In a scarcely furnished flat in Santacruz, seven actors are hard at work rehearsing for an upcoming play. The costumes and props are outlandish — red wigs, funky glasses, toy guns and animal-themed headgear. They enact scenes with finesse, pull off songs with ease, never miss a cue and deliver lines with a confidence that belies their age. They could easily be mistaken for professional stage actors, but they’re actually college students and recent graduates with a sincere interest in theatre. They are all part of The Mirror Merchants’ amateur troupe that will perform the play Murgistaan, this Sunday.
“It’s the only art through which I can express myself,” says Surabhi Subramonian, an enthusiastic 20-year-old. Media student Raj Kashyap (19), with a brooding demeanour, sounds a tad pompous when he says, “I’m not interested in theatre, cinema or television. It’s acting that matters. I’ll just do it in front of the mirror in my house, I don’t care.” Grooming them and the five other actors is theatre artiste Arnesh Ghose.
Murgistaan is inspired by Satyajit Ray’s Hirak Rajar Deshe, an iconic movie that is part of the hugely popular Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne trilogy. The movie is about an autocratic king who brainwashed those who dared to protest by sending them to a brainwashing chamber devised by a scientist. Ghose’s adaptation is set in the fictional Murgistaan. Populated by the Handis and the Mussallams, the land is ruled by Maharaj Lazeezchand Galauti Tikka, who is just back from a visit to Sushi Nagar. He spends his time eating chicken and playing Kaju Katli Crush. He also has a penchant for banning things — paneer (because it’s an utter waste of milk), the colour green (because it’s irritating to his eyes), and selfies (because he can). He has a Supreme Sidekick, or SS, “in reference to a certain Nazi party by someone named Hitler”, who has commissioned a scientist to make a brainwashing chair. And oh, Murgistaan also has a (whacky) national anthem.
“Growing up as a Bengali, Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (part one, 1969) is one of the first films you watch. It’s like a rite of passage. As a kid, you find it funny, but as you grow up, you realise that it makes a strong statement. Hirak... released in 1980, right after the Emergency, and was a critique of the government. The film still makes sense today,” says Ghose. “Part one was anti-war. Fortunately, we aren't on the brink of it. Part two is about autocracy. Unfortunately, we are on the brink of it. Topicality is important in theatre.” It’s hard to miss the subtext in Murgistaan, even though it comes packaged in humour.
Ghose began acting at the age of four, and grew up surrounded by acting and theatre, thanks to his father who ran a drama group in Kolkata. He trains amateur actors under his company because he realised that there was plenty of talent around him. “And, it’s difficult to join theatre groups in the city. I don’t work with professional actors because, let’s be honest, they don’t need me,” he says.
Murgistaan will be staged at Temperance, near Rizvi College of Hotel Management, Bandra (W), on July 19 and 26.
When: 6.30pm and 8.30pm
Tickets: Rs 300