Skip to content

Pound of Flesh: The Idea, Story and Review

by

POUND OF FLESH is the first original production by PRAVARTAK and its premiere was on 11th April at SAC Yoga Room, IIT Bombay. The duration of the play was 30 minutes and the language of communication was English.

The story revolves around the agreement between Shylock, the Jew, and Antonio, both of whom are traders in the fictitious kingdom of Capitovalence. While Antonio is a foreigner coming from Bartryde, Shylock is a citizen of Capitovalence only. In the course of the story, it is revealed that Antonio took three thousand gold coins from Shylock to help his friend Bassanio. According to the agreement made, if Antonio could not repay Shylock within three months, the later earns the right to take a pound of flesh from his back. In the meanwhile, all of Antonio’s ships drowned in the sea and hence he could not repay Shylock. Therefore, he has come to the king’s court as his last hope of survival. The king, being friendly to all the traders in his country, wants both Shylock and Antonio to flourish. But even after repeated assurances of getting repaid from the king and Basanio, Shylock remains adamant about the pound of flesh which he wants from Antonio’s back. At this point comes Portia, the intelligent and attractive mediatory. She had been the middleman in dealing between the traders and farmers, labourers and such working class of the society, and is by nature inclined towards the traders. In the course of conversation with her, it turns out that Shylock is very anxious about the fate of the small scale businesses, who have lost everything due to the unfair competition with Antonio. But in time it turns out that Shylock too has kicked them on their stomach. It is only the loss of monopoly that has caused his anger. Even Portia could not convince him from not taking the pound of flesh. However, as he goes to cut the flesh from Antonio, with a sudden twist in the tale, Portia demanded that he may not spill a single drop of blood while cutting the flesh, as blood was not a part of the agreement. At this sudden turn of events, Shylock gets very angry with the king and threatens to cause an upraise by the working class of the society against the king. Portia again steps in as the intermediary and proposes an agreement between Shylock and Antonio, in which both would have more opportunity to exploit the common people and working class, to which they both agree.

The actors Urvashi (King), Richa (Shylock) and Deepti (Portia) put up a commendable performance on stage. The audience were completely grilled into the story by their strong deliveries and actions. They were ably supported by all the other actors.

After the success of our first production BAAKI ITIHAAS (A Bengali play by Badal Sircar), we were invited to perform at the eve of sophie orientation and final year students’ farewell program of Fourth Wall, the dramatic club of IIT Bombay. In our team meeting, we decided to adapt Shakespear’s MERCHANT OF VENICE as our first original production and stage it on that evening. There was a thought on experimenting and it was proposed that we would play all characters of the drama by girls only. We decided to raise the issue of the fight of multi-national corporations in retail business and the problems faced by millions of small scale retailers throughout the world by this gruesome capitalist exploitation. For this, we thought the storyline as in the Shakespeare classic can be modified a bit and presented to suit our needs.

After the first skeleton of the script was made, we felt that the dramatic element is missing in the script. So happened another brainstorming session and the idea of Satyajit Ray’s HIRAK RAJAR DESHE came to us. We thought of setting the background of the play in the courtroom of a fictitious kingdom named Capitovalence. More research was done on how multi-national retail chains exploit people taking points from the documentary WAL-MART: HIGH COST OF LOW PRICE. As the script got modified, we found out an opportunity to adopt the interactive theatre format, which finally caused the inclusion of six male artists in the all girls’ play. However, these artists were part of the audience only, and played the characters of common people exploited by both Shylock and Antonio. The characters on the stage were solely played by girls, irrespective of the gender.

After five days of gruesome rehearsals we staged the play on 11th April at SAC Yoga room at IIT Bombay. Dean of Student Affairs Prof. Yagnik honoured us with his valuable presence. He made us proud by appreciating our efforts.

We should mention a special thanks to Deepak, institute drama secretary of IIT Bombay. He helped us in every possible way he could.

We were also very happy to have Kamna Pathak from IPTA, Mumbai as an audience. She appreciated our performance, especially the acting skill. She also pointed how we could have used more music and lights to cause a more appealing spectacle. She also mentioned that at some points, the dialogues were inaudible, which should be taken care of. We will keep her valuable advices in mind for our future ventures.

We also got very good outside reviews and helpful comments for improvement from the drama-enthusiast folks of IIT Bombay. One of the, Harsh, was kind enough to write a review of our play which is as below. However, we would like to mention that he has mistakenly assumed the setting as Venice, which is not so as mentioned above. Harsh sent out this note a day after the staging of the play –

I am not very much into dramatics myself. But yesterday evening I went to watch this adaptation of Shakespeare’s ‘Merchant of Venice’, being performed by ‘Pravartak’, a new dramatics group comprising mostly of PG students from IITB. Since I had never read the story before, the play was quite exciting and interesting for me. However, there were parts where I, just as an observer, absolutely oblivious to the nitty-gritty of theater, felt that could have done done better. 

