A play that makes you question your own existenceKnown for acclaimed plays like ‘Bokshi ko Ghar’ and ‘Milk Tea’, Sulakshan Bharati is back after a hiatus of three years with his thought-provoking solo play ‘Ma’.
Human beings are complex creatures. What we want, what we need, what we say, and what we believe in can vary within seconds.
There’s good in us. There’s bad in us. We are all entangled in our complexities, our thoughts, and are seeking things we can’t quite pinpoint.
This complex human nature is what the play 'Ma', currently being staged at Purano Ghar in Sinamangal, explores.
Directed, written, and acted by Sulakshan Bharati, the artistic director of Purano Ghar, the play, which only has one actor, doesn't fit into any particular nature or genre. At times, it feels like Bharati’s personal story in which he, after years of playing different characters and immersing himself so much in his roles, is trying to find answers to who he is as a person.
At times, the play feels like a commentary on us, the audience, and the whole of humankind, as it makes us question our existence and whether our personality is an actual representation of who we are or is there more depth to our personality.
“It’s not a commercial play. I have tried to do something new,” says Bharati, who spoke to the Post a few hours before the start of the show.
There’s truth in Bharati’s words as ‘Ma’ is a new kind of genre-defying play.
Throughout the play, Bharati plays different characters, many of which are drawn from previous plays he has been part of in his career that spans over a decade.
In ‘Ma’, Bharati revisits the character of Vikram Singh, from his play ‘Sunakeshari’, which was written by Satya Mohan Joshi. He also plays the character of a corrupt lawyer, a communist leader, and a CEO of a hospital, all from plays from the past.
Even though he has already played many of the characters in ‘Ma’, Bharati's earnest performance and his ability to effortlessly display a range of emotions make it feel like he’s playing those characters for the first time. He seamlessly moves from one character to another.
As the play takes off, he interacts with the audience, who can see a reflection of themselves in the character he plays.
Most of the things he does in the play happen when he comes out of a circle that is drawn in the middle of the stage. Throughout the play, we see him making efforts to come out of this circle. When he’s inside the circle, it feels like he’s trapped in a cycle of void and emptiness.
But when he comes out, he plays several characters and moves around the stage. He’s free, and his movements become wide.
However, freedom doesn’t give him peace. While he surely gets the opportunity to play other characters and can be whoever he wants, the freedom also brings him chaos. Outside the circle, he suffers from an existential crisis.
“I look at these windows. They are fragments of my personality. For some people, I am their lover. For some, I am their son. And for some, I am a monster and the worst person they have ever met in this whole universe. But who am I?” says one of the characters Bharati plays while looking at the pieces of windows which are hung in one corner of the stage.
The play is designed in such a way that the viewers aren’t spoon-fed information. To fully understand all that’s unfolding on the stage, the audience has to stay focused and pay close attention. And with a run time of 70 minutes, the play is long. But Bharati's solid acting and the play's dialogues, which are so humane and relatable, doesn't make the play feel stretched.
“This is my first play in three years, and I have tried my best to showcase different styles of acting based on various themes from realism to naturalism within a single play,” shared Bharati.
Bharati has worn many hats as an actor, writer, and director for the last ten years and has featured in dozens of plays, including acclaimed plays like ‘Bokshi ko Ghar’ and ‘Milk Tea’. But unlike all his previous plays, in 'Ma', Bharati is the lone actor, so everything rides on his performance.
Throughout the play, there are many moments of brilliance where Bharati, whether it be his body movements or the way he speaks, showcases his acting mastery. The play is filled with moments where Bharati's acting is so natural that it is difficult to distinguish him from the characters.
While Bharati gloriously handles the acting department, the lighting department and the set design teams have both done a great job in taking care of the technical aspect of the play and thus elevating the overall viewing experience. The music composer of the play also deserves accolades for the hauntingly beautiful title song, which is played at the end of the play.
However, it would have been great if the makers were mindful of mentioning a trigger warning before the part in the play in which Bharati plays a character of a sexual abuser and he is shown sexually abusing a child bride.
Even though the victim in this scene is an imaginary person, the scene is nonetheless graphic and visually disturbing. Those in the audience who have experienced sexual trauma might find the scene emotionally disturbing and challenging to watch. For victims of sexual violence, watching such graphic enactment in a play might be emotionally triggering.
Besides this, the play doesn't have any faults.
At the end of the play and just before the lights go off, Bharati looks at the audience and says, “Ma euta prashna ho. Ma euta khoj ho (I am a question. I am a discovery).”
This thought-provoking line is bound to make the audience reflect on who they are. This play doesn't provide answers and solutions to the greatest riddle of life, but it surely does make us question things about ourselves and our existence.
Maybe someday, like Truman, we can come out of ‘reality’, which may not be real. Until then, keep questioning yourself.