Rangashankara keeps the stage dark when the audience walks in, but there’s no closed curtain. You can observe the set before the play begins and let yourself imagine what would unfold.
The hi-tech props for Bikhre Bimb made me stop in my tracks. Behind a table and chair near the edge of the stage, dozens of TV sets were arranged in the background. A large TV set was suspended above.
When Arundhati Nag walked onto the stage, apparently talking to a cameraman in the direction of the audience, we almost didn’t realize that the play had begun. [In fact, a person in the audience responded to her greeting, which was part of the act, with a loud ‘Good evening’, briefly unsettling the actress.]
What followed is a one-actor (two-actor? I won’t explain that – watch it!) show that took us you through a web of emotions, subjects and messy relationships.
Arundhati Nag plays the role of Manjula Nayak, an author who is invited to the TV studio for an interview. The interview spends a good amount of time on the subject of regional languages versus English, and you expect that this is what the play is about. But that turns out to be a red herring and the play takes a twist soon.
[A cautionary note for ‘big-chunkers’: if you want Action, you might get restless in this play. This one is all about the details.]
Manjula Nayak’s character is very layered. She is rather a villain, yet you cannot help sympathize with her. It is to the playwright (Girish Karnad)’s credit that he injects realness not just into this character but also the characters that never make a physical appearance on stage – the husband and the sister.
The sudden shifts in Manjula’s emotional state are, again, very well-written. She is chatty and sharing confidences one moment, then with the next thing said to her, back she goes to being angry and suspicious.
Arundhati Nag carries this extremely challenging role with finesse. When the play was over, the audience gave her a standing ovation of the kind I have not witnessed for any other play.
I’ve seen this play twice. There is a jaw-dropping moment towards the start of the play. The second time, I wanted to watch closely what goes on before that moment. The play felt as good the second time round.
Bikhre Bimb is a serious play in its broad theme yet funny in its minutiae. You’ll find yourself chuckling over and repeating to others, its quips about the state of education in English literature, Indian husbands, and Bollywood’s prepossession with the "guy in the mirror". Even the final nail in the coffin, Manjula’s kitchen table remark, has a touch of the comic about it.
Another aspect worth mentioning is the language. The Hindi is more polished than what we normally hear in movies/theatre or in conversation. Nowadays, chaste Hindi seems to be spoken only in mockery; I loved the fact that Bikhre Bimb uses it without feeling the need to explain why.