The Bicycle Thieves


Kala Soudha seemed prettier than usual last evening. It had been raining and the air smelled sweet. When I parked in a hurry and climbed up the steps, I saw that there was nobody outside. Vowing to leave 2 hours before every play I watch for the rest of my life, I entered the theatre and was greeted with a cold AC smell. After grabbing the first empty seat I saw, I wondered if Kala Soudha always had an AC.

After an hour and a half, I was on my way home, trying to keep up with the many images of what I had seen. There are so many things about The Bicycle Thieves that are pleasing to eyes and ears, all the same. I hate to hurry here but the story always gets in between how it is told, so I am going to get it out of the way. An unemployed man must deal with the thrill of finally having secured a job and the misery of having lost his bicycle, both on the same day. He must encounter the many faces of the city and must encounter them with his little son, in his search for the cycle.

At the corner stage stood an inverted cycle tyre. On the wall were thrown the characters’ shadows. This was accompanied by people miming sounds loudly. An approaching, silent creak for the closing/opening of the door; an ornate machine sound for when the factory workers are at work; and the elaborate anti-clock rotation of the cycle chain for when the cycle is stolen in broad daylight.

As a child, I didn’t like it when characters onscreen/ onstage forgot to acknowledge an object after they had brought it to the audience’ notice. A cap, a pen, a prop left there to deal with all eyes in the room on it, long after its owner had left the stage, until someone is sent to retrieve it.

In one scene, the father-son duo sits and spits on their misery. In a moment’s notice, they have both stood up. My eyes immediately went to the discarded tiffin box that lay next to them. I was wondering if it’s going to lie there, orphaned for the rest of its life, when I almost whopped in surprise as I watched the son point to it matter-of-factly and take it with him.

Every time the Urdu-kannada was used, my ears strained to drown out the audience’s laughter. I knew I would laugh but I wanted to hear the words first. It’s oddly beautiful to listen to that dialect. The Urdu falls about and bounces off the Kannada, and emerges into something one taps foot and folds arms to.

After having watched The Bet, Beechi house, and The Bicycle Thieves, I have come to realize that I enjoy watching Kannada plays more than English plays. I like the swiftness in the actors’ language, their familiarity when they speak to each other or look at each other and their references to the city. Everytime I watch a Kannada play, I feel closer to the city in some way.