I recently watched the play A Walk in the Woods at the Delhi Theatre Festival. A two-hander featuring Naseeruddin Shah and Rajit Kapur , and directed by Ratna Shah Pathak, A Walk in the Woods is an adaptation of the American playwright Lee Blessing's original play of the same name. Interestingly, the Indian adaptation is done by actors Faisal Rashid and Randeep Hooda. While the original play revolved around two diplomats, an American and a Russian, trying to discuss a peace proposal towards the end of the Cold War, the Indian adaptation focuses upon two negotiators, Ram Chinappa (Rajit Kapur) and Jamaluddin Lutfullah (Naseeruddin Shah), representing Indian and Pakistan respectively, trying to reach some sort of a peace agreement between the two countries through a series of talks in Switzerland.
The play endeavours to highlight the how the two countries have squandered opportunities to establish peace in the region owing to their lack of trust, resolve and perseverance.
The play holds great relevance at a time when the ever-so-tenuous relationship between India and Pakistan has hit a major deadlock. It endeavours to highlight the countless ways in which the two countries have squandered opportunities to establish peace in the region owing to their lack of trust, resolve and perseverance. The play doesn't opt for the easy option of accusing any one country as the root cause of evil but rather chooses to meditate on the various factors/circumstances prevalent since partition that have undermined peace talks.
The play begins with the two diplomats taking a stroll in the woods, away from the public scrutiny. Ram Chinappa, being the younger of the two interlocutors, appears to be full of optimism. Ram has just replaced another diplomat who had earlier been engaged in a dialogue with Jamaluddin Lutfullah. While Ram is really keen on starting from where his predecessor had left off, Jamal seems least interested in starting any official peace dialogue. Instead, he seems keener in striking a friendship with his counterpart. Ram, however, insists on keeping their association strictly professional in nature. Jamal is an old-timer and understands full well that these peace talks are little more than just a formality. Over the years he has seen many such discussions fail owing to various reasons. Jamal's cynicism slowly becomes more and more obvious. But, Ram is committed to the task assigned to him and is in no mood to waste his time on the frivolous discussions that Jamal seems interested in.
The two thespians offer a great display of theatrics during two hours of intense acting that encompass an entire gamut of emotions.
While Shah's Jamal comes across a glib talker capable of engaging the toughest of negotiators with a sumptuous doze of humour and levity, Kapur's Ram is a no-nonsense diplomat who appears to be a tough nut to crack. The two thespians offer a great display of theatrics during two hours of intense acting that encompass an entire gamut of emotions. We all are aware of what a great thespian like Naseeruddin Shah is capable of doing on stage and yet as Jamaluddin Lutfullah he manages to surprise us time and again. A lesser performer would have had nightmares trying to match what Shah achieves here with remarkable ease. On the other hand, Rajit Kapur delivers a brilliant performance that will easily feature amongst the very best in his career. The masterful manner in which Kapur modulates his voice at different junctures in the play is what makes the performance so special.
Overall, A Walk in the Woods effectively highlights the inefficacy of any peace dialogue in the absence of mutual trust. It also reminds us of the constantly lurking threat of a nuclear war. The play avoids the typical blame-game approach in highlighting the sorry state of Indo-Pak relations even after 70 years of partition and chooses to offer a more thoughtful and balanced view on the issue. The top-notch performances of Shah and Kapur do great justice to the powerful material at hand. If you are a theatre enthusiast then you just cannot ignore A Walk in the Woods. As for the others, it can prove to be a great way of falling in love with the medium.
A version of this article was first published in A Potpourri of Vestiges.