“Mela” – Play Review

Naatak theater company was started in 1995, by a bunch of students at the University of California, Berkeley and Stanford University.  Naatak has grown into the largest India and Indian themed theater company in the US and has brought bold and exciting performances on stage for 20+ years.

This theater season, Naatak brought exciting works of prominent writers like Satyajit Ray, Anton Chekhov, Dorothy Parker, A. R. Gurney Jr., Susan Glaspell, Lucille Fletcher, Tina Howe, and Slawomir Mrozek, wrapped in the flavor of India’s linguistic and cultural diversity, in the marathon performance, “Mela”.  

Mela features short skits by classic writers, and yet it is a bold new experiment because each short riveting performance is staged in quick succession, in one of India’s several regional languages.   The audience can keep up with beautifully timed supertitles.  

“Sorry, wrong number” is performed in Tamil where a disabled woman stumbles upon a murder plot through crossed phone lines, and tries to get help.  “Here we are”, performed in English shows the hilarious absurdity of a young couple’s fight, on their wedding day”.  While college students’ prank goes horribly wrong in “1 April”, performed in Marathi; a thief comes face to face with the man he stole from years ago, in Barin Bhoumiker Beram, performed in Bengali.

In Punjabi language skit, “The Problem”, a wife tells her husband she is pregnant with another man’s child”, where in “Trifles” performed in Hindi, wife is the prime suspect of a man strangled to death.  In “Teeth”, performed in Telugu, hilarious situation unfolds as NTR obsessed dentist meets a hysterical patient.  I enjoyed greatly “The Problem”, performed in Gujarati, where a young man attempts to propose marriage with a feisty young girl.  In “Out at Sea” performed in Haryanvi, three men struggle to identify the parameters on the basis of which they seek to determine the one who might become dinner for the other two, as they are all starving in a life raft, in the ocean.    

Producer Alka Sippy deserves major kudos for this fantastic production.  Veteran Directors Sujit Saraf and Harish Agastya mentored and guided the regional shows.  Scenic designer Snigdha Jain, and Sets team have done a marvellous job of making the set suitable for each performance, using innovative and creative arrangement and re-arrangement of several blocks.  Each of the nine short plays are expertly performed and keep the audience engaged and riveted through the marathon performance.

I would say “Mela” is a not-to-miss play, whether you are from India or not, whether you speak any of the regional languages it features, or not.  This is truly a gala of classic and contemporary, bold and beautiful, literature and linguistic diversity; a true mela of murder plots and mystery, fun and frolic, reflection on values and relief through comedy.  Only four more shows remain.  Get your tickets from www.naatak.org .



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