ArshiA Sattar
December 2006
Brian Friel’s Translations, universally acknowledged as his masterpiece, is a play ostensibly about language and colonialism, but much more a play about ownership of the past, its erasure and the consequences that has for individuals and for a people. Mallika Prasad and CFD bring their studied production back, this time at Ranga Shankara. There are a few changes in the cast but apparently; other aspects of the production remain much as they were in its first outing last year.
This is a lavish production. Immense care has been taken over costumes and props and there is an elaborate (if not entirely inspired) set. As she must, Prasad goes for an almost hyperrealism of location in time and space. This is play strongly rooted in a historical moment, wherein it draws its authenticity, but it is also a play that resonates well beyond its constructed specificity. In this context, one cannot help but comment on Bangalore’s current engagement with issues of naming and re-naming cities to celebrate 50 years of statehood for Karnataka. Surely this is a felicitous coincidence for the revival of this production and the issues it confronts.
A small community in Ireland is suddenly over run by the army of imperial Great Britain. The regiment not only maintains law and order and collects taxes, but is redrawing maps and anglicizing/standardizing local names. An erudite, drunken scholar, Hugh, runs the local Hedge school where young adults are tutored in Greek and Latin classics as well in the simple business of the three Rs. The Hedge school is under threat from the English school that about to open, a school that ignores the Irish language and Gaelic culture, but promises to bring the little village into the colonial mainstream. The schoolmaster’s son, Owen, returns with the imperial cartographers as a “translator,” working with a linguistic expert, Yoland, to ensure that the name changing is accurate. Yoland finds himself falling in love with Maire, the local girl whose ambitions and needs extend far beyond the little village and the quiet, responsible Manus.
But there is more trouble brewing as the young men of the community begin to take on the imperial army – there are night attacks and skirmishes as the resentment grows. Meanwhile, Yoland is becoming less and less engaged with his official project and more and more inclined towards learning Irish and understanding local culture and mores. Owen, on the other hand, finds himself to be the repository of local oral histories and grows reluctant to erase them with a swish of the pen. Things come to a head when Maire and Yoland leave the village dance together. The next morning, Yoland is missing and Manus, the rejected suitor, decides that he must run away to avoid being suspected of foul play. Now that one of theirs has been “taken,” as it were, the British army unleashes a series of brutal measures, culminating in the razing of the cottages and fields, unless they receive information about Yoland’s disappearance.  The play ends in disarray and a deep and terrifying sense of loss, articulated with heart-breaking dignity by the old school master.
Most of the characters travel an enormous personal distance as the play unfolds and lives are thrown into upheaval, certainties are lost and an entire weltanschauung and a way of being in the world teeters on the edge. Friel’s play is so masterful, so subtle, so layered, so poignant, so elegant with its economy of words and so devastating in its suggested emotions that even amateur college groups would have trouble robbing the play of its acuity. Fortunately, with Prasad’s production, we are not called upon to speculate overly on how Translations might have looked in more experienced and competent hands.
Prasad does well by her actors – she allows them latitude and depth and no one takes better advantage of that than Prakash Belawadi as Hugh, the drunken schoolmaster. Rather than merely embody the complex words written for Hugh, who is the moral centre of the play, Belawadi creates a magnificent and memorable character. His Hugh is a weary, saddened seer; burdened (like Borges’ Funes) with the idea that to remember everything is a form of madness. Prasad is at her best in the delicately passionate and sadly ironic scene where Maire and Yoland confess their love for each other in languages that the beloved other does not understand. Prasad’s stage presence is remarkable, she draws the eye, even in a tableau, and the eye is rewarded. Balaji Manohar as Owen is charismatic: as always, his emotions are pitch-perfect, they ring far truer than his sometimes stilted delivery, which matters little when he flashes with an emotional honesty rare on stage. Sanath Kumar provides an endearing Jimmy Jack, Hugh’s companion in inebriation, but also the contrapuntal dreamer whose immense beauty will inevitably perish as the world that he needs to live in gets trampled underfoot. The rest of the cast is competent enough not to take away from the better performances, though the lights (or lack, thereof), and sets disappoint.
As a director, Prasad has courage. She also appears to have the stirring of a genuine confidence in herself as a theatre practitioner and most importantly, she has respect for those with whom she works. Arguably, she will soon bring more to a text than transcription onto the stage -- Bangaloreans (or are we now Bengaluravvas?) can look forward to the privilege of a ringside seat as she continues to grow on and off stage in the city.
Girish Karnad 
Monday, August 9, 2004
I have just returned from seeing an excellent production in Bangalore and  am writing to tell you about it.
As you know, Translations , a play by the Irish playwright Brian Friel, is already acknowledged as one of the major plays of the twentieth century. It deals with how the British systematically destroyed first the Irish geography, then the Irish language and finally the culture itself by substituting English place-names for  Irish ones. Friel turns this great historical saga into a moving tale by weaving in a love story: a brief and inevitably explosive affair between an English soldier and an Irish girl -- who cannot speak each other's language. In fact the extraordinary feature of the play is that it has  characters who  speak only  Irish and know no English and vice versa---yet the whole play is in English, since the Irish tongue has  now entirely disappeared! Friel's handling of this language situation is masterly.
The play has been very sensitively  directed by Mallika Prasad. The Irish characters are played by Indians and the English by Englishmen-- an intelligent casting device. The set is very lovely. Although the  production faces most of the problems faced by amateur productions in Bangalore, it makes for a very moving, very tender evening.
The venue too is new--in the heart of Bangalore. It is the new Centre for Film and Drama on the Fifth floor of Sona Towers, at 71 Milller's Road, very near the junction of Miller's and Cunningham Roads. An intimate theatre, almost reminiscent of Off-Broadway and Off- Westend theatres, seating barely 65 which makes watching the play a delightful experience.
AT 7pm , every evening till the 16th of August.
Personally it is one of the most sensitive evenings I have seen on Bangalore stage and am writing to urge you not to miss it.

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