Odia Theatre Festival In Delhi Opens With A Hard-Hitting Play, Sagar Manthan

It exposes our society in all its starkness without being patronising

The opening day of the Odia Theatre Festival in the national capital was quite a trendsetter. The play started in time, even after the traditional lamp lighting and on stage speeches by the dhief guest and the organisers. That was because everyone spoke in brevity. No self-eulogising long speeches and no furniture and podium on the stage to allow unending tales of past glories and accolades.

The Institute for Promotion and Research on Odisha Culture and Heritage (IPROCH) report given by the President was one of the sharpest and focused I have ever ‘encountered’ in any regional cultural programme.

The chief guest, Prashant Nanda’s (MP) address was almost a one-on-one, homely tete-e- tete with the audience. Dr Anant Mahapatra spoke just three lines. When you have substance, silence speaks. It was palpable. It reminded one of the quintessential Odia comity. I hope this becomes a precedence.

The audience hardly moved in the entire 90 minutes of the play Sagar Manthan (Churning of the Ocean) because it was gripping and contextual to the present times and people. From an attempt to quell worker uprising in a factory to the involvement of the entire family in the exploitation of a lonely woman, the plot thickens in every frame. That held the attention of the audience. Presenting the story with short, simplified and non- dramatic presentation was the drama’s uniqueness. The costumes could have been more trendy but somewhat reminded of the blingy ways of the nouveau riche Patnaik family.

The family is immersed in manipulations, almost undeterred, maintaining a veneer of respectability. But in one stroke, with the explosion of the Inspector on the stage, the masks rip off the entire Patnaik family and of Vikas, the prospective son-in-law of the family and one with a similar value system as that of the Patnaiks.

The protagonist, Reba Das, with different aliases is not on stage but is omnipresent. Hence the suspense in the play and the ensuing expose. The Inspector’s role was essayed well with a strong and resolute voice play. The stage movements of all the actors were well synchronised and in tandem with the flow of the play. Mrs Patnaik was convincing and so was the daughter.

Ajit, the wayward son of the Patnaiks was probably the closest to the role he was playing. Disturbed and edgy, he was always troubled and that was perceptible. The background score, the lighting and the props were befitting and so was the attempt to have the play in one go, without time out or scene shifts.

The avarice, the moral turpitude of the members was an apt reflection of the present times in our society and the play’s presentation was strong enough to highlight the individual problems leading to a collective moral turpitude in communities at large. The message transmitted clearly that our problems will only be solved if people take responsibility for each other and take the onus.

Women of the working classes are still treated as apathetically as ever and perish as horribly as ever. Sagar Manthan was successful in churning our morals to take individual and social responsibilities even more determined than ever before.

Every individual action triggers ramifications at a larger social canvas and no one can escape the consequences of wrongdoings. Each player’s role in Reba Das’s life leads to an aggregation of individual turpitudes and that leads to a greater decadence, and there is no running away from it. The last call from the police station reminds that there is no escape. Sagar Manthan is an ode to Dr Mahapatra’s minimalistic style of presentation with an abridged form of storytelling, concise and to the point.

There were no frills in Sagar Manthan and no drab drills of moral preaching. Plain and simple, the play helped reflect our responsibility to our society and there couldn’t have been a better time to showcase this in Delhi. It spoke a lot about Odia actualisation that “ a wrong is a wrong is a wrong, no matter how much we layer it with lies”.

We want more Odia consciousness to spread.

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