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Heart Of Coal

Wednesday, February 20, 2019
By Deepa Gahlot

There is a lot happening in Open Cast, little vignettes that might or might not fit into the complete picture of Sandeep Shikhar’s jigsaw of a play (Hindi-Bhojpuri).

Amidst the crowd, two stories stand out--in the coal belt of Dhanbad (that, audiences may remember from the film Kaala Patthar, a character points out), there is union trouble, a disaster waiting to happen, miners threatened with displacement, the relationship between a mine overseer (Avneesh Mishra) and a solitary woman (Serena Walia) breaking up, that leads to her discovering her power.

In Delhi, a woman (Lisha Bajaj), sitting by herself on a park bench, is accosted by a rather creepy man (Shashie Vermaa), who turns to be not a stalker, but a “kalaakar” who does live Bhojpuri voiceovers for Hollywood films. In spite of her initial misgivings, the woman, who works at a leather factory, warms up to the man’s harmless friendship, and they spend the day wandering around the city, being shooed by a cop, ranted at by a snooty man in the metro, watching Anna Hazare’s followers taking out a procession.

The two have nothing in common, don’t intend to ever meet again, but while the connection lasts, the woman, who had come to Delhi from Dhanbad, realizes that the city offers her the kind of freedom she would never get in her native town. Even if this freedom is expressed by aimlessly roaming around with a stranger, at least she is not being judged by anyone, except, perhaps the cop.

Dhanbad is the common factor—one woman has escaped its stifling atmosphere, one has remained behind amidst the turbulence, and around them life goes on.

The large cast performs in a cohesive manner, and actors also help with the quick set changes, simple props switch to a park, a mine, a village hut, a metro compartment.  Open Cast (the term refers to a mining technique) is baffling, intriguing, but also engaging, with a lot of reading between the lines left for the audience to do.

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