“Guards At The Taj”

A Review By Avijit Sarkar

The play “Guards At The Taj” written by Pulitzer Prize nominee Rajiv Joseph and staged at the Monkey Baa Theater on Sunday 9th December, was a production from Heart & Soul Productions and was directed by Jyotsna Sharma.

It was another feather in the cap of Heart & Soul Productions and a great evening of theater for me on many fronts. The first and foremost was the fact that it was “different”. I have been saying this for a long time now that Sydney audiences (in our communities) need to be exposed to different forms of theater and that we need to start moving away from the age-old themes and theatrical styles. “Guards At The Taj” has successfully done this. The theme was thought-provoking and the direction was admirable, to say the least. Directing and acting in play with minimal cast and props are hard tasks – both for the director and the actors.

The acting was, to be honest, well beyond my expectations. The two characters (played by Rushi Dave and Akshat Gupta) held the attention of the audience till the very end. The script was crisp and the dialogues were executed with first-rate finesse and perfect “timing”, as is required from good actors. It was especially impressive because both Rushi and Akshat have not had a lot of experience as actors. The excellent acting by Akshat and Rushi, and their voice projections kept up with contemporary techniques where subtlety and underplaying a role is much more important than melodrama, overacting and loudness (that we often see in many productions in our communities). That in itself is a huge leap forward. Also, it might be interesting to note that this was a “first time” for them with English language on commercial stage – a difficult feat because most ethnic migrants do tend to “think” in their mother tongue; a fact that escapes the attention of many in the audience.

Although Jyotsna has had over 15 years of experience on stage as a commercial actor on stage in Delhi and Mumbai, this was her directorial debut. However, she showed excellent talent as a director which was extremely encouraging for me and, I am sure, for everyone in the audience. I am hoping that she gives us more such productions in the future.

Satyajit Ray once said that music is not always essential for film and theater but, when used, should conform to the plot. I was very happy with the music style that Jyotsna introduced (as a live performance by the very talented Shaun Premnath ). It was subtle and just right for the environment. I am personally quite tired of listening to constant loud music in some theater productions that are repetitive and quite meaningless in the context of the plot. Silence sometimes speaks much louder than words (music, in this case) and this was very evident in the music used for this production.

It is good to have an avant-garde approach in the creative arts but I see no point in creating something so abstract that it is hard for the viewer to even fathom the central theme. Lighting technique used in a play is one such tool. At this production, the background projection replacing the traditional huge props and the clever use of spot lights were perfect (and I say this particularly, because in certain “modern” productions, the underuse of lights has made it difficult for me to sit through the entire play).

All in all – it was a wonderful production from Heart & Soul Productions. Great venue, excellent script, admirable direction and very intuitive acting. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the other members of the team – Taufeeq Ahmed (assistant director), Tushar Bose (lights), Kamal Krishna (sound), Abdul Sajwani (projections), Avantika Tomar and Hemal Joshi (production). Hopefully, production houses like Heart & Soul Productions (who are now known for their quality) and directors like Jyotsna Sharma, will usher in more such fresh ideas and innovative histrionic styles for their upcoming theater productions.