Point of View - Priti Bakalkar reviews Sunil Shanbag's 'Walking to the Sun'.


Right from the time I read the title of this show, I knew I wanted to watch this new production of Arpana directed by Sunil Shanbag. So when I was told on the Wednesday evening at 7pm that the 9pm show is already sold out (and the earlier show was also running full house), I was really upset. But I waited patiently for any last minute cancellations and finally just when the third bell rang I managed to get tickets for myself and three other friends. And then we had to sit in the aisle on the steps because theatre was packed. But believe me every second of it was totally worth all that wait. No wonder the show ran packed houses for all the five days that it played at Prithvi.

The show was originally produced as a tribute to Rabindranath Tagore for his 150th birth anniversary. It is an interesting mix of fact and fiction. It mixes Tagore’s Daak Ghar with true incidents from life of a Polish doctor Dr. Janusz Korczak.

Daak Ghar tells a story of this small boy Amal who is adopted by his Uncle after the death of his parents. Initially the Uncle is against the idea of adoption but slowly he grows fond of Amal. Amal is terminally ill and is advised by the doctor to stay at home behind the closed doors and not to step out in open. Whereas Dr. Korczak’s story takes place during the time of World War II at the time of Jewish Holocaust. The two stories run in parallel planes in different time zones. One fact and another fiction. It is Amal’s struggle for his existence versus Dr. Korczak’s struggle to bring hope and courage to the lives of these kids from Orphanage as they confront the grim realities of the second world war and the impending Holocaust.

The play draws amazing parallels between the lives of two extremely different individuals. Both attempting to cross the boundaries created around them by circumstances. Amal’s world confined to the window of his room and Doctor is surrounded by the barbed wire fencing! It is all about their struggle to reach out to the world beyond those boundaries.

The play grips us right from the first frame. Satyajit Sharma as Dr. Korczak controls most of the first part of the play. His narration about how the children should be treated with dignity and compassion is quite moving, especially when he makes us hear the thumping heart beats of a scared nine year child in a lecture he is giving. However, no European or that matter no nine year old kid will be so short that the kid will barely reach the height of his knees.

During the first half, while Dr. Korczak’s narrations are long and slow, Amal’s story though grave, keeps you interested in knowing more and more about Amal’s progress. There were times when I thought there was actually no necessity to intertwine the two stories. Daak Ghar per se was very interesting. But somewhere at the end of the first half both the stories started mingling with each other and it started getting more and more interesting and we got dragged in the flow of both the stories and then there was not a moment’s time to look anywhere else. The highpoint of the play was when the two stories actually merged and the Doctor’s journey with the kids thereafter. It was moving. It was exciting. It was absolutely magical. The one point when the Jew doctor and the kids were put in one crowded train compartment by the Nazis to be sent to the gas chamber, lifted the play to absolutely different plane. It was a superlative dramatic experience. Honestly, words are not enough to describe that experience.

Manasi Rachh as Amal was a delight to watch. She played her character with amazing maturity. There was a lot of scope for her character to get melodramatic but I guess the director made sure that she did not go down that path and her infectious smile won hearts of the audience just as easily as Amal won hearts of the people passing by his window. We could actually feel Amal’s longing to explore the world outside his window in her eyes.

Sudhir Pande as Amal’s uncle’s friend was entertaining and so was Jagdish Rajpurohit as Amal’s Uncle. He, very sensitively portrayed the Uncle’s dilemma in binding the small kid to the four walls of the home and depriving him the pleasures of a normal childhood as against trying to control the kid’s failing physical conditions. Other actors supported the main character quite well.

Satyajit Sharma was quite impressive as an old, gritty Polish doctor who knows he is walking towards his end but trying to salvage the situation to the best of his capacity. However, somehow many a times in the first half I felt he had a great influence of Mr. Bachchan’s character in the movie “Black”. Many a times his body language defied the persona he was portraying. But these are all woes of the first half. He was absolutely amazing in the second half.

Now, something on the technical side. The technical team shares equal amount of credit as the actors for this wonderful experience. Without the set (Nayantara Kotian & Vivek Jadhav), light (Hidayat Sami & Sunil Shanbag), sound (Mohandas VP & Sukanta Majumdar), and music (Moushumi Bhowmik), this play would have fallen flat to the ground. The technical side complemented the actors so well. It was just amazing. When the play started with the blue light on the barbed wire fencing and the sound of tankers and soldiers marching, we were immediately transported to the cold, snowy, lonely nights of war laden Europe and this amazing experience continued throughout the journey. If not for the lighting the final scene would not have had played the same magic upon us. It perfectly conveyed what “Walking to the Sun” signified.

It has been one of the most exhilarating experiences for me. I do not know when the next shows are going to be performed but whenever it is going to be, do not miss the opportunity to experience this fantastic show. And do not forget to do an advance booking or be ready to sit in the aisle on the steps. But it would be totally worth it.