A play not to be missedKatha Ghera’s ‘Animal Farm’ sets the benchmark high for adaptations.
When the animals of the farm hear the word “Kranti’ (revolution) for the first time from the mouth of a pig, who’s their leader, they all start hopping around ecstatically.
These animals, who have lived their lives in misery and are oppressed by humans, don’t know what revolution means. They have no clue what it will bring, and they are unaware of how long it will take for the revolution to happen. Yet they are ready to sacrifice themselves for the sake of it—so their future generations don’t have to face the tyranny of humans.
Based on Prashant Kumar Nair’s English adaptation of George Orwell's ‘Animal Farm’, Katha Ghera’s adaptation of the play is being staged at Kausi Theatre.
Directed and translated into Nepali by Akanchha Karki, the play opens with Buda Major (played by Aayush Niroula) giving a rousing speech, which awakens the revolutionary souls of all the animals who, for years, have been forced to live a miserable life in a farm managed by humans.
While the first scene is a reminiscence of what happens at the beginning of the book, as the play moves forward, we see it deviating from the original source material.
Karki, the writer and director, isn't interested in doing a direct adaptation. Instead, she contextualises and sets the story to make it relevant to Nepali society, as several scenes and characters in the play are inspired by our socio-political landscape.
There’s also a different route taken in terms of characterising several of the story's protagonists. The play portrays them in a completely different avatar from how they were originally written.
After the animals rebel against their oppressors (the humans), they all decide to follow the path of animalism, believing that all animals on the farm should be treated equally.
The three pigs (SB, Napoleon, and Sequelar), who can read and write, are given the charge of managing the farm. While in the original book, all the pigs were male, in the play, SB (played by Ojashwi Bhattarai), is a female character.
Once the farm is freed from human rule, SB starts working with the other two pigs, Kepeloen and Chaplus (played by Ingi Hopo Koinch Sunwar and Rishikesh Bashyal), and starts making plans on how to run the farm.
But as SB proposes several progressive ideas that will benefit all the farm animals, especially of constructing a windmill to produce electricity that the farm animals can use, Kepeloen starts feeling threatened by her and manages to oust her from the farm.
Then begins a new rule of Kepeloen, which is even worse than the human rule. He becomes a dictator, and the animals who fought for their freedom from the humans are once again forced to live a life of suffering and oppression.
At its core, most of the play's characters do resemble Orwell's characters. But what makes the play different is the space given by the makers to include female voices.
In the book, Mollie, a mare, is one of the few female characters, and she is shown as someone who only cares about ribbons and eventually ends up leaving the farm because she isn’t allowed to wear ribbons.
However, in the Nepali dramatisation of the play, the characters questioning the unequal social structures are all female and have their own conscience and reasoning.
From the sheep (played by Sebita Adhikari), who fearlessly questions the rulers when they do something wrong or do not follow the seven commandments of animalism, to SB, who makes an effort to provide an equal environment for the farm animals, to Mala (based on Mollie), a horse (who has her own agency in deciding things that are good for her), all female characters in the play are well written and have more depth than the original play.
In one of the beautiful scenes in the play, Mala decides to leave the farm as she doesn’t feel like living there. Before she crosses the farm’s fence, she breaks the fourth wall and speaks with the audience, and makes a commentary on how the patriarchal mindset led her character to be portrayed as a vain and self-indulgent person.
But now, Mala says she wants to free herself, and that she is leaving the farm because she wants to. Before she leaves the farm, she makes a commentary on Orwell, a male writer, saying he didn’t do justice to her character.
There’s also another equally poignant character of a mouse. Despite the mouse's brief role in the play, it manages to leave a lasting impact on the audience in the way it depicts the hardships faced by the thousands of landless Nepalis across the country.
Filled with such relevant reflection of our society—from showing how women in the country are shunned for being opinionated to the endless greed of politicians—the play manages to strike a chord with its audience.
Even the play’s actors are perfectly suited for the roles they play. By making sounds of animals they are playing, using body movements mimicking those of the animal, and making facial expressions, the actors use every tool available to make their characters believable.
However, it’s Binita Lama Gurung, who plays the role of Mala, who steals the show with her acting skills. Her comic timing is impeccable, and she brilliantly plays the role of Mala—a fun-loving yet self-aware horse for whom her comfort and choice matter the most.
The play's music is another praiseworthy element as it helps carry the narrative forward and completely elevates the experience of watching the story as it unfolds in front of us.
From lights to costumes, headgears to even tiny details like the characters of horses wearing kick chains, it won’t be wrong to say that the play is a testament to the talent of everyone involved in its making.
Pulling off an adaptation isn’t easy, especially when you are adapting a classic that millions of people have read. And the team of Katha Ghera has done an excellent job setting a benchmark for how a play should actually be translated—taking inspiration from the source and giving something new to the audience.