A couple of years ago, when Mohit Takalkar read UK-based playwright Sam Steiner’s award-winning play, Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons, he was impressed by the sensibly-crafted play. But he was not drawn in enough to adapt it for the Indian stage. However, when Takalkar, the founder-director of Pune-based theatre group Aasakta, read it earlier this year, the play spoke to him differently—compelling him to make a Marathi adaptation titled Ghanta Ghanta Ghanta Ghanta Ghanta, which premiered in August.
This is the director’s first play after winning several accolades at the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards 2023 (META) for his play Hunkaro. The play will be staged as part of the India Habitat Centre Theatre Festival 2023, all set to feature a curated selection of 12 plays from across the country. To be held in Delhi between 22 September-1 October, viewers will be able to see Tumhare Baare Mein by Manav Kaul, The Verdict by Akarsh Khurana, Makarand Deshpande’s Siachen, and Jyoti Dogra’s hard-hitting Maas.
Takalkar’s play is about a couple—a musician and a lawyer. One day the government passes a law which allows them to speak only 140 words a day. “Initially, when I read the play, I thought it was fantastical, while touching upon a lot of important topics. But it did not resonate so much with me,” says Takalkar. What changed his mind when he read it again this year? “Now, it feels like this is happening around me. I wake up and there is some new rule being discussed and we don’t really have any say in it. I now understand this situation. The play is talking of an authoritarian government and it is happening everywhere in the world, not just in India,” he adds.
Ghanta has been adapted to Marathi by Niranjan Pednekar and sees actors Lalit Prabhakar and Mallika Singh Hanspal as the mismatched couple—the idealist musician Aaditya and the sensible lawyer Feroza respectively. Their differences show up even more starkly after the 140-words-a-day law comes into play. Initially during the rehearsals, Takalkar admits, the play was more focussed on the fractured relationship.
However, as they went along, the team realised the play had so many other layers. Ghanta… is his most political play yet. It is a comment on the loss of freedoms and the general rise of global authoritarianism in recent years. “The heavily segmented, non-linear narrative structure offered an imposing directorial challenge which was fun to wrestle with,” he shares.
Ghanta…, which literally translates to ‘nothing’, is also the first time Takalkar has adapted an international play to the Indian context. “I think in recent years, post-pandemic, things have become more universal. Governments across the world are practically mirror images of each other, so you don’t feel this is a foreign sensibility,” he adds.
Takalkar’s previous plays, whether it is Main Hoon Yusuf aur Yeh Hai Mera Bhai, Gajab Kahani or Chaheta, have raised different pertinent questions and the director hopes that Ghanta does that as well.
Ghanta Ghanta Ghanta Ghanta Ghanta will be staged as part of the IHC Theatre Festival on 26 September at The Stein Auditorium, New Delhi, at 7 pm.
Deepali Singh is a Mumbai-based art and culture writer.