Often times we see that the screen or stage adaptations of classic novels do not do justice to the nuances of the written text, however, director Ishwar Shunya’s “Joothan” based on Omprakash Valmiki’s autobiographical book of the same name recreates the monumental story with equal effect.
Joothan (leftover food from one’s plate that was traditionally eaten by low caste people after they collected the plates of the upper caste folks) chronicles the life and struggles of Omprakash, a “low-caste” boy living in an Uttar Pradesh village during the 1950s.
From early on, the play illustrates the social standing of Churas,a low caste community whose job is to clean toilets, work as labor, tan leather from dead cattle, etc, and establishes how economic deprivation of the untouchables is a result of the caste system. There are numerous moments in the 1 hour 45-minute long drama when the performances will give you goose bumps and the overwhelming feelings of anger, triumph, sadness, and hope.
One of the most powerful scenes in the play is when Omprakash’s mother throws dirty pattals (leaf plates) at a dominant caste patriarch when he humiliates her. Though the play is littered with tragedy, there is a segment which depicts a policeman sodomising a Dalit youth with an iron rod. The vividity of the scene is triggering and particularly disturbing. I almost wished the audience was warned about it.
The dialogues are honest and hard-hitting, with a liberal dose of crass expletives. While the casteist terms such as Chura, Chamaar, and Bhangi were used to portray the brazen abuse of Dalits, a section of the audience laughed each time these terms were uttered. The fact that the audience was seeking comedy in the humiliation of marginalized folks showed insensitivity of urban crowd.
The acting is on point by a superb cast. Abhijeet Singh plays the antagonist Chaudhary and Daroga very convincingly. Rohit Kumar enacts the innocence of young Omprakash with perfection that makes the viewer root for him. Anas Khan personates the adult Omprakash and arrests the attention of everyone.
The live music by Prasoon Narayan, Sachin, Prashant Misra and Raj Kishor made the production stellar. Kabir bhajans such as ‘Ud Ja Hans Akela’ alongside old Bollywood melodies like ‘Pal Pal Dil ke Pass’ serenaded the audience.
Lightning by Sachin Kumar and Badal Singh complimented the impeccable set that was designed by Kanchan Ujjal Singh. There were at least five to six different backdrops and the transition from one background to another was perfectly handled by Tanvi Goel and Manish Kumar. The collective efforts of the cast and crew encapsulated in a long, standing ovation.
Go and watch this LGT Auditorium Repertory production whenever you get a chance, because it will be totally worth it.
Feature Image Credits: Niharika Dabral for DU Beat