DT's 'Life in the Theatre'


If I were asked which has been the best month of 2017, I would say June 2017…because I spent most days of the month in theatre –either on Stage with The Vagina Monologues now in its fifteenth year -- or with the most talented theatre experts from all over India at the Institution of all institutions – the National School of Drama from where the best of the country’s theatre talent has emerged.

And I experienced first hand the Selection Grind that churns out the best theatre talent. Some of whom are keeping the Indian Film Industry afloat – a few names today’s generation may recognize are Irrfan Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui led by Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri of an earlier decade.

This year I was privileged to spend five grueling nine-hour days among the twenty-six theatre legends from all over India, and in every main language of the country, and serve on the Selection Jury of the NSD.  Out of some 4000 applicants, 144 were shortlisted – from Kashmir to Kerala, from Jaisalmer, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, to Nepal, West Bengal, Chhatisgarh, Uttarakhand, and Haryana, to Manipur, Assam, Oriya, et al.

And of these the best of 25 would be battered and moulded, cudgeled and sculpted over three years, into every aspect of the Performing Arts – Dance, Music, Singing, Movement, Costume, Stage, Lighting, Language, Sound, Set Design, Script Writing, Cosmetics and Make up, Mimicry  and everything else associated with a live performance.

And we the experts were given five days to assess their life’s dedication and passion.

What a glorious experience it was….no parochial, communal, linguistic, baisis. Every limitation of height, colour, physique, faith, voice quality, economic disparity was exploited and expressed, and extracted the talent we the theatre fraternity will benefit from in decades to come.

Today, the commercial world has woken up to the advantages of good presentation, good posture, good speech, good voice control, good grooming.  And hundreds  from the theatre fraternity have found a substantial living wage with the mushrooming television industry – and even as accountants, lawyers, and administrators, technicians.

I flew to Delhi to catch the Air India late-evening flight after my show at the Palladium – hoping to wake up in my own bed and room, and fresh for a 10am meeting…but alas Air India delayed its departure to 1am combining three international flights from Sydney and Hongkong for the Dreamliner which eventually took off…and the exit from the International Terminal on arrival was another saga of patience and tolerance!

The saving grace was the handsome In-flight Crew members who I engaged in conversation with, and who had as little idea about the change in plans -- as they had been rushed to our gate No 20 as soon as they alighted from the Hongkong flight they had operated. Needless to say the Gates were changed to Gate 7 and then Gate 4 amidst great chaos and confusion – not to mention the tired bodies and legs of the senior citizens.

But I was fortunate to meet some very interesting fellow passengers, and learnt so much about the changing India and the opportunities each one can pursue.

That is why I have always maintained that there is drama in every minute of my life!

The NSD Summer Theatre Festival was on at the Abhimanch and Kamani Auditorium.  So on the first day, I was able to catch Director Waman Kendre’s new original colourful, vibrant, relevant GHAZAB TERI ADAA inspired by Aristophanes “ Leastrata” done by the NSD Repertory Company…And I say relevant because it has parallels to the situation as it exists today where war and killing is an everyday headline. In “Ghazab Teri Adaa” the women help the soldiers to reject the idea of war, when they decide they will not allow their husbands to maintain  any physical contact with them until the war stops.

Vijay Tendulkar’s GHASIRAM KOTWAL directed by Jabbar Patel has remained an unforgettable experience since I first saw it in 1972-73 …and Mohan Agashe’s Nana Phadnavis is imbedded in my  memory forever.

I couldn’t resist the Repertory staging directed by Rajinder Nath.  The emphasis of “Ghasiram Kotwal” is on the decadent and pleasure loving society…and the sort of society in which Ghasirams abound….and we can spot avaricious power-hungry contemporary parallels.

Raell Padamsee’s THE EPIC at the Royal Opera House was another reminder how theatre has matured and the young are being made to relate to it, and understand the nuances of current events and politics intelligently and entertainingly.

And I cannot end without mentioning JIHAAD YATRA by the first year students of the Mumbai University Academy of Theatre Arts at the open air theatre in Kalina.  The Academy had invited Asil Rais an old Mumbai theatre friend now working in Paris – who brought in a whole lot of new production techniques  and what a goldmine he has been for the students of the Academy in the first year…


