BEING IN THE LIGHT, FREE SANDWICHES AND THESPO
In the first week of October, Sunil Shanbag’s latest production, Walking to the Sun had its Mumbai premiere at Prithvi. I mentioned last month that I was eagerly looking forward to the show. So were a lot of other people, clearly. Opening night was packed, and owing to the last minute hunger pangs of some of the people I was watching with, we got in to see all the decent seats taken. As such, in a bold move, we sat in the first row, by the side. Moments later the play began, and we were so close that we were in the performance light. Now, not only were we visible to every audience member, we were also visible to the light booth, where Mr. Shanbag and his aide Mr. Sami were seated, looking straight at us. To add to this, one of the leads played out most of his scenes a couple of feet away from us, and engaged with us in some of his monologues. Never have I felt such high levels of self-consciousness and performance pressure. I was at my best behaviour and didn’t even dare look at the watch once. This, however, was made easier because of the riveting nature of the piece unfolding before us. Theatre of the highest quality is a given when Sunil is at the helm, but this play also had this strange quality of feeling like not only good, but also important work. Trust me. I was in it. In a manner of speaking.
In the last week of October, we took the calculated risk of taking a successful new two-cast-member production to Delhi. Just 5 people traveling, free accommodation, set hired locally, constant supply of free coffee and sandwiches, so food costs reduced. Seemed perfect. We miscalculated. I should have realized that something was amiss in the matrix when we couldn’t carry our dummy rifles with us, owing to the arrival of Brother Barack in the near future. So there were minor setbacks. One actor having to be flown back for a shoot. Delhi set hire costs, we realized, included the security cost of one minister and were thus way higher than Mumbai. Free sandwiches are never enough with the food options that Delhi provides, and appetites are larger in the winter. But the big one was something that everybody but us was celebrating – Diwali. Unholy amounts of money were being spent by Delhi-ites, but not on theatre. As many as 4 big diwali melas were happening in the vicinity of the auditorium alone. And the offers were unbelievable. Even I may have chosen that shamelessly discounted wall unit over watching a play with two men wittily discussing their feelings surrounded by antique furniture. Perhaps I should have publicized a lucky draw and given out refrigerators or Altos.
In other news, despite the understanding that if I continued writing these articles month after month, Akvarious entries into Thespo would make the finals, honesty and fairness and the greater good inside people prevailed. The deal was broken. Yet another Thespo attempt by the Akvarious youth was thwarted by the screening panel. We gave them short dresses, sex talk, cross-dressing, innuendos galore, but no, they didn’t bite. Anyhow, such is life. Will accept it and move on (after renegotiating my writing contract, of course).