No easy exitWhen one of the most erudite of theatre artists in Nepal, Sunil Pokharel himself, takes on the stage, it means that there should be something really special on offer. After plying his trade in the Nepali theatre industry for more than four decades, the veteran has taken to stage to play a solo character, in what is Pokharel’s first successful attempt at a solo play in a long-spanning career.
When one of the most erudite of theatre artists in Nepal, Sunil Pokharel himself, takes on the stage, it means that there should be something really special on offer. After plying his trade in the Nepali theatre industry for more than four decades, the veteran has taken to stage to play a solo character, in what is Pokharel’s first successful attempt at a solo play in a long-spanning career.
In the play Idamittham: At Your Own Risk, directed by Somnath Khanal, which was staged at the Mandala Theatre, Pokharel played the lone character who transports the audience into the realm of the mind of a man who has literally seen it all. The play features Sunil Pokharel as the lead character—the only character—who is in his middle ages and is living a forlorn life in Pokhara with Kanchha, his household help.
In the play, Pokharel’s character is constantly bewildered by the enigma of his existence. It, then, is of little surprise that the refrain ‘I Don’t Know’ recurs throughout the plot. Often after he voices the line, he breaks into laughter. It is a demystified, bewildered, and a hearty laughter, one that is born out of the inscrutable mystery and chaos that is existence. Like a nihilist, the character is befuddled by the workings of the world. However, there is no easy exit. And the character knows it.
The play, although a solo act, is played out as a conversation with an unnamed character who drops by his residence (though the character is never present on stage).
Lights up. The first thing the audience notices when they enter the theatre is a conspicuously-placed mirror, as if put there to allow them to introspect. And that’s what Pokharel’s character, an unnamed victim of the Maoist insurgency, does—introspect. The man is frail, with a prosthetic leg—the remnant of the insurgency—and often stumbles while he staggers in and around the stage. The physical intersects with the metaphysical right from the very start as the character initiates a conversation with his ‘imaginary’ visitor. As he delves into the deep and intertwined labyrinths of his mind, the play speaks to not just the inner workings of a person’s psyche but also to the indelible scars left behind by the civil war. The character’s life is, understandably, forlorn and without any traces of hope for the future, heretofore.
Pokharel’s visitor, we are told, is a former Maoist combatant, and now a nouveau riche politician in line for a post of a minister. As soon as the conversation starts, the contrast between the lives the two characters have led becomes apparent—one a lone crusader, an ex-poet and a victim of the war, the other an ex-Maoist combatant who now is a crusader for democracy. Of course, the audience is compelled to sympathise with Pokharel, more so, when the visitor asks him how he has overcome the burden of living alone. He explains, “I spend my life just like Krishna Prasad Bhattarai spent his life in a Panchayat cell; or how Mandela did in an apartheid’s cell…This is my cell and there is no way out.”
But what is remarkable about the play was the manner in which actor Pokharel carries out his role. He does it in such a way that it is hard to imagine any other actor playing the same role. With his deft handling of the subject matter and an almost schematic rigour in its execution, Pokharel entices the audience throughout the duration of the 55-minute play. If you thought listening to one person ramble on end for an hour was impossible, you were in for a pleasant surprise. Not only were you enthralled for a whole hour, at the final curtain call, you were left wanting more.
The play which was staged for a week in the Capital was originally a Sharubhakta play centred around the impact of the social circumstances on its main characters; while director Som Nath Khanal’s latest rendition gave it not just a modern context but an existential touch as well. But it was Pokharel who shone through the play, insofar that we were lulled by his soliloquies—a lot of which could have been mistaken as episodes of Pokharel’s own life.
At one point in the play, Pokharel says these words, “It has been said that the ones who are successful in life take life not as a conundrum but as a game.” After the play comes to an end, those words continue to ring in the audiences’s mind, leaving a lasting mark in their memory. To take life not as a conundrum but as a game, and declare it as so at your own risk, Idamittham, as Sanskrit scholars would term it.