Award-winning filmmaker and theatre director Anupam Barve was not looking for just another one-act two-hander to perform with students of the Lalit Kala Kendra of Pune University. He was in search for a story that would make them think.
The answer emerged in the form of The Island, an apartheid era text, which stirs emotions and enables performers and audiences to imagine themselves in a history of slavery and indenture of the African people and, thereby, develop keener sensitivity to situations of stifling and oppression prevailing in the modern world. The Island will be performed at Sant Namdev Sabhagriha of Pune University on December 9.
The actors are Harshvardhan Manekari and Abhishek Dubey. They play two Black political prisoners, John and Winston, in Robben Island —whose famous inmate was Nelson Mandela —.and are preparing Sophocles’ play Antigone for the other prisoners.
The Greek classic, Antigone, is a very layered play, in which Antigone has a debate with Creon about the morality, ethics and legality of burying one’s brother, who has been an anti-establishment character. “There are several overtones of resonances with the world we live in,” says Barve.
Incidentally, the play is written by Athol Fugard but co-credited to John Kani and Winston Ntshona, both Black South African writers and artists with whom the play was improvised — and this was done in the heat of the apartheid in South Africa.
The Island, which uses the same Marathi translation by Abhiram Bhadkamkar that many theatre directors and campus theatre groups used in the 1990s, shows the spareness and bareness of a remote political prison. The stage is bare, the lighting and music are basic and everything needs to be imagined.
“We can empathise with the prisoners but not relate in the fullest to their situation as it was set in a different country and culture. What we are trying to do with the play is find analogies from our own lives that resonate with what the characters are experiencing. Although we do not have a racial apartheid in place now, we have different levels and natures of apartheid still practised in the world that we live in,” says Barve.