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Tuesday, December 17, 2013


(Pranesh Maharaj)

Mainly in Hindi, this play showcases Pranesh Maharaj’s extensive talents. (Review by Caroline Smart)

The one-man drama piece, Bhagwan Gave Me This Life currently running at Catalina Theatre, is performed by Pranesh Maharaj. It is directed by Vivian Moodley with support from Bassy Bhola, both of whom appeared at Catalina Theatre in Quarter Beans Bru earlier in the year.

All three are highly competent theatre-makers and this is why I agreed to review the play to the best of my abilities. My initial reservations were due to the fact that I am not conversant in Hindi so therefore much of the play was beyond my grasp.

While being fascinated by my exposure to the language, my response to the text was diminished. However, my visual sense certainly was not. It allowed me to watch Pranesh Maharaj, a highly talented actor I have worked with in stage and radio productions, give his all as the character of Balram who we meet at a major turning point in his existence.

Set in 1981 in Inanda, the story is about a widower who looks back on his life with its high and low points. He has formed a relationship with a bird who he feeds and we first see him calling it and preparing breadcrumbs. Fortunately for me, Balram assumes that the bird may understand English as well as Hindi and therefore enlightenment for me came through these one-way conversations!

I am well aware of Maharaj’s talents but this production offers the chance for him to showcase them all. Enacting certain scenes from his memory, he shows his versatility in speech and body language, often breaking into song while using a paint tin as a drum or dancing in true cultural fashion. An accomplished storyteller, he runs the gamut of emotions from engaging joviality, forceful command or drunkenness to uncertainty, poignant tenderness or devastated grief. It all leads up to a dramatic ending.

The play was written by Vivian Moodley and forms part of a long-term programme by Polart Productions to open the process for others to write in the vernacular, whether Hindi, Urdu or Tamil as well as English, Afrikaans, isiZulu or Xhosa. This is a valuable (and educational) glimpse into the past of the Indian community in KZN and a production that should be seen on a wider circuit.

The audience at last night’s opening responded with delight to the humour and the play clearly resounded among the many who closely remembered the times and the issues involved.

Designed by Reasha Maharaj with support from Sandra Maharaj, the set is highly effective using a photographic process to create the outside of a humble home.

The performance was marred by sound and lighting problems but hopefully, these will be fixed for the rest of the run.

Bhagwan Gave Me This Life runs until December 22 at Catalina Theatre on Wilson’s Wharf. Booking is at Computicket. – Caroline Smart