 

For those who haven’t read/watched the story, the play is set in the court-room addressed by the Duke of Venice where Shylock, a Jewish money lender is claiming one pound of flesh from the body of Antonio the Merchant. Antonio had signed a contract that entitled the Jew to one pound of Antonio’s flesh if he failed to return the money in stipulated time. Now, quite some interesting ideas were tried out in this adaptation of the timeless classic. First, was using female actors for all the characters. It is a very brave move to make and one has to ensure that all the female actors playing male roles modulate their body languages and voices to create a noticeable distinction between male and female characters. The actress playing Shylock the Jew did a great job at this. Both her voice and actions made you feel the rage of the bloodthirsty, or, to be more precise, the flesh-hungry Jew. The role of Portia the wise woman who came to save Antonio’s ass, was played with the right amount of attitude and style it demanded. The actress playing the Duke was engagingly eloquent with her dialogues, however, with her gestures and body language, she could have tried harder to look like resident of a male body. The actress playing Antonio didn’t quite seem into the role at the time of delivery of her dialogues which, if performed well, could have made the conclusion of the play, much crisper and more applaudable.

 

Speaking of looking like character, costumes were really not helping a lot either. Now I really don’t know how much mind and money could/should be spent on costumes for a production at this level. But when you are doing a period drama on a popular classic, it doesn’t help if the richest Merchant of Venice is dressed like a roadside Romeo and Your Majesty Duke reminds of a bagpiper without his instrument.

 

Another new element was treating the audience of the play as the real-time audience of the courtroom trial being enacted on the stage. The lights on audience were kept on throughout the play and the scene on the stage used to freeze and dim in between, to give way to dialogues being narrated by actors sitting among audience. It was a great idea and the transitions to and fro the offstage scenes were made with adequate smoothness. But I will have to say that the offstage parts appeared to be included just for the sake of it. The play could have done without the freezes and randomly dressed people acting as citizens of Venice. Otherwise, by adding a little more drama, relevance and again, appropriate costumes, the offstage scenes could have been made more worth keeping the audience in light throughout the play.

 

Coming to lights, there was a pseudo blind spot for the main lights, right in the center of the stage which didn’t look very pretty when the character of attention stood in the central front of the stage. Also, very little light was reaching the character of Antonio the Merchant, sitting towards the extreme right. With a meager 7 dialogues to her, the actress playing Antonio could have used a little more light on her face to express the fear and anxiety the about-to-be-killed Merchant was supposed to be feeling.

 

Without using any mics, the dialogues were perfectly audible throughout the play which was commendable, even though the auditorium was not exactly colossal. Almost no background music was used for the play. However, a high volume crescendo-ish music was turned on at the entrance of Portia which sounded very abrupt. It could either have been started and ended more smoothly or, even better, more scenes could have been backed by thematic background music. 

 

With just the couple of days that Pravartak had for the entire production, I think I am asking for a lot. With almost insignificant short-comings on the preparation part, the team put up a gripping and entertaining show. With a little more time and resources at hand, I am sure they will compel the thoughtful audience to stand in an ovation. I am looking forward to be one of them, the very next time they perform!

We as Pravartak members are very proud of generating such response among the audience. We hope that this excitement keeps us going and challenge us in doing far better productions in future.


Advertisements

Pound of Flesh

World Theatre Day

Happy World Theatre Day

27th March is a memorable day for all the theatre lovers around the world because every year 27th March is celebrated as World Theatre Day. It is a bit more special in this year because 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of World Theatre Day. Therefore PRAVARTAK has decided to look back at the history of theatre of India as well as world on this very day.

Tradition of theatre in India goes long back to 2nd century BC. It originates at some point of time between 2nd century BC and 1st century BC. It flourished at its best between 1st century and 10th century BC which was a period of relative peace in the history of India. Hundreds of plays were written during this period.

The earliest form of Indian theatre was Sanskrit Theatre. Kalidasa (3rd – 4th century CE) was one of the greatest Indian playwright. The other important Indian dramatist are Shudraka, bhasa and Asvaghosa.

After the Islam conquest in the 10th – 11th century, theatre was totally forbidden in India. But Indian theatre survived this black period through several folk tradition like Yatra, Kabir Lorai, Torja etc.

During the British period theatre helped Indian patriotic sentiment and was supported by a newly emerging bourgeoisie class.

From 1860s people felt a need for a strong and vibrant theatre culture. Contemporary newspapers advocated of theatre as a weapon to initialize various social reforms. They wanted to have a democratic platform where anyone can buy ticket at a minimal rate and be a spectator. Bagbazar Amateur theatre was founded soon in Kolkata. The first play that they choose was Dinabandhu Mitra‘s Nil Darpan (The Indigo Mirror). Henceforth the journey of Indian theatre started. Girish Chandra Ghosh, the unofficial leader of the Bagbazar group is rightfully called the father of Modern Indian theatre. Bagbazar Group was soon named as National Theatre. Later Girish parted with it and went to form Great National Theatre.

