A Retrospective on Ashokan Theatre, Monsoon ‘22
Updated: Mar 8
By Mohan Rajagopal, UG ‘24, Sukriti Chawla, UG ‘24, Smriti Nambudiri, ASP ‘23,
Diya Mahesh, UG ‘25.
The theatre scene at Ashoka has had a rocky trajectory, to say the least. The disbanding of the erstwhile theatre society, Kirdaar, left a vacuum which remained unfilled for a few semesters until The Green Room decided to take matters into their own hands last Spring. Since then, the Monsoon semester saw a number of productions being staged, both by the society as well as independently.
As a part of Jashn-e-Jazbaa, The Green Room performed ‘A Lamb to the Slaughter’, based on Roald Dahl’s short story. Charged by the interesting promotion emails and posters inviting the audience to a luscious dinner (albeit mischievously acknowledging that there will be none), the Black Box Theatre had an air of palpable excitement, building the momentum with their original score, created by Ragini Ramanujam, the club’s co-head. The music served as the perfect accompaniment to the production’s clock-like quality, repetitive and sharp, seamlessly playing into a complex narrative timeline. In the foreground was an excellent cast of thirteen, each playing an instrumental part in the unfolding of the plot. However, the standout was Kyra Semelhago’s Mary Maloney and her omnipresent anger, a compelling figure looming over the audience — conducting an exceptionally nuanced portrayal of a tired and unappreciated wife, the forced normality of the abuse she suffered created a tangibly oppressive and urgent atmosphere. The excellent direction of Maanas Kauntia’s comedic timing added to the entire affair’s jarring nature as viewers found themselves heartily laughing through an otherwise intense plot.
‘Kotha No. 18’ marked a departure in The Green Room’s activities, as it was the first original play by the society, exceeding all expectations. Although we arrived half an hour early, a crowd had already begun to form outside the Black Box Theatre, and making it to the seats was not unlike pushing through a busy marketplace and nearly being trampled. Upon entering the theatre, its stunning ambience was immediately and unavoidably discernible. The set was simplistic but effective, made up of wicker furniture and rugs scattered on the floor, accentuated by moody red lighting and the scent of oils and incense hanging in the air. The movement of the cast and crew in setting up the stage seemed intentional and almost like a prologue while the audience patiently waited. Not once was this atmosphere shattered; it was immediately clear that the members were committed to presenting an immersive experience, and not merely a viewing party.
Once the play began, this mood and ambience only deepened. The narrative traces a kotha (brothel) run by Baa in Mumbai’s red-light district of Kamathipura, exploring the emotions and experiences of the women in response to police raids, abusive clients, and the deprivation that ensues from living in a brothel. A play about sex workers holds the potential to bite off more than it can chew in trying to convey a didactic message and potentially coming off as preachy and condescending. The success of ‘Kotha No. 18,’ however, is owed to the writers choosing to focus on a smaller narrative instead and allowing the story to speak for itself, sowing seeds for conversations on larger social issues in the minds of the audience. This was further augmented by the fascinating directorial decisions made by Sanika Bhangaonkar and Rudransh Mukherjee. Chehak Manchanda’s portrayal of Baa was a stellar display of embodying a character in their totality, supplemented by Ananya Rajaram’s stunning performance as Chanda.
The theatrical spirit was not contained to just club productions. Directed by Vidit Singh (ASP’23), ‘You Must Never Say Macbeth’ was an independent student production and an adaptation of Rajat Kapoor's 'What's Done is Done'. An incredible achievement of an adaptation of the famous Scottish play told through clown theatre, the play was performed to packed houses on both days of its run.
As one walked into Black Box Theatre on the days of the show, haunting classical music played through the speakers with a single red spotlight shining onto the stage, preparing you for the tragedy to be played out in front of your eyes for the next hour and a half. This made the show's first moments even more surprising, when two clowns, Pedro and Julio, come dancing on stage, introducing themselves as the janitors and producers of the play we are about to see. In many ways, Pedro and Julio, best friends, are the embodiment of the audience in the story, playing minor roles in the story's actual events, questioning moments of the story, and thereby proving the show’s message in a journey from comic relief to serious moments of thematic symbolism. In our opinion, they were the highlight of the show.
Many other changes made in the adaptation of this play served to greatly enhance the experience. Lady Macbeth’s role was split across two actors, making the moments where Macbeth (or as he is referred to throughout the show, Maccy B) was tempted to murder even more visceral, showing the all-encompassing pressure that he ultimately succumbed to. The dialogues, modernised and tailored to an Ashokan audience, made one feel just as involved, just as complicit. The music and lighting created an intoxicating atmosphere, drawing one into the tragedy of the events occurring before us, a story that the writing delivered in punches, and the actors played out incredibly.
‘You Must Never Say Macbeth’ was an incredible viewing experience on both days, and was a culmination of incredible effort and work by the whole crew. It also showed the kind of scope for independent theatre productions at Ashoka University, clearly just the beginning of hopefully, many more such student endeavours. Currently, Vidit is returning to stage another Shakespeare adaptation, holding auditions for a production of Ved Dutt Arya's play ‘Kumbh ka Mela’.
In conversation with Ragini Ramanjuan, the President of The Green Room, it was revealed that the club is currently working on a minimum of five productions for the Spring 2023 semester, including a nukkad natak and an original short-form concept. The cultural scene at Ashoka has been tough to witness over the past few semesters, in an atmosphere where students have barely shown an interest in what could have been hit events. To see them arrive in hordes to watch a number of plays was strangely heartwarming, and together with the plans laid out for theatre this semester, bodes well for the state of arts and culture on our campus in the days to come.