It has been the most fantastic period for me…lots of travel for Theatre and the other drama in my life…everyday is a highpoint!!! Even though I must confess I did not send any HAPPY THEATRE DAY greetings.
The SITARA STUDIO in Dadar has been such a find in recent months. The talent one has been witness to in those precincts reaffirms one faith and passion for theatrewalas of every generation – particularly the young. This just proves that theatre will always be alive and kicking – even though rates of commercial venues is hitting the roof!
I cannot not mention HARKAT STUDIO – in Versova -- where an astounding surprise of QUEEN-SIZE – in protest against an archaic law Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalizes homosexuality in India – was presented three or four times a day – in a space that accommodated only 20 members at a squeeze.  What an unusually brave effort by Lalit Khatana and Parinay Mehra based on an article by Nishit Saran in 2000 that appeared in the Indian Express “Why my Bedroom Habits Are Your Businesss”.
And soon after, the oldest existing English Theatre Group presented the Sultan Padamsee Playwrighting Award to SHIKHANDI written and directed by Faezeh Lalali. Shikhandi is perhaps one of the earliest transgender characters known in Indian history and mythology.  To quote from the programme note:  “ Shikhandi appears in the Mahabharat and plays a crucial role in winning the battle of Kurukshetra for the Pandavas.”
I first had a glimpse of it at the Godrej Theatre during the Tata LitLive event. Then on December 10, 2016 the LAADLI Media Campaign against Gender Sensitivity invited this excerpt to the Integral Space in Lower Parel to celebrate the end of the sixteen days of Activism as part  of the International Campaign of Violence Against Women.
Little did we know that three months later the National Centre for the Performing Arts would stage this mind-blowing  energetic, colourful, creative production with House-ful ratings for three days…and theatre enthusiasts trooped in from every corner of Mumbai.
Berthold Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle has been a favourite in almost every language and every theatre group. In Mumbai alone,  I have seen Vijaya Mehta direct her group, and IPTA direct Shabana Azmi.  But that didn’t deter me from travelling to Kalina to the Mumbai University’s Academy of Theatre Arts student production of its Hindi translation KHARIYA KA GHERA directed by Ekjut’s Nadira Zaheer Babbar from a translation by her mother Razia Sajjad Zaheer.
I am amazed at the theatre activity going around all over the city…and I for one travel the length and breadth chasing a group!
We are all familiar with AADHYAM -- the Aditya Birla Theatre initiative --  that has given struggling, innovative, talented, creative theatre groups strapped for money the opportunity  to showcase their talent in the opulent Jamshed Bhabha Auditorium of the NCPA in Nariman Point –  without cutting cost for sets and costumes.  It has been a new challenge and a dream come true for the theatre community.  Wish the Government would follow suit.
Feroz Khan’s MUGHAL-E-AZAM is a theatre  extravaganza never before seen on an Indian stage.  And has introduced almost three generations of Indians to the romance and tragedy of Anarkali and Salim.   More power to Khushroo Santook and Deepa Gahlot.
One of the good innovations is Corporates using theatre to interest their clients.  And the Aditya Birla Financial Services presented Director Rajesh Joshi’s YUG PURUSH – Mahatma ke Mahatma  at the newly refurbished ROYAL OPERA HOUSE on Charni Road, with a high tea of the highest order for every invitee.
While The Vagina Monologues has kept me on stage for fourteen years, it hasn’t stopped me from travelling to places and venues across India and the city…sometimes my travel to Prithvi takes longer than my flight to Hyderabad – where I went to BITS PILANI for the Crimson Curtain Festival.  Even there I squeezed in three plays from three different regions of India.  While they lacked experience of professional talent, the one from Indore tackled an issue we all face – exploitation of the naïve by the medical fraternity!
We live in our cocoons.  But the theatre community needs to be aware of the work being done in every language and every discipline of the performing  arts.  Not everyone shares the passion for theatre I like do.  Though this year I missed the NSD Festival Bharangam.
Hats off to Tom Altar’s Jashn-e-Maazi – a festival of plays in Hindi, English and Urdu with Tom Altar speaking immaculate  Hindi and Urdu in sixteen of the seventeen plays. Only in the RAJA NAHAR SINGH court martial did he play an English Judge sprouting Hindustani phrases occasionally.  This is the first time I saw Dr Sayeed Alam’s Pierrot’s Troupe from Delhi…their dedication leaves one dumb-founded.  .
Tagore’s  WITH LOVE in English and Bengali  brought in Malika Sarabhai and her son Revanta from Darpana in Ahmedabad which looked at the life and Art of Rabindranath Tagore with Tom Altar as the ageing Tagore and Revanta as young Tagore.
There were two shows per day at the Y B CHAVAN. I managed to attend five.  Sadly, Mumbai audiences had other distractions There were two shows per day at the Y B CHAVAN. I managed to attend five.  Sadly, Mumbai audiences had other distractions
The theatre event of the year which has evaded me for three years was the META – Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards. Its founder Ravi Dube had been pursuing me, and it’s a pity I found time only when Ravi Dube is no more with us.  I missed him terribly.
But this March I spent nine days seeing the best of 300 plays submitted to the META Reviewing Committee from every corner of India.  And I was on the final Jury for the best 10 plays staged alternatively at the Little Theatre, Sriram Centre, and Kamani Auditorium in Delhi.  Seeing two -plays a day – with every comfort catered for by Sonjoy Roy and Suraj Dhingra and his Teamwork staff – made me wish there were more such serious festivals round the country.
I wish Apna Manch Drama Company and Teflas Studio would stage Director Hemant Pandey’s LASSANWALA again; or that spunky livewire Yuki Ellias would allow more people to see her powerhouse of talent in ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM; Director Randhir Kumar’s Raaga Repertory should expose more people to OUTCASTE and their blinkered attitudes.
Director Chandrasan’s KAALI NAADAKAM in Malayalam, Anitha Santhanam’s BHIMA IN English, and Anurupa Roy’s MAHABHARATA,  Director Bratya Basu’s AWDDYO SHESH RAJANI in Bengali, and Rajendra Panchal’s KATHA SUKAVI SURYAMALI KI in Rajasthani are experiences not to be missed.
From Mumbai we had our favourites:  Akarsh Khurana’s DHUMRAPAN, and Rajat Kapoor’s I DON’T LIKE IT AS YOU LIKE IT which will remain unforgettable for the talent these directors have marshaled.


