On the face of it, Bust is about a treasure hunt, the quest for a mythical magical relic buried beneath an old temple. Actually, Bust is a big banner advertisement for the city of Bangalore.
No surprise there – Bust was developed under a Robert Bosch Art Grant as part of a research project about the city.
The play traverses Bangalore’s geography, history, demography, weather and what have you, throwing nuggets of information in various guises. Sometimes it is in a sparring "Did you know" game between two friends, sometimes in conversations about time and memory and identity. We pick up a lot of GK trivia in the process and chuckle over the little present-day details, like the profusion of women’s hostels in the city and sparrows at BIAL.
The scenes move from the pit below the temple to the airport to a children’s play area, to a bookstore with gigantic maps. The ages of the characters and the contexts change with shift of location. There are some creative bridges between the shifts – a motif like a favourite toy carried forward from one scene to the next, a fragment of conversation that reminds the characters of the scene where they ought to be.
The transitions were very disconcerting initially – just as we were getting used to one place and context, the play moved abruptly to another timeline, another frame of reference.
I gradually grew used to the jumpy narrative and waited for a moment to arrive that would tie everything neatly. That moment never came. I do not know if it was the playwright’s intention to withhold a clear exposition, letting the audience derive meanings for themselves, or the meaning was apparent and I didn’t get it. At the end, I do not know what actually happened first what next, what was real and what was imaginary.
The play did make us think and debate. The two characters knew each other in every other scene, then why were they strangers on the airport? What was that avalanche of coloured balls that fell near the water? Since the rope was pulled back up, how did they manage to get out of the pit? Did they get out of the pit at all or after their descent and the discovery of the raincoat, was it all a twist of memory and illusion?
Ultimately, I walked out from Bust feeling as I do after seeing an exhibition of abstract art. I may like the colours and the composition and find interesting interpretations in it that make the visit worthwhile, but what I see may not be what the artist meant to show me.
WYSIWYG, Or Not
After watching Bust, I’m reminded of Baradwaj Rangan’s POV about the audience’s vitriolic reception of certain films like Raavan. If pre-release hype builds expectations that the film turns out to be different from, he says, that can damage the success of the film.
…when slick promos indicate that we’re getting a juicy kidnap drama, a genre thriller with enough star wattage to light up the village in Swades, it’s difficult to accept a darkly eccentric psychodrama. The Raavan that audiences were promised was not the Raavan they saw…
(Full article here, it’s a great read: Mystifying Hysteria)
Those of us who went by the event invites for Bust probably feel let down in a similar way. The play is described as a "delicious cocktail" of "zany humour and mad-cap adventure". That befits a light frothy play, which Bust is not. The promos also promise "three swashbuckling characters", when the characters are neither particularly "swashbuckling" nor count to three.
The Bechdel Test
In case you have not come across this before, a movie passes the Bechdel Test if it answers "yes" to three simple questions: (1) Are there at least two women in it? (2) – who talk to each other? (3) – who talk to each other about something other than a man?
If the Bechdel Test were extended to theatre, Bust would pass with flying colours. Applause for that!