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Gajab Kahani – Review by Manju Sampat held at G5A

The Aasakta Kalamanch theatre group from Pune, recently performed an unusual play, Gajab Kahani, for the third season of Aadyam, at the Black Box theatre G5A in lowerparel. This play has been adapted by Amitosh Nagpal from the novel “The Elephant ‘s Journey”, written by Portuguese writer Jose Sarmago. 

Gajab Kahani, is a fantastical tale that follows an elephant’s journey from Lisbon to Austria. So how did the elephant get to Lisbon in 1551? Well he travelled there from Goa, with his mahout Shubro! After they have been in Lisbon for a couple of years, they have to undertake another long journey to Vienna, which entails a sea voyage to Genoa first and then an arduous trek over the Alps to Vienna. They are doing so at the behest of King Joao III and his queen, as they are sending Solomon, the elephant as a wedding gift to Archduke Maximilian of Austria and his bride Queen Maria.

Gajab Kahani traces the journey that Solomon and Shubro make from “Lisboa to Vienna”, together with The Commandant  who has been asked by King Joao to accompany them. Along the way, they encounter various military men and villagers who are all intrigued by the pachyderm.

There are many aspects that make this an unusual and interesting production. For one, the language the actors communicate in. For the most part, the play has an interesting blend of Gibberish and Hindi. But then there is liberal use of Bengali as well, as it happens to be Shubro’s mother tongue. There is also a smattering of German and Spanish, and even when Gibberish is being used, it smacks of Italian or German or Spanish rhythms. Secondly the format of the stage and the viewing of what happens on stage, is quite out of the ordinary. The set is simple enough and only consists of various platforms in a circular formation. However, the clever light design by Pradeep Vaiddya, transports the audience to different scenes. This is also made possible by the audience having to constantly shift themselves 360 degrees in a swivel chair in order to get a full view of the happenings on stage. This can be very effective as well as disconcerting. The journey over the Alps, when they are caught in a snow storm, is very realistically portrayed by the use of clever projection and lighting and looks like a full fledged blizzard!

Once they arrive in Vienna the party is well received by the Archduke and his wife Maria. He changes Soloman’s name to Sulaiman and Shubro becomes Fritz! Gitanjali Kulkarni as Solomon, the elephant is very convincing as her movements are those of a graceful pachyderm and her face is extremely emotive. However, it is Ajeet Singh Palawat as Shubro, who steals the show. He is consistently effective and he makes an immediate connect with the audience. Nakul Bhalla as the Commandant, who accompanies Solomon and Shubro on their journey, has also been very aptly cast. In fact all the subsidiary actors are excellent. 

Mohit Takalkar has done a brilliant job of putting this vibrant production together, as he has both directed and designed it. This production of Gajab Kahani is very reminiscent of Tamasha theatre, replete with melodrama, dance and various musical styles…this show has a Punjabi Heer, a Bengali song (Bandhu Re) and even a Fado style song!

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