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Review of Naseeruddin Shah’s The Father at Experimental Theatre for Entire September

Play review by Manju Sampat

Naseeruddin Shah’s Motley theatre company has tried a very brave experiment. They have taken over NCPA’s Experimental Theatre for the entire month of September and are staging their latest production, ‘The Father’, every single night! And it seems that every performance is running to a full house.

‘The Father’ was originally written in French by Florian Zeller and it won the Moliere Award for France’s best play in 2012. The English translation has been most effectively done by Christopher Hampton.

Motley’s production of ‘The Father’ is a very disturbing experience, but then that is exactly the playwright’s intention. Arghya Lahiri’s set and lighting design are such that they draw the audience intimately and immediately into the very personal and disturbing events unfolding on stage. As they sit on all four sides of the stage, the audience has no chance of a relaxed viewing of the play. They plunge headlong into the play and become part of the action. Perforce, they become riveted into the confused and disturbed mind of the protagonist Andre (Naseeruddin Shah), who seems to be suffering from dementia bordering on some sort of Alzheimer’s.. Andre is being cared for by his daughter Anne (Ratna Pathak Shah). As the play progresses we see that there is a very thin line between “being all there” and “not quite” . It soon becomes apparent that a disease of this kind takes a toll equally on the patient and the caregiver.

The play seemingly unfolds in the confines of Andre’s flat, as Anne is trying to get a nurse Laura (Prerna Chawla) to look after him, since she plans to move to London with her boyfriend Pierre (Faisal Rashid). Like Andre’s, the audience’s sensibility too is continuously shaken, as new characters and disturbing changes on stage are constantly emerging and keeping them at the edge of their seat! The minimalist stage props keep disappearing and we the audience are soon equally as disturbed and confused as the protagonist. Where is Elise, the daughter Andre professes to love and what happened to her? Is Pierre really as sympathetic as he makes out to be and more importantly who is the real Pierre? And what about Anna? Has she moved to London? Is this her house we are in or is Andre already in a sanitarium?

Another effective ploy that Mr. Shah, who also directs this tour de force, uses, is having synchronised sound to show a door shutting or a tap being turned off, as there are no props on stage. Sahil Vaid has done the sound design.

‘The Father’ touches on some very interesting aspects that affect most of us. Andre’s concern about his watch “someone has stolen my watch” or “I have two watches, one on my hand and one in my brain”, are reminders of the vagaries of time. His slow disintegration from being a proud and well dressed figure at the start of the play, to becoming a “naked” person both mentally and physically towards the end, and completely dependent on his caregivers, highlights how the parent-child relationship becomes inverted with time.

Naseeruddin Shah is spot on as Andre. He gives a power house performance (so what’s new!). We, the audience, are privy to a memorable act, as Naseer goes from being a confident person, to one who is confused, then broken and finally totally helpless. Ratna Pathak Shah is excellent as Anna, especially in the scene where she is at the end of her tether and feels she could murder her father! Since the play runs for an entire month, except for Naseer, other actors have substitutes. This play needs to be viewed to experience the stark reality of Andre’s being, a role that Naseer “breathes life” into!

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