Thook, meaning spit, written by Sandeep Shikhar and Iravati Karnik, devised by the Indian Ensemble and directed by Abhishek Majumdar, is a play on food, trade and the prevalence of hunger in India. The play comprises of four short stories bound by a single theme, presented in documentary style. From the Bengal famine of 1943 to the aftermath of neo-liberal economic reforms, the play goes on to depict the one single theme of hunger and poverty in India from different perspectives.
8 other plays on the same theme have been commissioned by SchauSpielHaus, Hamburg in other countries, but what makes Thook different is the idea ‘thook’ itself. Instead of evoking pity among the audience, the play focuses on the humiliation hunger brings with itself. Both self humiliation and the humiliation the impoverished are subjected to by the affluent. May it be smearing turmeric on utensils during lean times, in a desperate bid to protect one’s family from the humiliation that society reserves for the hungry; or Winston Churchill swearing at his Indian cook; or the question that haunts the play through out – ‘kaise insaan ho tum? apna pet nahi bhar sakte?’ Here ‘bhookh’ is sidelined by ‘thook’ for the hungry.
The research and writing behind the play, and the performances by the actors are superior. Notably Ashwini Chakre plays a student from Burkina Faso visiting India or Abhinav Kimothi as a 8 year old child trapped in a godown for 19 days depict the helplessness and desperation of the hungry. On the other hand, Irawati Karnik playing a commodity broker living in her own utopia, or Gopal Dutt Tiwari playing Churchill’s butler during WW2 (and the great Bengal famine) go on to depict the indifference, ignorance and complacency of the better-off. Faezeh Jalali swaps roles seamlessly; from playing viceroy Wavell, to an old philosophical grave digger, an obstinate ad specialist and a young girl battling hunger. The reading of letters by the victims of Bengal famine, or enacting P Sainath delivering one of his signature speeches on inequality help set the context right for the numerous sub plots.
However, a tighter script could have helped the plot. Some conversations were long with very little abstraction and take away, while some scenes leave the audience craving for much more. For example, a scene where Iravati, playing a commodity broker, confronts a policeman claiming innocence for the food inflation, leaves the audience bewildered. While the scenes that precede and follow it loop around the same idea of utopia and her cat being lost. Similarly, the last sub plot directed towards India’s imperialist ambitions in Africa is direct and at a lower level of abstraction, when compared to the rest of the play. The other sub-plots are picture perfect.
In a postmodern way, the play is highly self aware. The makers know their target audience – the urban elite – and hits the right chords with its dark humor. Its a rare play, on a common theme, presented in new light. With the amount of research that has gone in and the diversity of perspectives it offers, and with the talented array of performers – ‘Thook’ stands out as one the best plays of recent times.