Dolly Thakore's Life in the Theatre


I arrived on the Mumbai Theatre scene when Alyque Padamsee’s ‘Tuglak’ was the rage….Sculptor Pilloo Pochkhanawala had done the Set. Then came Mira – where artist Prabhakar Barwe provided all the visual effects. M. F. Hussain designed the Poster for Alyque Padamsee’s ‘Othello’. Akbar Padamsee did the poster for ‘Tara’.

Canvasses and installations have provided their own drama.

Some years ago I had strayed into Priyarshi Patodia’s Gallery and instinctively purchased an Alok Bal water-coloured sepia showing a one-legged village youth clad only in a half dhoti/wrap around and one crutch kicking a football in an open field with his good leg-- with a lone dog as his only spectator…so great was the impact of that work that I bought it immediately.

It must have something to do with my genes. I have never been a sports person. But my father in his Air force youth did represent the Defense Services in Football now some 75 years ago!!!

But I did not see theatre in Art till I visited Abhay Maskara’s Warehouse Art Gallery last month to see Riyas Komu’s ‘Subroto to Cesar’ show…in the midst of the World Cup fever.

I wandered in to see this massive raw cement wall erected in the middle of the space 30 feet from wall-to wall being demolished.

I sat with Abhay and in those few minutes the drama of the wall and the impact of the message being conveyed by the exhibition overwhelmed me completely. I was not aware of the relevance till Abhay enlightened me that Subroto Paul was the Indian goalkeeper for the Indian national team, and Julio Cesar -- the much-loved goalkeeper of the Brazilian team.

“Subroto to Cesar’ is about the distance between the two goalkeepers. It is about the state of Indian football, and what football is to a country like Brazil” says Riyas Komu about his historic solo show. “One is completely obscure, and the other is world famous. It shows the distance and the divide between the two,” says Abhay Maskara -- a friend of the artist Komu.

The art show examined the absence of India at the World Cup. The on-going World Cup had prompted passionate fans like Komu to question why India, with a population of 1.1 billion people, has never made it to the World Cup finals.

Despite the growing interest in the game – more than 20 million play football in India, Brazil is 129 paces ahead of India. And on opening night of the exhibition, most of the Indian players went unnoticed by the opening night visitors to the Gallery. Given its size, we should have many world-class players, says Maskara.

Smaller nations like New Zealand and Africa have done well in the World Cup. But it is not just about numbers. It is nurturing people at the right age, having the right resources and commitment. Komu’s work suggests the physical barriers to success – not just lack of big money.

Rapidly developing India with its already crowded cities, are becoming more populous, and robbing children of spaces to play football – or any other sport including cricket.

The freestanding 3,250 square foot building served as a godown during India’s pre independence era, and it has been renovated by noted conservation architect Rahul Mehrotra to maintain its historic character. It has a 50ft high ceiling, and walls that run 100 feet in length.

At the Maskara Gallery, Komu has used the concept of multiplicity and cased the footballs in a series of transparent boxes.

The World Cup is over and the World Cup fever has ebbed.

In the catalogue for the exhibition at the start of the World Cup, Manoj Nair wrote: “As you know we are about to enter a state of apoplexy. We will soon be mouthing nationalist slogans though we don’t belong to any of the nations that we will be shouting hoarse for. We will be screaming profane anthems, though most of us would not know the meaning of any of the syllables we pronounce. We would nearly pretend that the world is at stake. And the ball is not at our feet. Our feet would rather be hanging from our safe perches in our drawing rooms and our dreams drinking the latte of the sporting spectrum.”

There was so much drama, pathos, undercurrents of exasperation, despair, frustration, and angst in every brick on the wall and the goalpost signifying the big divide.

I saw a play somewhere. Anyone listening!!!