Aaadyam's new play will give you a ringside view of an elephant and his mahout's Europe trip


Pic Courtesy/Mandar Tannu

Some years ago, theatre director Mohit Takalkar had a chance encounter with an 'elephant' inside the general compartment of a Mumbai local. The elephant, he recalls, stood out in the compartment, otherwise bursting at the seams with men. When we ask him now, how an animal that huge had managed to fit inside the train, he corrects us, "I am talking about a woman." Even before we mistake this description for body shaming, he quickly adds, "I was referring to her aura." "She was tiny and alone in this sea of men, yet she possessed enough strength to make sure that nobody even touched her with their eyes."

A few months ago, when Takalkar was asked to choose the lead character of the male elephant, Solomon, for the theatrical adaptation of late Jose de Sousa Saramago's novel The Elephant's Journey (2008), there were no surprises why he chose Gitanjali Kulkarni to play the role. "She reminded me of that woman in the train," he recalls.

Titled Gajab Kahani, the Hindi play, which will be staged later this week as part of Aaadyam 2017, tells the story of Solomon, an elephant from India, and his friendship with his mahout as they undertake an epic journey from Lisbon to Vienna.

Gajab Kahani is also Takalkar's toughest yet. Why? Because, unlike the proscenium-stage format, where the story plays in front of the audience, Takalkar is experimenting with the black box stage, which gives the audience a 360 degree, ringside view of the stage. "Here, the audience will be made to sit in the centre on swivel chairs, while the stage actors will perform around them," the director explains. "When I was first asked to direct this play, I jumped at the idea. But, within 10 days of the rehearsals, I was thrown out at sea. It was a nightmare," recalls Takalkar. "It was only later, after a lot of trial and error, that the design of the play slowly evolved."

Yet, the director is still not confident of how it will all pan out. "We will either fall flat on our faces, or will emerge victorious. But, it's these opposing possibilities that make Gajab Kahani worth a shot."