Clean Design

8: Question Mark (Hindi/ Urdu 2007)
Play: Question Mark (Hindi/ Urdu 2007)
Playwright:Ismail Choonara
Adapted, Designed & Directed: S.M. Azhar Alam

A play about communal riots, Question Mark confronts us with the brutal, cruel face of political leadership in our country. To satisfy their own greedy, selfish ends, our leaders create an imaginary enemy and poison the minds of the masses, compelling them to fear and hate the so-called ‘enemy’. And the most lethal weapon they use for the purpose is religion. In the play, Raj, Raza, Mohan and Kanti are four mentally challenged patients who live under the care of a widow, Mrs C.Rajendra, in an Ashram. Their speech and actions are devoid of any logic, at least from the perspective of rational people. Yet, our leaders, who represent the most sane and sensible amongst us all, also behave in a way that is nothing short of madness. The manner in which they manipulate religion is no less absurd or maniacal than the pretentious game of cricket played by Raj and Raza.

Clean Design

Press comments:

The gruesome violence that was reportedly orchestrated by the state in collusion with the police during the Guajrat riots of 2001 was brought into sharp focus by Little Thespian’s latest production Question Mark “?”
Hindustan Times, Kolkata,(English Daily)Thursday, February 8, 2007.

Depicting the horror of riots on stage is not as easy as it sounds but Director Azhar Alam’s compact direction, Murari Roy Chowdhury’s music, Joy Sen’s light design and powerful performance by the actors made one just say that after years one has seen such a great presentation.
Jansatta, Kolkata.(Hindi Daily)Monday, February 11, 2007

The way Director Azhar Alam utilized lights and music to create the riot scene on stage has made for a unique experience for the city’s audience.
Dainik Jagaran, Kolkata.(Hindi Daily)Friday, March 2, 2007

Godhra revisited, on Stage……History comes back to haunt us, only this time, on stage. As Little Thespian gears up to presents its latest production They burn people, they do, think-tanks can flip through the pages of history to zero in on the back-drop – the Godhra carnage that has left our souls wounded. The message that the play conveys become obvious then – the massacre had nothing to do with religion, it was only politically motivated.
The Times of India, Kolkata,(English Daily)Friday, March 9, 2007.

As Utpal Dutta did decades ago, renaming the Little Theatre Group as People’s Little Theatre, Little Thespian may consider masking the diminutive in its name. Calcutta’s 14 year-old leading Urdu group has certainly matured. Its career takes a firmly politically turn with enigmatically-titled “?” (picture), based on the English Play They Burn People, They Do, by South Africa-born London resident Ismail Choonara.……..The plot is simple…But sometimes things need to be put simply and directly, and Director S.M.Azhar Alam’s abrupt concluding use of a mannequin and Joy Sen’s lighting shock viewers with an unforgettably horrifying image.
The Telegraph, Kolkata,(English Daily)Saturday 4 August 2007.

The fourth day of National Theatre Festival saw the staging of the play Question Mark “?”. Such was the crowd that there was shortage of seats at Tagore Theatre, but still people stood and watched the whole play…..serious dialogues coupled with powerful performance of the actors shook the very soul of the viewers.
Amar Ujala, Chandigarh,(Hindi Daily) Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Out of the world performance by the actors, very potent set and soul stirring dialogues, properties which say everything implicitly and powerful light design, these were the things which one got to see in the play Question Mark “?”.
Chandigarh Dainik Tribune, (Hindi Daily)Tuesday, September 11, 2007.

TO BE or not to be …the great Shakespearean poser acquired an ominous almost chilling hue in this rather bold Hindi play, Question Mark “?” probing the rather flagrant issue of communalism…….in fact riveting imagery, unusual idiom, fine acting of its cast, good music and light design all went to create an experience worth its salt.
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh,(English Daily) Tuesday, September 11, 2007.

The elite city audience was treated to diverse experimental theatre form by the Kolkata based Little Thespian ensemble with an immaculate staging of a play “Prashn Chinn- ?” at Tagore theatre here today.
The play presented on the third day of the Rashtriya Natya Parv – 2007 eloquently depicted the analytical synthesis of the grim tragedies of communal violence and religious bigotry of the highest magnitude like Gujrat riots with oblique references to riots in Delhi and Kashmir.

As the play progressed, with narrative sequences enunciated by director Dr. S. M. Azhar Aalam himself, the accomplished set of actors ably depicted the saga of sufferings of the suppressed and innocent people belonging to a particular community.
Playwright Ismail Choonara has sculpted the play to recover certain explosive truths about religious, psychological, communal and ideological dimensions of the problem.
Chandigarh Tribune, Chandigarh (English daily), Tuesday September 11 2007

In 2007 two plays are worth mentioning Bansi Kaul’s Tukke pe Tukka and Azhar Alam’s Question Mark “?” …in the vast vacuum of theatre countless gems are hidden …..the vastness which Bansi Kaul’s and Azhar Alam’s production showed made for an out of this world experience……the play Question Mark is a powerful and experimental form… it was a beautiful amalgamation of excellent acting, light and music amd every aspect of the play showed the directors farsightedness.

Amar Ujala, Chandigarh, (Hindi Daily) Monday September 25, 2007

Moments of sanity in an insane world……like they say, the trouble with reality is that there’s no background music in it. So, when reality meets fiction on stage, there’s often a thin line separating the truth from literature – and it’s not just the background score reverberating through the theatre. “?” or “Question Mark”, directed by S. M. Azhar Alam, set against the backdrop of the Godhra riots, raises some painful questions – on humanity, love, hatred, insanity, religion and even democracy. This Little Thespian production is a poignant tale about lost humanity in present times…….there’s no garish set, but the simplicity of the outfits and props help focus on the larger issues. The freeze frame sequences in the play – where some characters freeze in their steps allow a speaker to give an aside, then picking up from the last dialogue of the speaker – are seamlessly executed…….that apart, this is one “?” that aims to seek many answers from the society at large. And yes, sans the background score.
The Times of India, Kolkata, (English Daily), Saturday 11th August 2012