Clean Design

Play: Gainda (2011)
Playwright: Eugene Ionesco
Translation, Design & Direction: S.M. Azhar Alam

Synopsis: The play GAINDA (Rhinoceros) demonstrates the playwright’s anxiety about the spread of inhuman totalitarian tendencies in society. This play depicts the struggle of one man to maintain his identity and integrity alone in a world where all others have succumbed to the “beauty” of brute force and violence.

Play begins with the refined Arjun having a drink with his alcoholic friend Sarmad, meanwhile a rhinoceros runs past surprising everyone except Sarmad. Another rhinoceros runs past. During which an unfortunate cat is trampled to death, a heated argument develops over the particular breed of the rhino (Mongolian or African). A professor from the crowd tries to solve this problem but instead complicates it further and goes away.

The next day an argument erupts in Sarmad’s office about the rhinoceroses, meanwhile they find out a sick employee had turned into a rhinoceros. Later Sarmad goes to meet his friend Arjun in his apartment. Arjun too transforms into a rhinoceros while arguing with Sarmad.

On after the other, people who were related to Sarmad become rhinos: first Mr. Mukherjee, then Mrs. Jhunjhunwala, then Mallik and slowly the entire city. Seeing them Anniee also becomes a rhino. Only Sarmad remains unchanged.

It depicts an imaginary epidemic disease called rhinocerite in a city which scares all inhabitants who become rhinoceros. The symbol is quite obvious, fighting against gregarious behaviour of people. We are also shown the innate brutality of people as everyone, except Sarmad, turn into clumsy, unthinking rhinoceroses.

Press Reviews:

“Finally, a city group has realized the applicability of Ionesco’s absurdist classic, to our land and times…..Little Thespian’s Urdu Gainda, understandably, reaps the reward of sympathetic audience response, like some of their explosive previous works. S. M. Azhar Alam has translated it from the English translation fairly faithfully except for Indianizing the characters’ names…… as director, he does not interpret rhinoceritis too specifically, so we can receive it on at least two levels – the popular fascination with the “holy terror” of fascism or fundamentalism in any hue, and the pressure on an individual to conform with collective trends and lifestyles. The “beautiful” rhino dance takes the shape of a fearsome two-step. Gainda, therefore, covers both the political and social significances of the original for us, and becomes a paradigm of sensitivity to minority concerns, whether about the Hindu Right or Islamic rigidity. Alam also acts the Muslim everyman, Sarmad (Ionesco’s Berenger), in one of his strongest performances, heroically resisting the urge to transform into a rhino while everyone around him does….”
The Telegraph, Calcutta, Saturday, 19 November 2012

“Nothing in excess’ is a phrase that can be construed in many ways – while it warns against overdoing anything, it also implies that nothingness is the only outcome of excess, the negative undertone is what runs through Little Thespian’s Gainda, which deals with excesses – in human beings as well as the society. Director S. M. Azhar Alam (protagonist) remains honest in his endeavour to adapt Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros for the Hindi stage, as he explores the premises of absurdist drama – confusing and over-dramatic sequences, bold dialogues and shocking symbols and images. True to literary style, Azhar compels the audience to question their assumptions repeatedly……. Azhar as Sarmad is startling. He carries the narrative forward, transforming from an individual who would care for nothing but his glass of drink to being the only one who doesn’t succumb to the ‘forces’ around him….Joy Sen excels in light designing as he uses a green spotlight to signify man’s journey from reason to nothingness, this play gives you something to think about, albeit not in excess.”
The Times of India, Saturday 8, September 2012

“Basically without any concrete story line, it becomes difficult to stage absurd drama and the audience find it difficult to understand, but director Azhar Alam’s imagination and the realistic acting by the actors weaved a magic spell on the audience. Till interval each and everyone interpreted the play according to their understanding but post interval the riddle started solving and layer by layer the motive of the playwright became clear of how the sensitiveness of humans have died and its place being taken over by materialism and insensitiveness………some of the scenes left an indelible impression such as when the rhinoceros is first seen and the whole atmosphere becomes tensed or when an innocent cat is trampled upon by a rhino…or when Arjun transforms into a rhino but the most impressive of all was the dancing of the rhinos on the stage. All actors performed brilliantly but the one that surpassed was director S. M. Azhar Alam who took his acting to the next level.
Jansatta, Kolkata, October 9, 2012

“Gainda (Rhinoceros), a Little Thespian production, arrives at a time when the state of West Bengal is getting accustomed to a new regime after an uninterrupted 34 years of left rule. Where the proverbial Everyman is caught in a melee and conforming to the dominant ideology is essential to survive. Against this backdrop, S. M. Azhar Alam adapts the 1959 text, considered an absurdist classic from day one. That makes it all the more relevant and exciting a watch. Without mentioning it, Azhar places the text in contemporary Kolkata, sans mobile phones…….what comes across is a well – wrought critique of the meaningless spectacles that unfold every day in contemporary India. To Azhar’s credit, he plays his cards well. The set is moveable and minimalist along the lines of famous European productions of the classic. Its flexibility helps the shift between the scenes….. Veteran Murari Roy Chowdhury designs an ominous score that reverberates with the overpowering machinery of the irrational. It is only in the final scene that Azhar shows his trump card. Every time the action takes an irrational turn or the humans undergo the metamorphosis, green light fills the stage. The rhino masks are green, so are the chorus costumes. Light designer Joy Sen makes effective use of the colour to symbolize ‘transformation’………it is difficult to portray the rush of adrenalin that takes the hero over at the end. Azhar pulls it off in style…..one must congratulate Little Thespian for pulling out all stops to make Hindi and Urdu theatre viable in a city where Bengali theatre reigns supreme……one requires both courage and conviction to swim against the tide and keep the momentum going. With Gainda, Little Thespian seems poised to enter a bigger platform. ”
Avintika (magazine), May 2012

“Gainda is Little Thespian’s one such production which can be categorized as ‘classic’ and one which the audience will remember for a long time to come. The director S. M. Azhar Alam and the actors have all put in their hard work…..moreover the director has put in seven years of research and imagination into it so Gainda has to be an out of this world experience…..congrats to all of them for giving us such a beautiful presentation.”
Jansansar, 16 to 31 October, 2011