By Deepa Gahlot
Last year, Naseeruddin Shah successfully experimented with a long run of his production Florian Zeller’s The Father (French original translated into English by Christopher Hampton). He performed it continuously for a month and returns with it again this year with another month-long run, with himself brilliantly playing the arduous role of a man losing his grip on reality. Some of the other actors are double cast, but Shah is on stage almost every evening, and this must be both exhausting and energising for the actor.
Andre (Shah) is an elderly man, suffering from senile dementia. The way the play is structured and designed, there is a constant juxtaposition of real and imaginary, as Andre’s mind unravels. His harried daughter Anne (Ratna Pathak Shah—outstanding) and her partner do their best to look after the obdurate old man, but a lot of the time, faces, incidents and memories get jumbled in his head, so neither he nor the audience is quite sure of what is really going on.
Alzheimer’s Disease is a huge tragedy, for what makes a person human is memory and a sum of his (or her) social and emotional history. It is every more difficult for the career, because a lot of the time the patient does not even recognise a loved one, or creates a fictional scenario based on the few moments of lucidity or scraps of memory. Andre, for instance, does not remember whether Anne is divorced, or who is the strange man in the flat, claiming to be her husband.
The set, light and sound design (the actors mime the props) enhance the feeling of unreality and mounting dread about what will happen to Andre—like the time he demands to know where the dining table is, and Anne has to patiently explain that there wasn’t one in her flat. Andre also keeps misplacing his watch, and gets agitated when he can’t find it, accusing the help of stealing it. The watch becomes a symbol of everything that is slipping from his grasp.
There can be no satisfactory ending for a story like this. The playwright can still find a positive point to bring it to a close, but it just never gets better. Families just have to find a way to carry on living without turning the care of a dementia patient into a burden of guilt and self-destruction, which is easier said than done. The play is gripping, but can also be emotionally draining for the audience. That the shows have run to full houses only proves that people are willing to watch a play that demands this kind of involvement.
About The Father
An NCPA Presentation
Originally written in French, this play, described by the writer as “a tragic farce” is expected to jolt us into the awareness that a very thin line separates the ludicrous from the pathetic. On one level Father is a family drama and on another, a searing picture of mental dysfunction and the toll it takes on both the sufferer and the carer.
Director: Naseeruddin Shah
Co-directed: Ratna Pathak Shah
Written: Florian Zeller
Translated: Cristopher Hampton
Cast: Naseeruddin Shah, Ratna Pathak Shah/Heeba Shah, Sayan Mukherjee/Saahil Vaid, Bhavna Pani. Faisal Rashid, Trishla Patel/Prerna Chawla/Jaya Virrley
Produced by Jairaj Patil
English Play- 2 Hrs
Posted on Sep 06, 2018
Experimental Theatre – Plays
Time: 01 Sep to 30 Sep 2018 – 07:00 PM
(No shows on Monday 3rd, 10th, 17th & Sunday, 23rd)
Location: NCPA, NCPA Marg, Nariman Point, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400021, India
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.