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IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER
Behulas Theatre's debut production is an adaptation of Arthur Miller's 1968 play The Price, not his most celebrated work (for reasons unknown), but clearly bearing a universal, enduring appeal. Directed by Shubhrajyoti Barat and transported to an authentic Indian milieu from its original setting in New York by Vikram Phukan, the play is a two-hour long cauldron of repressed emotions and unsavoury family history which comes tumbling out of the antique closets that provide the narrative its backdrop. Juxtaposing two estranged brothers with diametrically opposite world-views it pushes them to confront their misgivings and regrets about their relationship and their individual lives which have taken them on very different paths.
ALL PHOTOGRAPHS ©VIVEK VENKATRAMAN, 2012
Harsh Khurana plays an ageing police-officer in The Price
The first act opens with Victor D'Souza (Harsh Khurana) crisply dressed in a police uniform and sitting on an ornate sofa in the attic of their old house in Bandra which is now ready for demolition and needs to be vacated. He is surrounded by wooden furniture (some ordinary, some exquisite, including a giant harp), family heirlooms that have stood around neglected for decades and must now be disposed of urgently. His wife Esther (Preeti Gupta) walks in and it is established that she is a disgruntled, depressed woman who wants her husband to quit his job and move on to better things than earn a policeman's wages. She exhorts him to dress well and have a pleasant evening out following the sale of the furniture which, she hopes, will give their finances a healthy boost. If only her husband would strike a good deal and not insist on giving his wealthy brother his rightful half...
It is with the arrival of the 90-year-old furniture dealer Sulaiman bhai (Sheikh Sami Usman) that the play really takes off. The quirkiness of this character who talks nineteen-to-a-dozen and goes round and round in circles (at one point he opens his steel tiffin and settles down to peeling a boiled egg) till Victor snaps at him and demands that he quote a price or leave. By the time Victor's brother Walter (Satyajit Sharma) shows up, he and Sulaiman have struck a deal that both Walter and Esther can tell is totally lopsided.
That's just the bare bones of the script. But what The Price really probes is the price we all must pay for our choices, the burden of old debts and unfinished business which seems to cast a pall over entire lifetimes. And of the rigidity of thinking and emotional barriers that drive wedges between people with shared histories. Victor and Walter haven't met for 16 years. We are told that Victor called Walter's clinic (he's a very successful surgeon) a few times earlier in the week, but he didn't even come on the line. Walter has his own version of the truth. And the differences go too far back for wounds to heal in one evening.
Meanwhile the ghost of their father—the fifth character in the play and the apparent bone of their discord—seems to be watching the proceedings from his old armchair which sits bathed in light throughout the performance. It is his choices that have directly impacted the lives of his offspring—one flew the coop, the other weighed himself down with sacrifice. Neither is able to shake off the old man's shadow, while Esther can do little but look on in despair, her fate irrevocably tied to her husband's.
(From left) Harsh Khurana, Sheikh Sami Usman and Satyajit Sharma.
Sulaiman, the worldly wise nonagenarian, works like a 'sutradhar', his obtrusive presence interjecting the conflict with stories from his own life, chiefly the disturbing memory of his young daughter who committed suicide several decades ago and his ability to start life afresh over and over again. Something either brother is unable to do—Walter because he's wracked with guilt and Victor on account of his rigidity and fear. It's a high-tension drama in the second act and both Sharma and Khurana are at the top of their game as they heap accusations and vitriolic words on each other like volleys across a blazing court. Except there are no winners in this game.
Superbly performed by the four actors—particularly noteworthy is Usman's perfectly modulated Sulaiman and Sharma's volatile Walter—with a single location and no costume changes, The Price starts weighing you down with each passing moment. Exactly the effect Miller desired, one imagines. ✑