Ibsen festival : People’s enemy strikes a chord


The atmosphere at Gurukul was ‘festive’: audience waiting eagerly for one of the Gurukul saathis to ring the bell announcing that it’s time to enter the auditorium for yet another performance, snippets of conversations in Nepali, English, Bengali fill the air, volunteers sporting the Gurukul tee-shirts with the volunteer’s card hanging from their necks run here and there busy with the last minute preparations.

November 2 marked the second day of the Ibsen Theatre Festival that is being held in Kathmandu to mark Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s death centennial.

The day saw the staging of Jan Shatru (An Enemy of the People) by Shailnat, a theatre group from Dehradun, India and directed by Shrish Dobhal.

This play perhaps proves without a doubt why Ibsen is revered as the father of modern drama. The play written more than 125 years ago is understandable even today, with the issues that Ibsen raised then still relevant even in the 21st Century.

This was the very reason that he picked the play for the festival, said director Dobhal.

The play is about an honest man’s quest to do what is right for the good of the people. The water in a tourist resort which has a health centre is poisoned with pesticides and the protagonist wants to make the people — locals and tourists — aware of this danger. He takes the help of a publisher and an editor to get this message to the people. However, at a single gesture of the powers that be, all these supporters turn on the protagonist and label him ‘an enemy of the people’.

As pointed out in the interaction following the performance, the message of the play that a strong man can go against the current and still stand strong, does not come through as clearly as it should. What comes through is that an honest voice is and will always be silenced

by those who are in power.

With a minimum of props, the play moves on the strength of the performance of the actors — Mr President and Mr Hovstad are very believable, while the audience is moved by Dr Stockmann’s naivety. Catherine tends to be a little too unnatural in her gestures, though her movements could have been a lot more natural. Though he had perhaps seven minutes on stage in the hour-long play, the actor portraying Catherine’s father was by far the most natural actor on stage.

Though the play was in Hindi, the names of the characters were not changed as director Dobhal said An Enemy of the People is so universal and relevant even today, that there was absolutely no need to “localise” the characters as such.

Perhaps that is the reason why most of the performances at the festival are on this play

of Ibsen. November 3 will see yet another performance of the same play — Deshdrohi — to be performed in Bengali by Ritwik Theatre, West Bengal, India. Once at Gurukul, don’t forget to visit the art exhibition at Bhajman Kala Kotha for Uttam Nepali’s shades and Shashi Shah’s

‘Thinking Buddha and the Terrorist’.