Ak's Various Thoughts


At the end of 2009, I conducted a poll of people’s favorite plays. This involved 40 people, primarily theatre practitioners. This year, I decided to expand it and include the audience too. So we have our results on the basis of over 200 votes! And now, ladies and gentlemen, the 5 most popular plays of 2010, in a somewhat chronological order:

Who would have thought? A Hindustani comedy - about a doddering old man who falls in love with the teenage daughter of a neighbor - which opened (with the title Ishq Naam Ke Guzre The Ek Buzurgh) to almost empty houses in large suburban venues. Losses that were unheard of. A new group (Rangbaaz) under threat moments after its conception. And then, providence. Two cancelled dates at Prithvi fall into their lap. A quick name change. The rest, as they say, is history. Universally loved, sought after for corporate shows, this musical laugh riot topped most people’s personal favourite lists. I think it has something to do with the fact that almost every cast member is certifiably insane. And it shows on stage. Yes, I’m in it.

Never before, I t
hink, has any play been such a unanimous choice. Some may say it’s the format – ten short pieces covering a whole gamut of emotions and genres – which works because people like at least a couple and thus manage a rewarding evening. That may be a factor, but a play needs more than that to become a runaway success of this kind. Whether it was the selection of pieces, the handpicked talent, the efficiency of its execution, the attention to detail, or the objectivity to see the larger picture at all times, Rage got it right. I had the good fortune to be involved in this production, in various capacities. And thus, got to see, first hand, how this play enthralls audiences across the country.

This gives me great personal pleasure. Why? Because I directed it. Found th
is script by Michael Puzzo (originally called The Dirty Talk), loved it, but gave it up to a friend to do for Thespo as I was too old. I produced it, the dream cast did it, volunteers loved the screening, but it didn’t qualify. I was thrilled. Now I could manipulate my way into the director’s seat. Of course, once it opened successfully, one of the dream cast members said, “I let Akarsh direct it because he was so desperate”. Anyhow, blood under the bridge now. So, this two-hander about men, relationships, cyber sex, hunting, homophobia and bad weather, starring the gorgeous lead pair of Neil Bhoopalam and Ali Fazal (later also Hussain Dalal and Adhaar Khurana) has worked in a big way. My biggest joy is that while it delivers the laughs, the serious moments of the piece hold well too, and I know some audience members were driven to some soul searching.

One of the plays this
year that I really wanted to see but missed. This one hit the mark. People who watched it were stirred, either by the deeply personal tale of innocence lost, or the new methods of stagecraft used by Manav Kaul and his actors. Touted as one of Manav’s more accessible plays (read less abstract), audiences were first surprised and then taken in by the simplicity of the plot and narrative. I’m a little shaky on the details, but it is about two childhood friends, obsessed with kite flying, and intrigued by the kite seller in the title. Childhood takes a dark turn, and time passes. Years later, one of the kids, now all grown up, returns to his hometown and assesses how much things have changed, and how much of a hand he might have had in those changes. Need to watch it soon.

A musical tribute to the life and work of Hazrat Amir Khusro, weaved into a story of a small neighborhood controlled by two old women, who watch over the local children and one secret love story, and sadly witness the onslaught of communal riots, while they try, in vain, to spread Khusro’s message of secularity. Sounds good? Well, it captured the fancy of many theatre goers this year. Purva Naresh has carried forward some elements from her last play (Afsaneh: Bai se Bioscope tak), and teamed with Gopal Tiwari to amalgamate them with the new themes. The production boasts of terrific live music (courtesy genuine qawwals from Lucknow), a couple of bravura performances and some truly memorable moments.

Vying furiously for the top spots were the following plays, which did make it to the top 10, had that been the idea of the poll. Nonetheless, they do deserve a mention, because they did get a substantial amount of favourable votes. Here they are, in alphabetical order:

A Disappearing Number
An elaborate production by Complicite from UK, brought down by the folks at Prithvi, it wowed Mumbai audiences with its stagecraft and storytelling. It helped that the story was about an indigenous character – the brilliant mathematician Ramanujan.

The Interview
Actor – direct
or Siddharth Kumar wrote his first script to phenomenal results. A dark comedy about corporate life, this play, about a young man’s bizarre job interview, is insightful and engrossing. The script has been referred to as “tighter than last year’s budget”!

My Goad Pune
Winner of Best Play at Thespo this year, this comedy, or better still, satire about the enormous increase in the number of immigrants into Pune was an instant hit. A relatively new group from Pune burst onto the scene with this high energy, strongly performed piece and won hearts.

I’m pleasantly surprised at this inclusion. I had no idea so many people had seen it, let alone liked it. Only 2 shows old, this (again) satire about the education system is a lovely little story with a strong cast and a couple of peppy dance numbers. Yes, I’m in it too.

Walking to the Sun

Master craftsman Sunil Shanbag returns with an important piece which skillfully interweaves Tagore’s short story ‘Daak Ghar’ with the memoirs of a Jewish doctor who fought through the Holocaust. Serious, hard hitting stuff, with some magical directorial touches.

So that’s that. The year saw lots of other popular and effective shows as well, which featured prominently in the poll – Sunil Shanbag’s Dreams of Taleem, Makrand Deshpande’s Joke, Rehaan Engineer’s Hedda Gabbler, Tahira Nath’s Classic Milds 1 and 2, and Gashmeer Mahajani’s Tipping Point. Another good year at the theatre, and more Hindi and Marathi entries into the list than last year. This is an exciting phase, and I can’t wait to see what 2011 has in store for us theatrewallahs.

Happy New Year and all that jazz. Later.