The make-shift stage is dimly lit. Images covered with white piece of cloth start moving in a ghostly manner towards the downstage and remove the piece of cloth. The stage is now brightly lit; music starts playing with distant sounds of a coach being pulled by horses.
This is how Anton Chekhov’s most charming masterpiece “Cherry Orchard” opens on the open lawns of the National School of Drama which was presented by the final year students of the school recently as “Waqt Guzar Jaata Hai” in Hindi. This is for the first time that this lovely dramatic piece is opened with characters dead long back that come back to life to enact their life once again. Is it a post-modernist approach to a classic? Suman Mukhopadhyay, who has directed the play, says that it is post realism because it is not possible to recreate socio-economic conditions that existed during the time of Chekhov (1860-1904). The Russian feudal aristocracy is dead.
As for the Hindi title, this is probably for the first time that “Cherry Orchard” is given this title. The performance text is written by Vandana Vashisht. It appears that Vandana is inspired to name her text “Waqt Guzar Jaata Hai” from the dialogue “Yes, time flies” delivered by Lopakhin, a merchant, who has worked hard to liberate himself from his serfdom and march forward to be in tune with changing times. In fact, the title has a larger perspective. The future belongs to those who work very hard to produce wealth and look forward.
Mukhopadhyay has created enough space for the movements of his cast who mostly indulge in reflecting on their past with a sense of pride and feel bitter about their present plight which is of their own making. They are frequently possessed with the impulse to dance and sing. The orchestra provides support to these characters. One of the male servants indulges in farcical acts in the midst of poignant musings. They have come from Moscow to settle the debt which could only be settled after selling their beautiful and dear cherry orchard which has always remained a thing of beauty for gentry. A tinge of irony and sadness runs through their interactions. We meet an aged servant who has worked for the family all his life and even in his old age thinks all the time of his master. There are two other servants, one female and one male.
Among these there are two pivotal characters — Ranevskaya and merchant Lopakhin. Ranevskaya is the owner of the cherry orchard. She has been reckless both in love and marriages. She has lost her vast ancestral wealth spending impetuously. She is too vulnerable to be financially exploited by her husband. She has lost her only son who was drowned in the river in the estate. She hates this place, she hates the master who taught her son. Now the cherry orchard has to be sold. In utter desperation, she cries, “I was born here, my father and mother lived here and so did my grandfather; I love this house; without the cherry orchard my life has no meaning for me and if it must be sold, then for Heaven’s sake sell me too.”
In contrast, here is Lopakhin who have risen from the ranks of serfs to become a rich merchant. Expressing his anguish, he says his ancestors who worked as serfs for the family were not allowed to enter the kitchen. He proudly declares that he worked very hard and today he is rich enough to help out the family whom his ancestors have served. His condition is that cherry orchard should be cut down to build resorts. The family hardly gives serious thought to his sane advice.
The director and his cast create tense atmosphere on the stage. The elegantly conceived choreography, soul stirring music and subtle lighting effects create an ambience that reveals the inner world of these characters, their thwarted hopes and doomed sense about their uncertain future. At places, the director resorts to farce which tends to be incongruous with Chekhovian aesthetics which exudes tender, poignant and restraint kind of humour with a tinge of irony.
Despite the gloomy future that awaits Ranevskaya and her extended family, the play ends with a ray of hope illustrated through the characters of Anya and Trofimov. Brimming with joy looking out from a window to the vast world outside the house, Trofimov says, “Welcome, new life!” Every member of the cast lives its character. Debashree Chakraborty as Ranevskaya captures the shattered world of her character, imparting to her portrayal sensitivity, emotional depth and feeling of repentance. Ankur Saxena Bashar’s performance as rich Lopakhin is admirable. Parag Barua’s old servant is the relic of feudal era. Rachna Gupta as maid Dunyasha reveals the yearning of young woman for love.