Review of Ajnabi


(Adaptation of The Stranger by Albert Camus)

Directed by Anil Kumar Chaudhary
Performed at Veda Factory and Tefla’s Studio

As strange as it may sound – is the philosophy of the world, condemned to death. If the purpose of literature is to comfort and disconcert, the actor is the promise of the world which, in Camus’ The Stranger, Meursault imagines.

Ajnabi, designed for the stage from Camus’ The Stranger, is interpreted with the view of theatre as an actor’s medium. The reason The Stranger, even existentialism, resonate with us is because this philosophy colors life with the emotions that hold meaning for us. Ajnabi has freewheeled, in its articulation, the painted characters presented on stage in a human story which the writer wanted to tell. It is in this context that in Ajnabi Meursault is condemned to death, the death of relationships, real death, even of society itself. The element of rebellion, the gamble of philosophy, is the theme of the play and is a sort of dialogue between the actor and the audience, the individual and society, like a Freudian slip. Gandhi spoke in favour of the right to err. In the mirror of our thoughts, we live in a dream. Meursault’s life is both this dream and this error which we are witnessing in our society.

Theatre is, in most of its terms, a madness. We all have our reasons to embrace it. I was talking to a friend and we identified with theatre as a mirage; but is it truly? Words mean nothing. In Ajnabi, this mirage is confronted as a reality, until reality itself is questioned. Meursault recognises at his mother’s funeral the dubious claim of society as a symbol of truth. The philosophy of the absurd, like wind, is a cause of both comfort and discomfort to us. Camus is dangerous, because he speaks. In the first scene of Ajnabi, Meursault addresses the audience as people at the old age home assemble at the background for his mother’s funeral. The warden of the old age home cuts through his dialogue to tell him the funeral will be conducted according to religious beliefs. As the warden lingers around him, Meursault points out an old woman weeping rather loudly. She was Madam Meursault’s closest companion. The warden jokes about Meursault’s mother’s boyfriend, Thomas Pierre. Meursault transitions back to his world. He meets Mary, a former colleague who, perhaps, likes him. Since Mary believes in love, she tries to ask him if he loves her. Meursault says he doesn’t love her, to which Mary replies she is unsure whether to love him or not. In Mary’s eyes Meursault is a good man. Life continues as before. Meursault meets Raymond, his neighbour, who asks Meursault to write a letter to his girlfriend. Raymond wants to get back at her because he suspects her of cheating. The following day, Raymond hits her when his plan doesn’t work. The matter is solved at the police station. In the next scene, we see Raymond being followed by two Arabs, one of whom is the girl’s brother. Raymond invites Meursault to his friend’s bungalow outside the city. Meursault, Mary and Raymond reach Masson’s bungalow, have lunch, after which Masson, Raymond and Meursault go off to the beach. It is sunny, and suddenly the two Arabs appear and attack Raymond with a knife. Raymond goes back to the beach to find the Arabs after being bandaged, and Meursault goes with him. Raymond takes out a gun when he sees the Arabs sitting in the sand, one of whom is playing the flute. Meursault tries to reason with Raymond and in this time the Arabs run away. Meursault has Raymond’s gun. Raymond returns to the bungalow but Meursault decides to walk at the beach for some time. The water is reflecting the heat, and Meursault sees, beyond a rock, a patch of green where he believes he can escape the heat. He hasn’t noticed the Arab sitting below the rock, who takes out a knife and keeps it at his neck. Meursault reaches out for the gun and shoots him, as there is no point in either killing or not killing him. As the Arab lies motionless, Meursault opens his shirt buttons. In his cell, a government appointed lawyer comes to meet Meursault, and tells him he will fight his case. Later, Mary visits him, and Meursault tells her that when he is free they will live happily. Mary comes close to Meursault before the gatekeeper shouts that their meeting time is over. In the court, the judge asks Meursault if he believes in God. The prosecution lawyer asks Meursault why he didn’t cry at his mother’s funeral. Meursault has no answer to either question. Even as Meursault tries to reason, the prosecution lawyer manages to convince the court that he killed the man in cold blood. He is eventually found guilty. He has refused to see the priest, and when the priest comes to his cell to preach to him, Meursault angrily throws him out. The play ends with Meursault being hanged surrounded by a crowd.

Ajnabi is adapted from Camus’ novel, but the script is of minor relevance in its production. The actors discussed themes and ideas, rather than script, lines and character, even as these were well defined. There is a musical element in the design of the play in relation to the actors. The director described the effect, and left it to the actor to create it. Meursault addresses the audience directly in the play even as he acts in the world. The form leaves many interpretations. Drama in the play is left to the audience to judge. The stress is on the actor’s understanding of the play and the character. Philosophy is discussed through the medium of the actor and is left for the audience to interpret.

Words mean what they denote and on the stage they have a lot less value, diminished in the light as a call towards reality. Theatre’s goal is finding words where there are none. In Ajnabi, when the actors speak they only tear upon the silence of the space where the characters live. In the production of the play, from its conception to its staging, the goal was to be a part of a creative process. There are different backgrounds of the people who came together to be a part of this play. The collaboration was intended to be enjoyed. The Stranger, considered to be a second world war novel whose philosophy expresses choosing the values that give meaning to life, was intended to be staged in the spirit of the desire to be happy and the reason and questions associated with our understanding of life. We are in the pursuit of knowledge, like raindrops on the windowsill. Given our lives as they occur to us individually, the absurd is right in front of us. In Ajnabi, Meursault responds to his lawyer’s enquiry of his mother’s funeral with questions, to questions posed to him in court in a soft internal monologue, and to Salamano’s dog’s disappearance with curiosity; the ‘stranger’ is much too aware. The form of the play makes use of theatrical devices. The priest, towards the end of the play, wants to show Meursault “God on these walls”. The play opens with the image of death, as people at the old age home assemble for the funeral behind Meursault who sits facing the audience. The actors respond to the music played in the background to the scene, for instance, when Meursault meets Mary and when Salamano exits, to search for his dog. There is offstage action, when Raymond hits the girl. The Arab characters, who are native Algerians, do not speak in the play, giving the impression of having their voice taken from them. On the other hand, the reason that Meursault is given a death sentence is because he doesn’t believe in God nor loved his mother.

Ritwik Chaudhary identifies as a writer, actor, and literature student. He is working on a novel. He acts a bit, and neither wants to write nor act for a professional purpose, and truly loves art. He is planning on doing an MA in English literature.




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