Black With Equal – A Satirical Black Comedy

By Rekha Rajvanshi

On July 2, 2022, play ‘Black With Equal’ was performed at the Bryan Brown Theatre in Bankstown, Sydney.

Assiduously written by Vikram Kapadia, with over 200 successful performances in India before Natak Mandali presented it in Australia. A satire on the discrimination, prejudice, and hatred that fester in our society’s shadowy crevices.

Aparna Tijoriwala with the director of ‘Black With Equal’ Dinsha Palkhiwala

The play was two hour long, divided into Act 1 and Act 2.

The stage opened to Ramnik Bhai’s (Hemal Joshi) living room, where the Jagruti cooperative society’s members are gathering for a general meeting to address the issues faced by their society. These members are from a variety of ethnic groups, including Bengali, Gujarati, Muslim, Sikh, Parsi, and Christians. The meeting begins and members talk about various issues that demand quick action. With participants making personal remarks and casting judgement on one another, their conversation gradually devolves into vicious arguments that spiral out of control. Everyone strives to prove their case as anger, fear, suspicion, and mistrust take hold. In a heated exchange, Shantibhai (Taufeeq Ahmed Sheikh) is inadvertently shot dead by Bajrang (Kashyap Acharya), shocking everyone. The scene closes as society members attempt to dispose of the dead body to avoid more trouble. 

Act two that begins with the scheduled meeting in the same living room in a considerably more sombre setting. Ramnik Bhai is still horrified and depressed, as he tries to come to terms with Shantibhai’s passing. The group members start to enter the flat to escape the riots and crowds outside as they break out in the neighbourhood. They first comfort one another, share their opinions, though occasionally their conversation turns unpleasant. Then, all of a sudden, the light goes out. Everyone panics and lights their lamps, illuminating the area. Unexpectedly, an explosion occurs, killing everyone in the room except for Maneesha (Shalvi Singh) who happens to go into the other room to get something at the nick of time.

The image of departed spirits carrying lamps traveling to the world beyond leaves an everlasting impact reminding audience the philosophical explanation that we all pass away in the end, leaving love and hatred, fear, ego and envy behind.

All the actors justified their characters they represented, which included Sydney’s best cast – Akanksha Srivastava as Jayati, Aparna Tijoriwala as Rashida, Anshul Chopra as Sukhbir, Bobby Philips as Chatterjee, Heman Joshi as Ramnik Bhai, Kashyap Acharya as Bajrang, Mittal Bhavsar as Saldanah, Noshir Irani as Hodivala, Nisar Sirguroh as Usman.  Dialogues were witty and delivered remarkably well. Simple stage decorations and theme – with appropriate props were used for the setting. India is a multicultural mix with various religions, ideologies living side by side yet when things go wrong as communal differences emerge in times of conflict, they can take a violent turn. Sydney has built its own strong team of actors who have been skillfully mentored under the aegis of Natak Mandali with months of practice of this current play that too in the Covid era.

The creative team at Natak Mandali has produced a range of works over the previous two years, including the plays ‘Bicharo Behram’ (an out and out comedy), ‘Teen Pati’ (suspense) and ‘Girls Night Out’ (A socially relevant topic of Domestic Violence).

Everyone praised Dinsha Palkhiwala’s perfect direction, which was made possible by Sydney’s top actors Vipul Vyas and Aparna Tijoriwala. Sagar Agashe (Light), Tushar Bose (Background Score and Stage), and Sandhya Bose (Makeup and Costumes) made up the excellent technical team.

The play ‘Black With Equal,’ addresses a serious problem of today in a world full of turmoil which at times brings communal differences to the fore and thus the sheer violence that ensues.  It was well received by the audience, who frequently laughed and giggled throughout the performance at the witty deliveries. The play successfully demonstrates Vikram Kapadia’s apt script that unity and harmony do not necessarily entail uniformity and homogeneity. To live in peace, diversity must coexist in an atmosphere of understanding each other’s differences.

Aparna Tijoriwala with Dinsha Palkiwala, said about the play, how an amicable secular setting can propel to doom when fear, mistrust, suspicion and prejudice shatter a secular society fundamentally based on mutual respect. Aparna talked about Natak Mandali a theatre group formed in Sydney four years ago which brings under its umbrella actors from the Indian subcontinent group as well as other theatre enthusiasts, “With an ultimate aim to effectively using theatre as a means to breakdown perceived unease among different multicultural groups.” She sought support for Natak Mandali and its role in theatre, a tradition that has been there for centuries in India and now promises to bring it in Sydney.

Looking forward to watch many more creative productions by Natak Mandali.

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