A Motley production, Ratna Pathak Shah‘s directorial debut A Walk in the Woods is an interesting tale of how two diplomats – one Indian and the other Pakistani – form a seemingly impossible friendship.

Naseeruddin Shah essays the role of the often extravagant and seemingly churlish Pakistani diplomat, Jamaluddin Lutfullah. His Indian counterpart, Ram Chinappa, a no-nonsense negotiator, is played by Rajit Kapur. Jamaluddin is the charismatic, easy-going politician who, with his gift of the gab, can charm anyone into believing him. With his Italian suit and impeccable sense of style, Shah’s portrayal will leave a lasting impression on you. Chinappa, on the other hand, is a strict South Indian, who plays the defensive, straightforward Indian negotiator who takes no prisoners.

Hilarity ensues when Jamal and Ram meet in Geneva for a peace conference. Instead of sitting across a table, at the request of Jamal, they both decide to take a walk in the woods, where they try to reach a diplomatic settlement. However, Jamal has no interest in talking policy and wants nothing to do with the problems of either country. Chinappa is only interested in one thing – Getting what his superiors want. The crux of the story lies in the struggle between both diplomats, and how they end up forming a strong friendship.

The play is replete with flawless histrionics by both Kapur and Shah. In one scene, Jamal diverts from discussing trade policy and tells Chinappa to have a ‘frivolous’ conversation with him, asking him if he has ever slept with a Bollywood starlet. Both actors effortlessly portray their characters with finesse and superlative dialogue. However, the play isn’t all fun. It examines the strained history of two nations, how time has affected both and what lies ahead, not just for India and Pakistan, but for Jamal and Ram. The stage design is sparse, since the play is set in the woods. However, the lighting is commendable, with exceptional day and night settings. Sound is acceptable as well, but the highlight of the audio department are two of Vishal Bhardwaj‘s poems, sung by Rekha Bhardwaj.

The play’s only flaw is its length. At times, A Walk in the Woods tires you with unnecessary dialogue. However, it is engaging, all thanks to Jamal’s wry humour and the development of an unlikely friendship between the two. Some may feel at the outset that Rajit Kapur may be shadowed by Shah’s commanding acting, but that is not the case. Both deliver superlative performances and complement each other brilliantly. All in all, Ratna Pathak Shah’s directorial debut shines in more ways than one.

By Karan Raikar

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