Review: Bust [AEIF]

Posted on Jun 29th, 2010 by Shuchi in Reviews, AEIF, Abstract

Bust by AEIF 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 write-up 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?

The idea originated from Alison Bechdel’s 1985 comic strip called "The Rule" – watch this video for more.

If the Bechdel Test were extended to theatre, Bust would pass with flying colours. Applause for that!

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Article by Shuchi

Shuchi lives in Bangalore (mostly), when she isn't traveling out of town for work. She adores theatre and writes about plays she watches whenever she gets a chance.
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2 Comments to “Review: Bust [AEIF]”

  1. The script had a lot of satire that relied on the knowledge of the city’s history. Absence of the knowledge might make it sound like a GK exercise. In fact, I noticed that you chuckled at references to present day events but found the older ones “informative” 🙂

    The play was surely abstract and it did raise the question of how abstract is abstract? I for one was not able to keep up with transitions from one scene to another and certainly could not see how it came together. That of course is probably a reflection of my abilities as a member of the audience and not necessarily that of the artists

    July 3rd, 2010 4:14 pm

  2. Hi Arvind,

    I noticed that you chuckled at references to present day events but found the older ones “informative” – Absolutely. I’m sure a long-term resident of Bangalore will experience this play in a very different way. My Kannadiga friend who watched the play filled me in on a lot of in-jokes after the show. We then tried hard to piece together what really happened – there we met with no concrete answers :).

    How abstract is abstract? – “Bust” sure went too far! Have you seen the film “No Smoking”? I found many parallels between that film and this play. Both contain a compelling force that draws the protagonist into the “under-world” – the motive of quitting smoking or of finding a treasure is but incidental. In both the audience senses that the characters must not descend else the effect will be chaotic and irreversible. Both give us lots to admire in the details without decrypting for us the whole hazy picture.

    I’d love to hear from the makers of the play for some explanations.

    July 3rd, 2010 5:58 pm

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