Closing the Curtain on 2009
My phone has finally stopped buzzing incessantly with the onslaught of generic New Year messages about luck and joy and light and such. A large percentage of these were from unidentified numbers, and no name at the end. I usually reply to the personal ones, that is, the ones that bother to mention my name, or refer to some aspect of my life. I’d put the final number at 12.
A little before 2009 faded out, I sent out a generic message to around 40 people. What I did was take a casual poll about people’s favourite plays from the year that was. The sample is ridiculously small, but I just wanted an indication, and SMS costs weren’t down to 1 paisa yet. However, the sample consisted of people connected in some way to the theatre – practitioners, critics, committed audience members, patron saints, administrators etc. And the subsequent replies have led to this, my first article of this year.
So, after putting my B. Sc. (Statistics) degree to good use, here are the 5 most preferred plays of 2009, in a somewhat chronological manner.
Quasar Thakore Padamsee returned to direction after a long hiatus, with very favourable results. An excellent original script by Ram Ganesh Kamatham (later used by James Cameron for his plot of Avatar), the play was a viciously witty take on the displacement of natives on an island by a large corporate interested purely in commercial gain.
Waiting for Godot
The ageless absurd classic by Samuel Beckett. Not technically a new play, but a revi
val. Motley’s oldest production, now 30 years running. Featuring Naseeruddin Shah, Benjamin Gilani, Akash Khurana, and for the teenyboppers, a shirtless Randeep Hooda. The 2009 version was an instant hit. Sold out weeks in advance, irrespective of cost and venue. Great play. Even greater experience.
Yet another thoroughly engrossing, finely executed, socially relevant theatrical production from Sunil Shanbag. Developed by Shanta Gokhale and Irawati Karnik, the play provided a window into the origins of Vijay Tendulkar’s classic Sakharam Binder, the trials and tribulations the play faced on account of the censor board, thus making a thought-provoking statement on at least two of the terms in the title.
An ambitious stage version of Pedro Almodovar’s award winning film about a woman’s journey to find the father of her dead son. Dealing with transvestites, prostitutes, actresses, Tenessee Williams and tons of deviant sexuality, the play was a bold move in terms of content and staging. Directed by Akash Khurana (also returning to direction after a hiatus), and featuring Ratna Pathak Shah, Puja Sarup and Anand Tiwari
among others, the play emerged as a widely appreciated and moving spectacle.
Geli Ekvees Varsha
A unanimous favourite, this play premiered in Mumbai at Thespo, which simply put means that it was put together by a bunch of very young people, clearly immensely talented. BMCC Pune has consistently been churning out good theatre and theatre folk, and this play is another feather in their cap. I missed it,but intend to catch it on 13th January at Prithvi. I believe it is an innovatively designed coming-of-age piece, providing a humorous insight into being 21.
To be fair, and because I’m quite excited with this poll business, I’m also quickly listing the next 5 plays, that is, the ones that didn’t make it to the top, but still got enough attention and appreciation.
Manav Kaul’s delightful three hander about politics, male egos and park benches. Opened late 2008, but regular audiences only managed to see it early this year.
Grey Elephants in
Chaitanya Tamhane, protégé of Ramu Ramanathan, directed this enjoyable piece and created magic on stage, rather literally.
Makrand Deshpande’s ode to aging parents (among lots of other things), which unassumingly touched a chord with most everyone.
Ismat Apa Ke Naam 2
Motley’s superlative sequel of sorts to their earlier collection of Chugtai stories, featuring Lovleen Mishra and Seema and Manoj Pahwa.
Impressions of Bhima
An Adishakti presentation in their trademark style, and one of the favourites at the Prithvi Theatre Festival.
Sniffing at the edges of this esteemed top ten were a couple of productions worth mentioning.
Habib Tanvir’s popular classic Charandas Chor won everyone’s heart on the opening night of the Prithvi Festival. Definitely not a play of 2009, it still held up fabulously and taught a lot of contemporary theatre wallahs a thing or two.
Blackbird, a hard-hitting drama featuring Akash Khurana and Shernaz Patel chalked up a fair amount of votes for it’s content and strong performances.
And lastly, The Skeleton Woman, an interesting original piece by Kalki Koechlin had a fair amount of success and was strongly promoted by producer Anurag Kashyap.
So, all in all, a pretty good, varied year. It ended with two important and high quality new productions – Dreams of Taleem (directed by Sunil Shanbag) and Joke (directed by Makrand Deshpande), which I may write more about in the next article. For now, local theatre groups better get inspired by this bloody impressive 2009 line up, get their ‘acts’ together and give us some good stuff this year too.