Fan-ning O’er It: Manav Kaul's Chuhal

Posted on 1 February, 2017 by Team Wishberry

Aranya’s Chuhal

Writer, Director: Manav Kaul


Aarti - Sugandha Garg

Sudheer - Manav Kaul

Nimmi - Srishti Srivastava

Aarti’s mother - Padma Damodaran

Actor, writer and director, Manav Kaul returned to stage with Chuhal, produced by Aranya, and boy, that was reason enough to be excited. Manav Kaul had mentioned how he had, for the first time, tried to write from a woman’s perspective. Despite missing the earlier shows, I managed to catch it this time around when it came to Prithvi.

The story is based in the small town of Sitapur in Uttar Pradesh. Sudheer, a school teacher, meets Aarti, working in a private company, as both are seeking a partner to get married to. Both have met a bunch of men and women, and are somewhere tired of the process. Sudheer finds an instant connection with Aarti, and as soon as his mind is about to decide that he should marry Aarti, she tells him that she cannot get married to him. Both keep meeting each other, though, and begin a chuhal, a playful conversation where they switch roles. The story is about how they deal with their feelings in the midst of varied life decisions.

It was the return of Manav Kaul to theatre after 10 years. That is a long time to be gone, but rest assured, he is not out of touch. The opening sequence itself gives you that guarantee. The execution of the opening, where the oppression of women by men and the way men have looked at women symbolically, is sublime. As a writer and director, to have it done that crudely yet subtly, is genius. The writing is supreme, and we expect nothing less from a veteran like Kaul. The dialogues, the flow of the play, the story will have you gripped out of suspense and your instant attachment and connection with the characters. A sign of really good writing.

The swift movement of the play and having the audience eat out of the character’s hands is some achievement in terms of direction. There was a great mix of emotions and humour, both verbal and physical, which only added to the enjoyment. The smooth transitions from scene to scene made for a seamless presentation.

Sugandha Garg is not the most regularly seen actor on stage, but that does not mean she is out of touch. Her portrayal of Aarti was one of the best portrayals of womanhood in recent times. She is beautifully calm, serene, strong, intelligent and a tough decision maker. Caught between being the woman the society wants her to be and being the woman she wants to be, Aarti’s character is a tricky one, but Garg eases into it. So does Manav Kaul with Sudheer. Sudheer is an innocent man, wanting to get married. His transition into someone who understands Aarti’s perspective is the play, and you see it coming slowly, despite everything, from Kaul’s body language and demeanour as Sudheer.

But the character you will enjoy the most is Nimmi, Sudheer’s sister. It is portrayed by Srishti Srivastava, and boy, does she do a wonderful job! Nimmi is the major comic relief in this seemingly intense story. She is the one who eventually gets them together. Srivastava’s carefree attitude as Nimmi is adorable and will surely be enjoyed by audiences every time. It is to Kaul’s credit that he wrote a character which is fun, but not annoying; and of course, Srivastava’s skill brought it to life perfectly well.

The setup is minimalistic, which makes the audience concentrate on the characters and the story more. It doesn’t even need fancy setup, anyway. The play’s strength lies in the performances and the dialogues. The lighting is done with necessity and builds the play as it needs to. Nothing is overdone or underdone in the set and lights department.

Chuhal, as Manav Kaul has said, is a play about the modern woman, and her choices, and how it is upto the males now to accept and embrace that fact. Which, unfortunately, isn’t prevalent in India as much as it should have by now. If you or anyone around you has any confusion about feminism or womanhood in general, this is what you need to watch.

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