Palpasa Cafe is getting a houseful of spectators and it’s news because it has rarely happened in the Nepali theatres recently.
But, the news comes to me with some frustration as watching the play was not a pleasing experience.
According to the Mandala Theatre, where the play based on the Madan Puraskar-winning novel is being staged, the show has been “houseful” from day one. Like all other days, the show on Thursday last week also received a houseful of spectators. The tickets were already sold out more than an hour ago.
It did not frustrate me. Rather, the mismanagement of the theatre and subsequent delay in beginning the show was the cause. Waiting so long for the show to get started ruined my excitement.
But, the frustration did not last long; as soon as the performance of Palpasa Cafe was so good that I realised why it invited so much footfall.
The surprising start
As the Palpasa Cafe begins, two Maoist commanders walk to the centre of the auditorium, look around, and in a hair-raising tone say, “Halla nagarnu, sankatkal chalirako chha” [Don’t make noise, there is a state of emergency going on].
The light turns down and the entire hall goes dark. Drums roll and the choirs melodiously start singing the song, “Lamppost muni aago tapi raheka chhan naniharu/ Yugau dekhi chha jado…” [Under the lamppost, children are warming themselves with fire / there is cold for a long]. The song, beautifully accompanied with guitar and harmonica, sounds revolutionary, concerned with the future of children.
The theatre is still dark, two masked characters come in the middle of the stage and keep changing their masks with each other. That looks very strange. And, now, there is the sound of gunfire and bombs. The background sounds being played clearly depict there is a situation of war. And all of a sudden, the play takes you to a bar that is somewhere around Goa. But yet, the hall is still dark. Again the play features another song, Norwegian Wood, by The Beatles. Now, the lights turn on and the protagonist Palpasa, acted by Shristi Shrestha, appears on the stage, in a beautiful red dress with a bottle of beer.
[The audience shouts there.]
Likewise, a little bit far, on the opposite side to Palpasa, another protagonist, Drishya, an artist, acted by Bimal Subedi, who is also the director of the play, is seen.
Shrestha has done an excellent job in her expressions.
The art of expression
Palpasa Cafe is an adaptation of Narayan Wagle’s masterpiece with the same title. With the script written by Suraj Subedi, the play depicts various situations around Nepal’s civil war. If someone is unaware of the war, watching Palpasa Cafe can enlighten them.
It shows how the schoolchildren were made to join the Maoist military and how their parents used to be threatened by the Maoists. Likewise, it also shows how creative minds like artists used to be threatened to join the Maoist camp.
Most of the actors in the drama have done an incredible job. Especially when it comes to dialogue delivery, they have done something that every theatregoer would expect from the performer. Those dialogues can make you laugh and cry at the same time.
The conversion between Sani Phuchchi (Purnima Acharya) and Drishya makes the whole auditorium full of joy. Sani Phuchchi, the curious and jolly child, is a gem of the show. But, the conversation between Drishya and Hajuraama (the grandmother of Palpasa), acted by Sangita Thapa, is so deep that it creates a very emotional atmosphere in the auditorium.
All this was made possible only due to the well-delivered dialogues.
The perfect presentation
Palpasa Cafe also features the voiceover and images in the background. The voiceovers are incorporated to exhibit the feelings of the protagonist. This is something that is usually not seen in other plays in Nepal.
The makers must be appreciated for the presentation part. They have put a huge effort into the presentation. There are many elements used in the play to symbolically represent different aspects of the war. For instance, in one of the scenes, the artist has produced the sound of explosions and gunfires by rubbing and popping the balloons.
There are various places in the setting in the play. It takes you to the bar, a traditional house and an art gallery. But, amid the show, there is a setting where a plethora of plates is continuously falling onto the stage. That scene of Palpasa Cafe can intensely draw your attention. It symbolises the tensions created during wartime.
Palpasa Cafe as the play entirely has so many scenes that all of them cannot be put in this review. It will be better if you witness all of them on your own. Overall, the play is wonderfully presented. Undoubtedly, it has given justice to the Wagle’s magnum opus.
Palpasa Cafe will run through May 8 at 5:00 pm every day at Mandala Theatre, Thapagaun. There will be an additional show on Saturday at 1:00 pm.