> Dolly Thakore's 'Life in the Theatre'


Nothing gives me greater pleasure than watching a play and being in a theatre.  One of the advantages after years of theatre involvement is being invited to preview and view plays from different organizations – be it Street theatre at Mood Indigo or inter-college drama competitions, or sitting in judgement over a new crop of an institution which gave us the best of the best like Om Shivpuri, Naseeruddin Shah, Surekha Sikri, Uttara Borkar et al.

2012 started fantastically in ice-cold Delhi for me.  But the hospitality of the National School of Drama extended to the invitees of the 14th Theatre Utsav –Bharat Rang Mahotsav kick-started a fantastic year….five days of watching three full plays or snippets of four or five depending on individual stamina in nine venues within easy walking distance (for the young student community certainly) within the National School of Drama precincts in Mandi House made it my first experience of being at a Drama Festival akin to international film festivals. There were 98 performances from India and the world spread out over two weeks to choose from.

The Shree Ram Centre, Little Theatre Group, Kamani are regular theatre venues.  But the Bahumukh, Sammukh, Abhimanch, Meghdoot 1, 2 &3, and the NSD Open air Abhikalp (not used this winter fest) were spaces within the campus used very imaginatively and inventively.

Juggling between travel and hospitality arrangements,  plays and theatre and demanding last minute seats was managed with such proficiency and patience by Sameera Zaidi and Varghese -- after the powers-that-be Amal Allana and Anuradha Kapur had  short listed some twenty theatre professionals from every region of India covering a varied range of languages and styles -- made us so comfortable and welcome.

I chose January 9 to 14 to spend in undisturbed theatre splendour which focussed on Rabindranath Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary.

I drove straight from the airport to the Shree Ram Centre to catch Bhanu Bharti’s ‘Tamasha Na Hua’ from Jaipur.  But sadly their lead actor fell ill and the first play I accidentally, but welcomingly, witnessed was a ritualistic colourful explosion VISARJAN based on Tagore’s short story directed by Sangeeta Sharma.

The SRC is a little run down now…bad sounds, echo, untidy lighting did not detract from the dramatic staging, rhythms, and uninhibited puppet-like body movement and acrobatic suppleness and contortions of the actors.  And it made one realize the significance of mushrooming theatre training and workshops.

I then rushed to catch the NSD student production of Fakir Muhammad Katpudi’s ‘Jannat Mahal’ at the Bahumukh which had Thespo-winner Scherazad Kaikobad from Mumbai as an Urdu-sprouting Nawabi Begum. How interestingly Sahana P had used the courtyard space with seating-in-the-round creating some eight or ten acting areas and levels viewed though a net/gauze.

And the final call for the day was Grotowski’s ‘An Attempt to Retreat’ by the Chorea Theatre Association of Poland directed by Tomasz Rudowicz…with subtitles up in the sky! But fortunately minimal dialogue and the amazing physicality and energy and daring-do of the actors throwing themselves at each other kept one riveted…and the dinner at the Polish Ambassador’s sprawling bungalow, and the relaxed comfortable interaction with the actors and director established a common rapport about theatre handicaps  -- except that their theatre is government subsidized.

The next day saw me at ‘Journey at Dakghar by Manish Mitra of the Kasba Arghya Group from Kolkatta with English subtitles which were placed at awkward angles from the stage.  One either read the subtitles craning one’s neck especially if seated in the front rows – which I always prefer – or watching the actors.  But sadly the production did not hold one’s attention and the dialogues were too lengthy in spite of being a familiar Tagore classic.

I chose Director-Actor Saurabh Shukla’s adaptation of Neil Simon’ Last of the Red Hot Lovers. ‘Red Hot’ was an out-and-out commercial offering replete with resplendent sets and costumes. And Saurabh, and one of the three lovers he transits thru – spirited Mona Wasu, who has changed allegiance to serials like most actors – are the new kids on the block to watch out-for for an evening of undiluted entertainment.

A terrific surprise was the collaboration between students of  the University of Cape Town and the Fellowship students of NSD in ‘Inkosazana’ directed by Prof. Mfundo Tshazibane of Cape Town in Xhosa, Afrikaans,  English and Hindi.  It was interesting to see how differently the Bahumukh space had been used to convert it into an African locale…and the easy facility of our actors to glide in and out of dialects in a foreign legend/ folktale.

Mohan Rakesh’s Adhe Adhure directed by Lilette Dubey of Prime Time Theatre Company, Mumbai was a must see for me at the Kamani -- as I had missed it in Mumbai and Hyderabad.   Mohan Agashe’s avtar’s into all the male characters will endure like his Nana Phadnavis in Jabbar Patel’s Ghashiram Kotwal.

But my memorable moment was meeting Mohan Rakesh’s widow  -- the gentle warm attractive Anita Rakesh whose presence was acknowledged on stage.

The Peking Opera from the Central Academy of Drama, China was the other foreign offering I was able to catch…but left me uninspired.

My last day at the Festival had one superb offering from the Blank Verse Kolatta Group directed by Raja Bhattacharya.

Based on Badal Sircar’s Tringsho Shatabdi inspired by Ferdinand Gigon’s text of ‘E=mc2’ Formula for Death’ was the best thing for me at this festival…in spite of the bad subtitling at the SRC. But its production kept me spellbound throughout its two-hour-and-ten-minute Bengali staging. This group, its nuclear content and fallout, and Director Raja Bhattacharya’s intelligent visual representation needs to be seen by a wider audience in different cities. Thank you Raja!

I was able to catch friend Usha Ganguli’s colourful Rangkarmee production of Tagore’s ‘Chandalika’ in Hindi. It was Director-Actor Usha Ganguli’s stamina on stage and backstage orchestrating some 55 troupe members of varying ages that left one breathless.  And the flower swings that suddenly descended from the stage rafters were a delightful surprise.

One evening, I was carried off to watch Clowns & Clouds, at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts – a coming together of Theatre and Circus by NSD students in an intensive workshop in Kerala -- designed and directed by Abhilash Pillai.  Apart from the trapeze act, it was rather uninspiring.

A pity one could not stay on for the other performances…I believe the best was yet to come. Due to my own theatre commitment to our 10-year running of Vagina Monologues,  I was sorry to miss the inaugural play Ratan Thiyam’s ‘King of the Dark Chamber”; and  M K Raina’s Badshah Pathar – an adaptation of King Lear by the Kashmiri Bhagat Theatre due to heavy snowfall in Kashmir and their inability to reach Delhi during the scheduled time that I was there.

Returning home I dashed to Prithvi from the airport to catch up with Writers’ Bloc.  And my run of interesting theatre continues with the Rahul daCunha, Rajat Kapoor, Shernaz Patel Writers’Bloc monopoly till the end of January.