In Mandala Theatre’s latest production, Ankit Khadka and Kenipa Singh stand out due to their layered and complex characters.
Polygamy maybe a crime and infidelity only a sin, but there was a time when multi-marriage was accepted and philanderers could be put to death. Those caught in-flagrante would be disowned by family and stripped of their caste. And according to royal decree, if the guilty man refused to apologise at a village-council trial, he would be chased for seven days and nights by the cuckold and wasn’t allowed to return blows in case he was caught.
This is the premise for Mandala Theatre’s latest production Jaar: bhaekai euta katha, adapted from a short story by the formidable Indian-Nepali writer Indra Bahadur Rai. On the surface, it is about relations between Nepali men and women, but watching it staged in contemporary Nepal goes some way in explaining why we are still conservative.
Somewhere in East Nepal, a newly migrated Ghale family hosts a Magar family for dinner. Over raksi, domesticities are shared (the two families have a lot in common besides migration) and a strong friendship is formed. Inevitably, trouble arrives in the form of puppy love.
The Ghales’ son Rudra Man, a lieutenant at a nearby army camp, and the Magars’ elder daughter Thuli fall in love, although they have just met. Truly infatuated, they exchange gifts and compliments in a scene that is reminiscent of old Bollywood. It seems obvious they will get married.
But their hope of a union is shattered when their younger sisters, the inseparable Debi and Maiti, are tied for life as ‘meetjyus’. In effect this makes the Ghales and the Magars family – mourning is shared and marriage is forbidden – and Thuli and Rudra Man become reluctant siblings.
In Rai’s original, these sequences are used sparingly to establish the story and to give a hint of the impending tragedy. But playwright Khagendra Lamichhane, not having the writer’s advantage of repeat readings, has taken the liberty to indulge the audience.
The play takes a turn for the tragic after Debi and Maiti become meetjyus. Thuli gets married to Harshajit, an army captain. Rudra Man reappears and threatens Thuli he will kill his senior and force Thuli to run away with him. They are caught as they bicker and so the jaar (in Nepali: a man with whom one’s wife has an affair) trial begins.
Anyone familiar with Mandala’s productions will recognise the rustic types that are on stage. They are loud and verbose but inarticulate, they make crude jokes and laugh forever, they are naïve but also foolhardy.
In the midst of these carbon-copy buffoons, with their slapstick and their unfaltering moral compasses, Ankit Khadka (Rudra Man) and Kenipa Singh (Thuli) stand out due to their layered and complex characters. Props also to the team for using an original soundtrack, which gives a sense of authenticity and newness which well-known tunes just cannot bring forth.
Jaar: bhaekai euta katha (Jaar: a true story)
Based on a story by Indra Bahadur Rai
Directed by Sunil Pokhrel
Written by Khagendra Lamichhane
Starring: Ankit Khadka, Kenipa Singh, Sunil Magar, and students of the Theatre Lab run by Mandala Theatre
Rs 200/100, Runs till 16 November, 5pm onwards, Mandala Theatre
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