This month Akanksha Gupta reviews Bijon Mandal's 'Pi - In Search of God's Name'. The views expressed in this article are those of the author. You are welcome to agree, disagree or comment by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Exploring innocent existential questions in a young boy’s life, Pi – In search of God’s Name is a children’s musical, abounding in lively imagination and steadfast humour. Inspired from Yann Martel’s 2002 Man Booker Prize winning novel Life of Pi, the play is a quirky mix of emotions, action and adventure. Pi is a fictitious tale that originates in Pondicherry and ends up on a lifeboat in the Pacific Ocean. And while the play tackles some longstanding questions about god and religion from the point of view of a child, it takes you on an unexpected journey of survival. Son of a zookeeper, Pi leads an almost mundane life of a youngster. He is intrigued by the concept of god but finds himself all too confused and from within the cacophony of religious propagandas emerges his need to independently look for God’s real name. But a lot changes when his family decides to move to Canada. Caught in a raging storm, the ship in which the family is traveling along with some of the animals from the zoo sinks. Marooned with only a zebra, hyena, tiger and an orangutan for company, the boy spends next several days fighting for survival and in the process discovers a lifetime of answers.
A dash of realism to a perfectly fictitious story makes it unbelievably believable for the wandering mind. The play is a commendable attempt by director Bijon Mandal at simplifying Martel’s content and redesigning it for stage. Though not the most refined adaptations the play partially manages to re-characterize itself for kids. And while a speck of humour keeps the audience tickled, bouts of philosophy keep them thinking. The message of ‘Love is God’ is an interesting insight that evolves in Martel’s writing, the realization is however not as profound in the play. A mixed narrative, dialogues in the play could do with a little more wit.
What extends life into an abruptly jumping script are zestful performances especially those by Ishaan, Saurabh and Kanak. The complex tapestry of a young boy’s mind beautifully unfolds as all the three actors become Pi. An interesting theatrical device used by Bijon (possibly confusing for children). Brilliant performances by Dharmendra, Dilip, Bali and Ashish who play the energy packed roles of zebra, hyena, tiger and orangutan respectively, coupled with well designed choreography add excitement and pace to the otherwise sluggish second half. There is no doubt the play manages to create a fearsome, surreal mood as it moves along but somewhere down the line it ceases to be fun, causing a disconnect with it target audience, children.
However what does lure the children is the high voltage music played out live by a young fusion band ‘Translucent’. Another interesting choice by the director. Sporting western sensibilities the music done by Gopal Tiwari is upbeat and full of life. Beautiful and meaningful lyrics make the journey into Pi’s life a thoughtful and emotional one. Interesting sound effects also done live contribute inadvertently to the play’s overall energy. Set against a neutral backdrop the set design immaculately balances out and adapts to the modulating energies and moods of the play. The ship designed by Dhanendra Kawade extends a sense of mystery to the whole ambience and on occasions modifies as Pi’s home and a school classroom. Dressed in creatively designed lights the eerie Pacific Ocean and the exuberance of Pi’s optimism both wonderfully come alive. All in all the play definitely leaves an impression and hopefully with a few more shows and changes in the future, it will become an everlasting one.