‘A Walk in the Woods’ Review: Talking India, Pakistan & Peace
It was a full house on Saturday evening in Mumbai. And as I watched Motley’s A Walk in the Woods unfold, my primary sensibility was one of gratitude. First, for the opportunity of getting to watch two of the greatest actors of our times in an excellent production. And second, because the play needs to be performed more than ever in these times of “nationalist” repression. As director Ratna Pathak Shah said at the end of the performance, may be it is works like these that would help us find a way out of the insanity around us.
Adapted by Faisal Rashid and Randeep Hooda from Lee Blessing’s 1988 original, the English play revolves around the conversations between an Indian and a Pakistani diplomat, charged with finding a way to allay the tension between the countries, in Geneva.
If you think you’d be bored into a somnolent stupor by this rather serious theme, think again. The lines, brilliantly written and of course delivered, take the audience on a see-saw ride, laughing out loud one moment and confronting serious questions in the other. And your mind doesn’t stray even for a minute.
The suave, cynical and playful Jamaluddin Lutfullah (Naseeruddin Shah) and the earnest, idealistic Ram Chinappa (Rajit Kapur) embark on a strange journey of discovery - of each other and the bureaucracy they are serving. Even as Ram (almost comically) resists Jamal’s friendly overtures, they muse over their countries’ present and past dealings with each other.
And it throws up some immensely disturbing questions - do we really seek peace? Or is it all nothing and nothing but a charade? As Jamal tells Ram, if they really wanted to broker peace between the two nations, there would be thousands of negotiators/ diplomats and only two soldiers - instead of the opposite.
The play debates about the nuclear arms race, power, hierarchy and hegemony as well as the common man’s misplaced patriotism. History is, as Jamal says, geography over time. And what we do with it is left in the hands of leaders who operate without the semblance of a conscience.
One is left with a complicated emotion of feeling helpless and yet hopeful at the end of the play. Where politics and bureaucracy fails - the play hopes - may be the personal and human can prevail. The closing sequence, where the fussy Ram throws away his shoes and socks to embrace the cold rain as Jamal watches from under an umbrella, especially strikes a deep chord without the use of a single word.
Naseeruddin Shah of course doesn’t surprise any more. You marvel at him and then marvel at him some more. The range he portrays as Jamal - from the playfulness and cynicism to the anger and resignation - leaves one in awe. Rajit Kapur on the other hand turns out one of his finest performances. From his body language and enunciation to grappling with the frustrations and pain of an honest, idealist man - Kapur is superlative.
The stark stage design and excellent lighting works well, but I wish the Vishal Bharadwaj number - sung by Rekha Bharadwaj - was played out better.
A Walk in the Woods is a hugely relevant play in these times where seeking peace and empathy between neighbours has become more urgent than ever. May be a walk in the woods can lead us to discover the path to a better future.