For Sale: Eyes, Lungs, Kidneys, and More…
Spare Parts review
Spare Parts is a political play which offers a glimpse into the scary tomorrow. We are going to reach it soon, no thanks to the political parties whose differences get blurred by the greed to make money which brings along power. They do this even if they must turn dead and living human bodies into marketable commodities ready for sale at a high price. If this sounds like a horror story, then, let us say it is indeed one.
Spare Parts is the latest production of Rangroop Theatre, a dedicated theatre group based in Kolkata. The group will celebrate 54 years on October 2 this year, and will stage the classic play Mayer Moton (Like Mother). This play was first staged in 2010-2011 and went on to perform for more than 157 shows.
Spare Parts is based on a play by Swapnamoy Chakraborty. Chakraborty has built a reputation for never repeating a theme. His work is both critically acclaimed and well-received by readers. He makes use of absurd themes and subplots to take his story forward. He also subtly but strongly uses his writing to make scathing political statements.
The nature of conflict and violence has transformed substantially since the United Nations was founded 75 years ago. Conflicts now tend to be waged between domestic groups rather than States. Homicides are more frequent in some parts of the world, while gender-based attacks are increasing globally. The long-term impact on development of interpersonal violence, including violence against children, is also more widely recognized.
Separately, technological advances have raised concerns about lethal autonomous weapons and cyberattacks, the weaponisation of bots and drones, and live streaming of extremist attacks. There has also been a rise in criminal activity involving data hacks and ransomware. Meanwhile, international cooperation is under strain, diminishing global potential for the prevention and resolution of conflict and violence in all forms.
Spare Parts revolves around the rise and rise of Madhu Basak, an ordinary, working-class man. He rises in power and affluence after creating a secret market to trade 'spare parts of human victims'. The victims are those killed in war-torn areas, due to natural disasters, or accidents. Hence the title "Spare Parts."
As we go along this bizarre and gory journey, we are introduced to people wearing cards around their necks. Their names are replaced by the first letter of the organ they have already sold to Madhu Basak. Basak has set up a 'human guinea pigs' lab to take care of these people before they are taken away like lambs to the slaughter.
So, if a person has a card with the letter "E" written on it alongside a numeral, it means that he has 'sold' his eyes, the money earned will take care of his brother's education. This poor man holds a tray filled with grass, and is commanded to look at it the whole day so that his vision remains 'healthy'.
Another man wears a card with the letter "L" on it next to a painting of a human lung. This automatically suggests that this person has sold his lung at a high price to pay for something he cannot otherwise afford.
The presentation is choreographed beautifully by Somnath Dutta, and edited as well as directed by Sima Mukhopadhyay who currently heads Rangroop Theatre. Often, the chorus forms a pyramid-like structure in the centre of the performance space and then dismantles itself as the characters begin to take shape. These geometrically choreographed human pyramids double up as 'live props' within the play, similar to the inanimate props of wooden cubes placed and displaced along the proscenium space. "These human pyramids may also be read into as the enslaved people who try to rise in revolt but break this pyramid themselves as they have already "sold" their body parts to the capitalist-exploiter of dead bodies" saidMadhu Basak.
The corruption within the ruling political party ruling at the centre is hinted at clearly. The hints spill over with acidic sarcasm that leads to laughter among the audience. The play runs on two parallel lines. One deals with the leading characters who are running the racket in human organs, never mind if these belong to people dead or alive.
This suggests how cadavers of those killed in war, communal strife, accidents and natural disasters can be turned into a "profitable business", by the diabolic minds of people like Madhu Basak, his beautiful mistress/secretary, and his two wives. Political leaders are hand-in-glove with Basak, and claim their share in the gains.
The other line narrates the terrible stories of the men and women who are forced to live within the confined spaces of a shelter home/laboratory. These people have already bartered one organ or other for money to pay for something they otherwise cannot afford.
The play unfolds through the framing device of a series of television interviews, between which, the story takes shape. This offers a lot of black humour directed at the media, which is busy with gossip their interviews lead to, than about the interviews with Madhu Basak to investigate his dubious rise to the top.
Basak has a wardrobe filled with different jackets which he changes into when the television interviewer asks him to. He also takes the initiative of replacing a glitzy jacket with a more sober one. This is also a metaphorical device pointing at the different "jackets" political leaders wear for different occasions. Each underlined with some material profit at the end of it.
The ensemble cast often becomes different characters, and the synchronisation among them is perfect. The music rightly plays subservient to the acting, as performance by the cast holds the key to the play's success. The acting often tends towards exaggeration of emotions and actions to invest the play with black humour and this proves its winning card.
Intelligent jibes and pot-shots are taken against the ruling party, and the government at the Centre. But the question of better governance that can lead to a better quality of life is left open for the audience to discover. A great performance which ends just when it should, within 90 minutes.
But the message that comes across is beautiful. The person who has 'sold' his ears asks, "do I only hear with my ears? Then why do I still hear things I should not and I do not know why?" The person who has sold his eyes asks, "So what if I have sold my eyes. I can still see things that the physicality of the eyes cannot."