Great National theatre’s various patriotic performances (e.g. Nil Darpan) and satires on the Indian feudal lords [e.g. “Gajadananda O Jubaraj” (on Jagadananda Mukherjee, a junior Govt. Pleader and a member of the Bengal Legislative Council, and the shameless respect he showed to Edward, the prince of Wales, when the later visited Kolkata), “The Police Of Pig And Sheep” (on Sir Stuart Hogg, commissioner of police and Mr. Lamb, superintendent of police, for their hostile behaviour towards the common people)] who were the foot lickers of the British imperialism, created a fury in the Govt. Soon after Governor General of India General Northbrook introduced Dramatic performances Act to the Viceroy’s Council. Despite public protest, the act was passed into law in December 1876. Immediately Gajadananda O Jubaraj along with other patriotic plays were banned.

But this act could not help the imperialist rulers to get control of the Indian theatre. Indian theatre in various ways went on to help the freedom movements despite brutal atrocities from the rulers. Unfortunately this undemocratic act in still not abolished in post- independence India. Post-1947, many states have introduced their own amended versions of this Act and some have in fact modified it to such an extent that it has even increased the Government’s control over public theatre performance in Independent India. The Bombay DPA, brought into action in 1950, is one such case in point. In 1953, Indian People’s Theatre Association faced a trial in which they were called upon to turn in about fifty manuscripts which included plays like Nil Darpan and Nabanna. In the same year, Malayalam playwright and film director Thoppil Bhasi‘s play Ningalenne Communist Akki (You Made Me A Communist) was banned by the Thrivanthpuram District Magistrate with the allegation that it was harmful to the integrity of the state and might infuriate the people to revolt against the Govt. However an effective opposition from The Communist Party compelled the High Court to declare the ban null and void two months later. West Bengal repealed the Act in the year 1962 following persistent agitation from the ranks of the artists’ fraternity. Famous theatre personality Utpal Dutt was arrested by the then Congress Govt. for his play KALLOL, which was on the mutiny of Indian Navy in 1946.

However post-independence India has seen a number of eminent theatre personalities in different regions. The list includes actor directors like Sambhu Mitra, Amol Palekar,actors like Dr. Shriram Lagoo, Nilu Phule, Bal Gandharva, playwrights like Vijay Tendulkar, Girish Karnad, actor-director-playwright like Utpal Dutt. Apart from these Indian theatre saw personalities like Tapas Sen and Khaled Chowdhury whose lights (Sen) , stage setups and music (Chowdhury) has made Indian theatre proud. We also should not forget Shishir Kumar Bhaduri alias Baro Babu (2nd October 1889 – 30th June 1959) who has revolutionised the theatre production in India. Indian People’s Theatre Association, established in 1942 in the backdrop of Second World War as a cultural wing of the then Communist Party and having seen members like Prithviraj Kapoor, Bijan Bhattacharya, Ritwik Ghatak, Salil Chowdhury, Pandit Ravi Shankar, has contributed to people’s theatre in India and helped the toiling mass of India to fight for their rights. Personalities like Habib Tanveer has given people’s theatre a new dimension by forming NAYA THEATRE and bringing the talent of the tribal and the working class people in front of the rest of the world. We have also seen Com. Safdar Hasmi who took the street theatre of India into a new paradigm and henceforth helping the voice of people to suppress that of power. Unfortunately he was murdered by the Congress goons in 1989 because some of the street plays by his group JANAM (Jana Natya Mancha) went against the then Congress Govt. in central. Indian theatre lost one of its most vibrant character.

After surviving many blows and turmoil Indian theatre is now a healthy and young man full of life and joy. Modern day theatre personalities like Rudraprasad Sengupta, Bratya Basu, Suman Mukherjee, Naseeruddin Shah, Feeroz Abbas Khan, Rajit Kapoor are enriching the Indian theatre every day. We hope that Indian Theatre will go to serve for Indian people as it has done previously. Happy World Theatre Day from PRAVARTAK to all the theatre lovers of India.

Article Written by: Ushak Rahaman

call for audition

Baaki Itihaas on stage of PCSA

Baaki Itihaas Preparation

Hello world!

Welcome to WordPress.com. After you read this, you should delete and write your own post, with a new title above. Or hit Add New on the left (of the admin dashboard) to start a fresh post.

Here are some suggestions for your first post.

  1. You can find new ideas for what to blog about by reading the Daily Post.
  2. Add PressThis to your browser. It creates a new blog post for you about any interesting  page you read on the web.
  3. Make some changes to this page, and then hit preview on the right. You can always preview any post or edit it before you share it to the world.