Language : English | Running Time : 90 Minutes | Director : Arundhati Raja
In life, we come to learn that habits are hard to break. Some habits, incredibly infuriating, stick with us for life. Some may even call them vices. They are inherent qualities that make us human and put us on this quest for betterment, through unfulfilled New Year Resolutions and later panic runs to holy men and psychiatrists for understanding and peace of mind. We are always searching for identity, purpose and a meaning to how we behave, who we are and where we come from. It is natural to go on quests, life is an adventure that never ceases to amuse and annoy in equal measure. Habib Tanvir‘s “Charandas Chor“ expresses this quest and so it remains timeless and forever relevant.
In Bangalore, Jagiriti is presenting an English language adaptation of Anjum Katyal‘s translation of Habib Tanvir‘s play. The adaptation comes up in a modern day setting where royalty is replaced by a Chief Minister and the village backdrop is changed to a thriving city where rich women are seen outside malls and elephant processions are replaced by escort convoys.
Charandas (Ameet Bhuvan) is an ordinary thief who is on the run from the police after stealing a golden plate. A constable (Harish Sheshadri) is out on the look for him. To escape from the police, Charandas enters a holy man’s ashram and expresses his desire to be his follower. Guruji (Jagadish Raja) decides to take him on if he makes a vow to leave something he desires. In jest, Charandas takes 4 vows – 1. Never to eat from a golden plate, 2. Never preside in a convoy procession 3. Never to marry a rich and powerful woman 4. Never to be the leader of people. Obviously, these are not vows that would affect a thief and Guruji refuses to accept him with only these four vows. So, Charandas is forced to take a fifth vow – never to tell a lie.
Understandably, the motif is a contradiction. How can a thief steal without lying? Charandas Thief deals in contradictions. The cops take bribes but they are also upholders of justice. The thief steals but he is also humanitarian and doesn’t lie. The Guruji is a holy man wants his followers to follow a code of life but he is also materialistic and requests both money and loves his mobile phone.
Arundhati Raja has crafted these opposites quite well, except for the instance where we are to understand that Charandas is humanitarian. There is only one clear instance where we get to the compassionate side of Charandas and that is when he helps poor people get their rations by stealing from a ration shop owner. This side of Charandas happens only after he meets the Guruji but there isn’t any clarity for the transformation. They do not speak of a change in his style of thieving or his attitude towards people. We see an egotistical thief, who only seems to take a break from thievery when the cops round him up. More than a Robin Hood style crime, the instances to establish the sensitive side of Charandas lied elsewhere. The reason Charandas remains endearing nevertheless is because of the antics of actors, Ameet Bhuvan and Harish Sheshadri. Their cat and mouse chase with Harish Sheshadri’s Bangalore slang and Ameet Bhuvan’s expressions makes us love the two characters, their silliness and paradoxes. The acting is across-the-board superb.
“Charandas Thief” is intense and satires our search for meaning and our refusals in superb fashion. The reason Charandas Thief’s satire is so excellent is because of the way the characters are written and enacted. In every walk of life, we find people who are in a position that they have no aptitude for and Charandas Thief has them in plenty. The accountant and Chief Secretary are both men with limited aptitude, the priest trusts a thief even when he is presented with stolen loot, and the constable runs around in circles. There is a wealth of opportunity to keep the laughs coming and the actors time their reactions and dialogues in excellent fashion. There is never a dull moment. We also have a Narendra Modi – “May the force be with you” moment added and Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall” becoming a concert song. Both are well built satires that speak of contradictions and principles. It makes the connection incredibly more delightful.
The production in general is minimal and good but special mention to Prakash Sontakke‘s music which feels like a character that fills in all the right places. The play is cynical at heart. It believes that the powerful will always triumph and the naive will always be bludgeoned in the end. It’s a mirror of our times and of every other era as well.
“Charandas Thief” is a fascinating play which brings to life a tale of opposites and paradoxes in the form of a satire. There is a social message but more than the message, it is the emotions that come before, hidden in the satire that makes this play adorable and beautiful.