A Farming Story
Directed by Faezeh Jalali
Written by Vineet Bhalla
Cast: Suruchi Aulakh, Meher Acharia-Dar, Dilnaz Irani, Reshma Shetty, Abhishek Saha and others
Rating: Three stars
Faezeh Jalali’s last two plays, Shikhandi and 7/7/7, were easily the most exciting productions in recent times. She has a way of picking powerful and socially relevant stories and working with movement, attractive stage and costume design, and wonderful actors who are willing to put in time and effort, all of which makes her work innovative, vigorous and provocative.
For her new production, A Farming Story, she has taken up Vineet Bhalla’s award-winning play (he won the Sultan Padamsee Award in 2016, when Jalali’s Shikhandi was a runner-up), set in a dystopian future, where ‘hummals’ or human animals farm lands run by a harsh ‘Estate’ managed by humans, profiting from the labour of hummals, who have run up a debt that they cannot pay.
The setting and hybrid costumes do not place the village in any particular time or place; Jalali has used prosthetics (for noses and ears) and hair design (hair made to look like horns or manes) to portray the hummals, and movement of the head and limbs that indicate what species they belong to. A peaceful community of hummals is in trouble—they are indebted to the Estate and a blight has destroyed their crops and livestock. They are not in any condition to accommodate immigrants, a poor, starving and wretched group of monkeys, displaced from their forest habitat by a fire.
The village is openly hostile towards the monkeys; only the local parish priest’s wheelchair bound daughter Samantha (Suruchi Aulakh–excellent) and her friend, the older Rita Turow (Meher Acharia-Dar–superb) are kind to the monkeys, which causes a lot of resentment in the village. This is expressed loudly and vehemently by Margaret (Reshma Shetty—suitably devious), who manages to sway many others to her side. The one who takes advantage of this discord is Ms Brand (Dilnaz Irani—perfectly malevolent) who runs the Estate with the power of a pack of feral hyenas. Rita’s son Andrew (Abhishek Saha) works with the Estate and is caught in a dilemma–between his loyalty to his employer and his love for Samantha.
The plot has shades or George Orwell’s classic Animal Farm and tropes from American tales of slavery as well as Bollywood films from the time when a feudal system oppressing poor farmer was still cause of concern for writers and directors. Add to that today’s issues – mainly fear of the ‘other’ (the plight of Syrian and Rohingya refugees spring to mind)—and A Farming Story leaves a lot to ponder over.
Deepa Gahlot is one of India’s seniormost and best known entertainment journalists. A National Awardwinning film critic, Deepa has watched more movies and theatre than most people in the country. An author of several books on film and theatre, she has had an extremely successful run as head of theatre and film at the National Centre for Performing Arts, Mumbai, during which she helped nurture several original productions. For Xyngr, Deepa Gahlot reviews theatre and cinema.