Review of Gujarati play Samudra Manthan

By Jayesh Adhyaru

This experimental drama scores on its music, performances, and packaging


You know the expectations are high when well-known playwright Aditi Desai brings a new play. Gujarati audience knows her as the creator of critically acclaimed plays like ‘Kasturba’, ‘Akoopar’ and ‘Agneekanya.’ Now she takes us on the voyage with her new play ‘Samudramanthan.’ It’s somewhat new experience for us to see broadway like singing and dancing clubbed in a play. So, how is the journey? Let’s see.

Love on board

Once upon a time in Gujarat, there was a superstition among kharwa, the sailor community, that you invite misfortunes if take a woman on board. But a young sailor Mithu (Abhinay Banker) was made of a different kind. He takes his wife Kabi (Devaki) on his ship called ‘Rampasa’ dressed as a man. They enjoy each other’s company on board. They sing, dance, make love. But before fellow sailors come to know about Kabi’s real identity, a new secret unfolds. There is an another girl is on the ship. On every occasion, Mithu, the ‘kaptaan’ of the ship, stands firm between justice and injustice, superstition and logic, right and wrong. But what happens when Mithu himself lands into trouble in the middle of the sea? Well, you’ll have to sail yourself for it!

Ship sinks in the middle

The story of ‘Samudramanthan’ is said to be based on the real life kharwasailer-navigator couple Mithu-Kabi of the 1940s. The first thing that captures your attention in the auditorium is a majestic ship on the stage. This grand ship stands out among all dry, fake and artificial looking sets we have been seeing so far. Art directors SubhashAshar and SatishSuthar have created the ship with great details. You can see masts, steering wheel, stairs, handrail, an earthen pot filled with real water, jute bags, even lifeboat too. The ship named ‘Rampasa’ looks so lively that it has almost become a major character in the play. If you take the ship as a metaphor of a horse, it refuses to move ahead in the absence of its master. But yes, the set doesn’t move or changes, thus, the whole atmosphere becomes a little claustrophobic.

The strongest facet of the play is its music. All five songs of the play are so good that it should also be released as a separate music album. The whole credit for this soulful music goes to music director MehulSurti. They didn’t stop just by playing songs. All the songs are beautifully choreographed. The acrobatic love song of the lead pair, other songs with rest of the cast is a treat to eyes as well as ears. The makers have rightly claimed that such musical presentation brings a cinematic experience of cinema on a stage. Some dance sequences in the first half remind you of the super hit broadway musical ‘Mamma Mia’ as well. Artists don’t let the energy level come down even after frequent dance numbers.

The acting of the lead pair Abhinay Banker and Devaki is the third powerful element which makes ‘Samudramanthan’ a joyride. Although the acting becomes loud and melodramatic at times, but at the end, they effectively convey the ‘nav rasa’ to the audience.

A woman, who overcomes all odds, shows the true direction to revolting sailors and the whole ship, is very strong as a single line story. But the problem is the whole play is very predictable. One can easily guess the climax right from one character have a first cough. One doesn’t need much creativity to guess the journey of the play. Even worse, the play doesn’t have almost any twist or turn in the second half. Two long scenes are inserted without any purpose but only to fill this hollow. One character of the play is obsessed with pirates and he trains his fellow sailors to be the one. And the other long and excruciating scene is of touching the mast just to satisfy one silly superstition. Both the sequences are tiresome and full of slapstick comedy. Maybe they are for some comic relief but they hardly entertain. They even dilute the seriousness of the main story.

The play is written by first-time writer Devaki herself. But it clearly lacks smart, edgy and creative one-liners. Lines spoken as punches are age old and stale. Some pronunciations are undecipherable too. There is hardly any song in the second half, which makes it too long as well as dry.
Director Aditi Desai is known to raise women’s issues in her plays. But this time, it has overshadowed other elements of the play. Talking about issues of women or superstitions is ok as an experiment. But it’s unfair to the audience who come to get entertained spending hefty tickets and they are preached in return.

Could have been better

Just under two hours, ‘Samudramanthan’ bundles delightful songs, effective background music, powerful acting and overall clean entertainment. But it could have been finely crafted rather than reflecting just age old show must go on type attitude. In this current form, we can’t help but feel unsatisfied while walking out of the auditorium.

Rating: **1/2 (Two and a half Stars)