June has been an exciting theatre month for me after a very long time. It started with my being on the Jury Panel of the National School of Drama for its incoming aspirants…spending two full days with like-minded people, singularly involved in an activity which propels our lives. And feeling responsible for grooming/guiding/motivating young actors who will shape the life of theatre in India.
Over two days we auditioned some forty-eight candidates from Bihar, Gujarat, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Uttaranachal, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra. And were suitably impressed with the energy, zeal and interest of most of these young adults straining at the leash as it were – economically, emotionally -- to pursue this stream of performing arts….even if they had their sights set on Bollywood and television, at least the quality of such streams-- after their three years of rigorous training at India’s premiere National School of Drama would produce erudite, qualified, experienced actors. We have examples of Naseeruddin Shah, Rohini Hattangady, Om Puri, to name just a few.
The criteria for selection did not restrict itself to just looks or performance. There were some who impressed with their sense of folk rhythm in Lavni and Bhavai, Tamasha, Yakshagana, strong body control, powerful voice, vulnerability, sensitivity in delivering lines from passages like Tughlak, Baby, Mrichchhakatika, Giddade, even Shakespeare’s Juliet, or Gulzar’s poem Intezaar. They all came from modest homes and some belonged to the Banjara community. One young woman’s address was Narmada ke kinare!
But it was their passion that ignited our interest. Some were raw clean slates that would enjoy being moulded. What a challenge for teachers!!!
Early in the month, I went to Shivaji Mandir after many years to see 'Jaswandi' written and directed by Sai Paranche….a play that was staged some thirty years ago with an unforgettable performance by a smashing Vijaya Mehta in the lead. This was a revisiting of an old play done in the traditional proscenium style. What pained one was to see this home of Marathi theatre so neglected and unkempt, right beside the Shiv Sena Fortress! We would respect the Shiv Sainiks more if they did not neglect their institutions like the Ravindra Natya Mandir, the P L Deshpande mini theatre, and the Shivaji Mandir that I am familiar with, and kept up with the times in maintaining these jewels with better stage and technical facilities, seating, parking, and supported it instead of forcefully thrusting Marathi down people’s throat. Their support of Marathi films is certainly laudatory. I have seen a number of interesting sensitive Marathi films in recent years peopled and directed by theatre practitioners. Why neglect their training ground – theatre.
To crown it all, there was the NCPA-National Theatre Live offering of that spectacular production Mary Shelley’s 'Frankenstein'. This is a newly introduced venture undertaken by the NCPA to screen a film simultaneously of a live theatre performance from the London stage. Though the five-hour time zone difference deters us from screening the film at the same time, so we in Mumbai get to see a live performance a few hours later at a suitable time.
Then there was director Digvijay Savant’s amazingly refreshing, unique and clock-like synchronized staging with rhythm and movement of Vaikom Muhammad Basheer’s 'Me Grandad ‘ad an Elephant' with superb performances by Ayesha Raza Mishra and Ahlam Khan – both with inherited genes from Zohra Segal and Gabbar Singh Amjad Khan respectively -- delightfully supported by Dilshad Edibam! So much talent in Mumbai now!!!!
And that was not the end. I was privileged to read some very good ten short listed plays that were sent in for the Sultan Padamsee Playwriting Awards…and spent a pure theatre evening gossiping and cribbing about theatre and its short comings with fellow judges Lilette Dubey, Pooh Sayani, Akarsh Khurana and monitors Raell Padamsee and Deepa Gahlot.
In the midst of it all arrived an interesting script from a twenty-one year-old ex-student of Wilson College Arnesh Ghosh called “ The Seventh” – and intelligent retelling of Macbeth which draws a parallel to life around us based on the six cardinal sins.
We can look forward to a number of contemporary relevant plays being staged in the future. And it excites me.