Being flagged amongst the “5 Lost Hitchcocks”, the film based on Hamilton’s renowned play Rope went on to be a masterpiece shot in ten takes with a few edits. The play that was written in 1929 and which later became a series in 1938 and subsequently a motion picture in 1948, was Hamilton’s first theatrical hit. The play garnered massive response in its time and still continues to amuse theater aficionados.
A Stagecraft Theater Production of Nagpur presented a re-enactment of the play at NCPA’S Centrestage Festival. Recreating a masterpiece which is a challenge in itself was taken up and given its due justice by the team. Keeping the story constant, the play was molded to suit the Indian audience with a few changes in the characters and the settings.
Here’s a look at how a fresh take on Rope bagged a standing ovation from the audience:
Story & Settings
The story which was based on a perfect murder committed by two Engineering students doesn’t change. What changes, is their names and settings.
The story is set in the Vidya Nagari of Maharashtra – Pune – ripe and rich in culture, education and art. Indianizing the play by adding a touch of Marathi and Hinglish can be counted as a significant contribution.
With a screech of Rohan Jagdale, the story takes off. From the darkness emerge two silhouettes who are happy to have accomplished a feat of committing a ‘motiveless, fearless, bloodless murder… perfect murder.’ Their motive of murder lies in vanity, vanity of being superior and intelligent than their peer Rohan. Baldev and Arnab have killed a guileless yet an inferior human for which they will be pardoned by the court of law.
Just like its predecessors, the play’s plot is based on Nietzsche’s Superman Theory. The conversation amongst the characters rightly places the theory in its stead.
The characters play an important part in this play, particularly the characters of the murderers and the professor (who detects the crime). The other characters that come over for the party too have a vital role to play in this act.
Hamilton’s characters of the two murderers Brandon and Granillo have become Arnab (Nandan Majumdar) and Baldev (Varun Vij). Rupert Candell, a retired army officer, a poet by choice and the one who solves the murder mystery has become Colonel Riyaz Khan (Vikash Khurana). Sir Johnstone Kentley has been replaced by Mr. Jagdale (Rohan’s father played by Anurag Kulkarni). Whereas, the other characters of Leila Arden and Kenneth Raglan have become Gauri Karnik (Anamika Sawarkar) and Aditya Patwardhan (Anuj Hamilton). Who misses in this play is Mrs. Debenham, sister of Sir Johnstone Kentley. However, the play makes it up by the candid conversations between the characters present.
The play isn’t a whodunit play where the murderer is unknown; it is a play which sheds light on the psyche of the murderers. It explores the idea of morality. The play shows variations in the beliefs of the characters; on one hand there is Baldev who is hysterical after having committed a heinous crime, while on the other hand is Arnab who is completely at ease, rather excited to have done the task without much effort. Baldev’s character, although loud and cranky, sets the mood of the play and adds thrill to it.
Vikash Khurana does a phenomenal job as a retired Army officer with a muse for literature. The character emerges insightful as he points out that murderers are being ‘stupid and conceited’ if they think that placing a trunk carrying a corpse as a dining table will save them from being tagged as criminals.
Design & Dialogues
Much like the mother play, this play too is set in the ambiance of a drawing room with a trunk in its midst. The trunk carries the dead body of Rohan Jagdale who has been strangled to death by Baldev and Arnab. The bags have been packed and kept aside as Arnab and Baldev intend to move to Panchghani that very night. To toast for their college times, the two friends throw a party. Drinks and dinner has been laid on the trunk which will be used as a dining table for the evening party. Gauri, Aditya, Riyaz Khan and Mr. Jagdale are the guests invited for dinner.
What’s remarkable in the play is the exchange of words between the characters. Be it the conversation that takes place between Gauri and Baldev about the contents of the trunk or the conversation between Gauri and Colonel Riyaz about slaughtering inferior beings. The background score of the play does little to add to the suspense but the dialogues steal the show. Riyaz Khan’s poetic nuances have been very well brought out with his speeches.
The ticket of play which is owned by the deceased and is an important evidence of the crime is lousily handled by the criminals which then lands in Khan’s hands. Furthermore, the rope which is THE main prop of the play becomes symbolic of good and evil. The rope, with which Jagdale is strangled, later acts an aid for Mr. Jagdale to pack the stack of books Arnab wishes to give away for Mr. Jagdale’s collection.
The play uses some important elements which takes the play to its climax.
Initially, it is a phone call. When Professor Khan calls Baldev, he hears a panic-stricken voice. Add to that, Baldev’s odd behavior throughout the evening, especially his shivering hands while handing him a glass of whiskey.
Then it is the heated argument about a rope between Baldev and Arnab that Khan overhears.
Then it is a play ticket which Khan retrieves from Baldev’s pocket. Baldev denies having any interest in theater and plays which further increases Khan’s suspicion.
Khan’s belief becomes strong as he recalls Arnab’s obsession with trunks full of carcasses.
These 75-minute long play with no intermission grips the audience till the very end with the dialogues and activities taking place on the stage, so much so that it gets a standing ovation from the audience. It certainly does have voids that put off the best in it, however, the efforts of the team show.
For those who have not seen Hitchcock’s simulation of the play, will find this piece of work quite entertaining.