Chef and theatre personality Arjun Sajnani believes that not everything can be adapted to the Indian context, and his most recent production Venus in Fur, currently pulling crowds at Ranga Shankara, connects with the audience despite its western context.
Thomas Novachek, a writer-director essayed by Nakul Bhalla, has just finished auditions for Venus in Fur, a play which he has adapted from Austrian writer Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s novella of the same title, published in the late 1800s. He’s disappointed with the 40 or so actresses who audition for the role of Wanda and feels that they are lacking in femininity. He is all set to return home to his ‘significant other’ when...enter Vanda, played by Susan George. She manages to convince him to read with her, not failing to mention that she’s very nearly a namesake of the character. She even gets him to consider playing the part of Severin von Kushemski, an artist who is fascinated by female dominance, and begs to be Wanda’s slave. Despite seeming ‘incredibly stupid’ as he calls her later, he is impressed by her performance.
Sajnani is supposed to have found his Wanda without hassle unlike the writer-director in the play — Susan brought him the script and asked if he would like to take it up, and he had already worked with Nakul in his previous production, A Man for All Seasons. But it’s hard to imagine a better-picked cast.
There are no changes of sets (by Jairam) in the meta-theatrical production; it is enacted in Thomas’ office — exposed brick, with three tables and chairs around them, a pipe running into the middle of the room. While the set is incredibly realistic, elements of the supernatural creep into the narrative.
Although it touches upon several issues and pushes the audience to think along lines that you usually wouldn’t, the play doesn’t seek to explain itself. Yes, some dialogues can make you gasp, but the performance will hold you rapt and the humour, often dark, aids it along.
Venus in Fur is a bold attempt in more ways than one: it has the actress changing on stage, playing bits dressed in her corset lingerie; it has the actors switching accents — Indian, American, European — and characters flawlessly, making it seem absolutely effortless. And after over an hour of each actor in the play going back and forth, dictating terms to the other, Vanda the actress becomes the dominant of the pair and gets the writer to play the part of Wanda, while he is on his knees, begging to be abused.
Four more shows of the play are on at Ranga Shankara — at 3.30 pm and 7.30 pm today and tomorrow.