The Company Theatre’s ‘Aaeen’: Cavorting the Constitution

This contemporary nautanki-styled production is multilingual in its sensibility, inviting us to a song and dance that seeks to reaffirm the grand ideas of our Constitution.


IN a time and day when the Constitution (Aaeen in Urdu) is being invoked like never before, The Company Theatre’s eponymous production makes for a lively and spirited show. Unfolding in a series of little stories, this musical has an exhilarating quality about it.

Though its accent is more firmly rooted in North India, it is multilingual in its sensibility, inviting us to a song and dance that seeks to reaffirm the grand ideas of our Constitution. Besides, its Urdu choice of word for the title underlines our composite culture that travels beyond the exclusionist idea of ‘Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan’.

Sarah Mariam’s story, Aaj Shahani Hai Raat, about a curious wedding with an absent groom, is the thread that binds the show. It intervenes between the other stories: Kala Akshar Bhains Barabar (by actor, screenwriter and lyricist Amitosh Nagpal), Pashu (by writer, director and dancer Purva Naresh) and Desh Drohi Akshar (by writer, stand-up comedian and poet Varun Grover).

Also read: Opinion | Art, the final ‘illusion’ of freedom

Kala Akshar Bhains Barabar focuses on the strongman politician of humble beginnings. No guesses here. The “chat-pakodewala” finds himself in a live show. It is this outing in a studio set-up that the writer uses as a springboard to offer a satirical commentary on the politics of the day, ranging from hate to subversion. Somewhere there is a book with big ideas of life, liberty, freedom and equality, but quicksilver politics has very little time for it.

In Pashu, a Muslim couple working as farm labourers and watching over their master’s field at night, has visions of herds of an animal they can no longer name. Their only hope is to drive the creatures away with twigs set to fire to protect the field. It is a thankless task, but they have no choice than to be vigilant and on edge at the same time. The animal consumes their entire being with no respite in sight. No guesses, again.

In the last story, Desh Drohi Akshar, a stand-up comedian makes the rounds of courts on charges of the seditious content of her standup acts. It is decidedly farcical in its tone and performance.

All three stories will be instantly recognizable in their themes. Eventually, in the intervening story Aaj Shahani Raat Hai, the bride reveals a most unlikely groom.

Grover had played a prominent role in the nation-wide protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. His poem Hum Kaagaz Nahi Dikhayenge had become popular in these protests. In this production, his story Desh Drohi Akshar alludes to the contempt proceedings that were initiated at the Supreme Court against standup comedian Kunal Kamra. Even now, Kamra’s shows continue to be cancelled, fearing reprisals from Hindutva groups.

Also read: Kunal Kamra refuses to apologize to SC for his tweets; says no defence needed for jokes

The kernel of the idea in this production is laudable, but the written word is short-lived and underwhelming in this merry-making enterprise. Of course, no one expects an academic thesis in a show. Yet, without giving in to the obvious and the superficial, the exercise might have been more stimulating and reflective without falling into the trap of tokenism.

Perhaps one might be more forgiving of the clichés given the highly energised and synchronized performances by the ensemble in their individual roles and as a chorus.  The young actors are sharp and skilled, and yet, because of the nature of the enterprise that is fast and quick, they are only as good as the text they embody. In this instance, the performative aspect overrides pretty much everything else.

This said, the production must be watched. The Company Theatre’s founding director Atul Kumar’s direction is crisp. The set design largely comprises chairs that go with the movement and the flow as the ensemble makes its transitions. The lights are suitably designed to highlight the scintillating vibes. The recorded music is eclectic in its revolutionary strains, while the live music enhances this contemporary nataunki-styled production, paying its salaams to the Constitution of India. 

Click here to view a trailer of the theatre production Aaeen.