitution had a number of issues, in the things that were omitted or neglected. And then to see how it is being re-represented, interpreted and hijacked today—all that is addressed metaphorically and symbolically. We are not standing there with a red flag saying we’re in revolt but we are laughing and it works very well,” he adds.
Aaeen will be performed at Prithvi Theatre, Mumbai from 26 April-1 May. Tickets are available on www.bookmyshow.com.