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An empty mug

Memories are the greatest gift and also heaviest of burden. A dry flower in a dear book, an album of old pictures, outdated greeting cards; a sea-shell can be like time machines. A song or a movie, a road, a lane, a city sticks on indefinitely. People insist on using the same pen in every examination, carrying the same bag for every interview or have coffee in the same mug silver, red or blue. Memories are forever.

Ballantine’s The Blue Mug (directed by Atul Kumar, staged at G.D. Birla Sabhagar) was about memories and its loss. The play was inspired by The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, a collection of clinical essays, by Oliver Sacks. While Konkona Sen Sharma and Ranvir Shourie were the only people seem to have come out of the case histories by Sacks, Rajat Kapoor, Vinay Pathak, Sheeba Chaddha and Munish Bharadwaj played themselves on stage.

Having put together brightest of stars of the silver screen, the auditorium was packed with people on the rainy evening of Saturday. However, after 75 mins of star-gazing it makes one wonder what is so special about the play? Frankly, nothing. Ranvir Shourie, who played the part of a patient is stuck in 1983, was both good and bad for the play. Good because he made audiences wait for his reappearance and bad since his excellent performance made other characters look pathetically boring. Konkona, portraying the character of Oliver Sacks, to our dismay, was nothing more than a doll on stage. Vinay certainly came as a relief with his ‘characterless character’. His memory of a circus joker who could spit with his eyes paved way for something better to come and that left us disappointed even more at the end.

Almost all of Atul Kumar’s plays are noteworthy. He is a marvelous actor himself. He calls The Blue Mug “a true reflection of experimental theatre as a force to reckon with.” For how long are we going call talking to the fourth wall (of stage) experimental?

There were no props used during the play. The play is named The Blue Mug for no particular reason. It’s just a point of reminiscence in everybody’s lives. The idea behind all the actors, apart from Konkona and Ranvir, playing themselves on stage was to juxtapose a person who has no memory and four people whose memories are their gift and experience. We wouldn’t have made out that the director intended to contrast the situation, by watching the play alone, had he not told us that before. They were more like just two separate acts in the play.

The actors walked in and narrated their memories, some funny some bitter. But it didn’t register. They floated past like a haze of meaningless monologues. The stage settings and the lights imparted a similar misty feeling to the play. Music was unnecessary and using the same track before (while waiting for 40 minutes for the play to start) and during the play made it quite monotonous.

William Osler had said that to talk of diseases is a sort of Arabian Nights entertainment. The Blue Mug was watchable only because of its actors. Imagine less known faces playing the role, perhaps one wouldn’t have gone to watch it. The Blue Mug was empty.

Soma Basu

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