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Manish Chaudhari’s Antataha is humorously profound and captivating

The play written by Shruti Mishra explores relationships between children and parents.



Antataha poster

Early this week, I watched Antataha at Prithvi Theatre. It is an experimental play written by Shruti Mishra and directed by Manish Chaudhari. Both of them acted in the play along with Mandakini Goswami and Mukti Das.

Antataha explores the relationship between mother-son and father-daughter. The children are sort of coming to terms with the reality of their aging/ailing parents. I have often thought that a play is a better medium to express things out loud verbally than a film which is meant to be a visual medium. But then there’s Richard Linklater’s cinema too. Anyway.

Antataha says everything that we often cannot or do not say in real life. It is well-written by Shruti Mishra with a good blend of humor and introspection. Shruti also plays the daughter Jeeva to the father played by Manish Chaudhari. It was a great sight to see Manish, an actor otherwise cast mostly in serious parts in films/series, play a comic, albeit mature character. Manish makes you believe that he’s paralyzed waist down even though you can see that his legs are perfectly fine.

Shruti beautifully mixes naivety, vulnerability, and a bit of cleverness in her character. Her sequences with Vishwa (Mukti Das), the son from the mother-son track are the best parts of the play. The format of the play is black box format which I got acquainted with later. These sequences are well-directed in terms of the use of props and space.

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The veteran Mandakini Goswami plays the ailing mother. The play starts with her. The way the play started was also something that I witnessed for the first time. It began with a melancholic quietness, only the sounds of crickets and Mandakini knitting a scarf/muffler. For a moment or two, I thought the silence was lasting for a bit too long. The members of the audience including myself were wondering what was happening.

But a great work of lights kept me engaged. After that first piece of patience-testing melancholy began an absolute riot of humour. It began of course with a beautifully choreographed and performed rain sequence between Shruti and Mukti.

Mandakini’s voice modulation during one set piece where she sings a song as a man and woman enacting her duet/dance with her lover is delightful. Mukti sometimes struggles with his dialogue delivery because some lines are quite difficult on the tongue when they switch between Hindi and English.

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As much fun as the comic situations are, the melancholic sequences at times hurt the play’s pace. It took a while for me to let the opening sequence sink in. The pace is Antataha’s only fault if you have to find one.

But my biggest takeaway from the whole experience of watching Antataha was its use of lights and music. The play explores life and death. All four characters are standing at the gates of heaven, I presume, at the beginning and the end of the play. The play’s so-called technical aspects (lights, music) only enhance the actors’ performances. There was a touch of divinity in that lighting and how the narrative unfolded. Antataha is a one-of-its-kind experience.

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