Most theatre viewers refrain from seeing a play they may have seen before. But not me…in my career of theatre viewing, certain classics have been revisited more than once…One such that comes to mind immediately is Bertolt Brecht’s CAUCASIAN CHALK CIRCLE which I saw for the umpteenth time -- staged as Khariya Ka Ghera by the Second year students of the Academy of Theatre Arts of the University of Mumbai -- at their much-to-be-envied open air theatre Muktakaash Rangmanch in Kalina, Santa Cruz East.  Energetically Directed and designed by Nadira Zaheer Babbar - from a translation into Hindi/Urdu by her mother Razia Sajjad Zaheer --  the energy and vigour and dedication  held one spell-bound.

I first saw it in Marathi in the Seventies as Ajab Nyayacha Valtulacha directed by Vijaya Mehta with that brilliant young actor Bhakti Barve. And I was hooked to everything Vijaya Mehta Directed and acted in, and everything  Bhakti Barwe was associated with – be it in Gujrati, Marathi, and Hindi.   Around that time Vijaya Mehta  met Fritz Benewitz who invited her to Berlin and collaborated with her to direct it in German!

Then in the Eighties the IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association) revived Poet Niyaz Haidar and Qudsia Zaidee’s Urdu translation as Safed Kundali  directed by M.S. Sathyu.  And I saw Shabana Azmi for the first time on stage. And it was the first time that she had played a leading role.
The original  Caucasian Chalk Circle begins with a Prologue that deals with a dispute over a valley. Two groups of peasants want to claim a valley that was abandoned during WW II when the Germans invaded. One group used to live in the valley and herded goats there.

The Caucasian Chalk Circle is a play by the German modernist playwright Bertolt Brecht. An example of Brecht's epic theatre, the play is a parable about a peasant girl who rescues a baby and becomes a better mother than its wealthy natural parents. It is adapted to suit the times and location as per each staging and language. It will remain a classic always…and I am so glad I have had the opportunity of seeing so many productions.


Suddenly it's been a season of revival of plays that were first staged in Bombay in the eighties and early nineties.  And I recall being there on opening night. In recent months I have seen two revivals – Agnes of God and Death and the Maiden. And memories flooded in… Agnes of God, directed by Meher Jehangir in 1985-86 had Zarina Mehta now Screwalla as the psychiatrist, Yasmin Kharas was the young girl Agnes, and Aloo Hirjee was Mother Superior ….and it opened at the Prithvi in Juhu where the stark set enhanced the emotional quotient of the play.. and it has given me the opportunity of catching up with directors of yore and reliving their experiences.  Yasmin Kharas was the fresh face and Meher used playback singing for her.

A still from 'Agnes of God'
The latest  production directed by Kaizaad Kotwal had Anahita Uberoi as the psychiatrist, Avanti Nagral as Agnes the young pregnant girl with the most exquisitely delicious soprano voice; and Mahabanoo Mody Kotwal as Mother Superior.. and opened at the Tata Theatre a few months ago amidst great admiration for the visually colourful stained glass effect and spectacular set…a rarity in these days of constrained budgets for most production units – except Aadyam which has restored theatre to some of its glorious past.
Death and the Maiden by Ariel Dorfman was directed by Alyque Padamsee in 1993….and he recalls that there were fires burning on the streets amidst Bombay riots while he was rehearsing Sabira Merchant, Keith Stevenson, and Homi Daruwalla within, and the play suddenly took on a contemporary relevance.  Recently Alyque revived it as The Midnight Knock in Kolkata drawing a political parallel to the situation as it exists there today.
A still from 'The Midnight Knock'
And I dashed across town to see one of Mumbai’s most dedicated and talented stage actors Dilnaz Irani in a multilingual production of  27.02.02. Zaheen Shah at the Prithvi directed by Kalyani Maneesh Verma – a thriller  with Harsh Khurana and Joy Sen Gupta. And while some of us recognised the theme, the adaptation to a contemporary situation seemed a bit convoluted and contrived.  But it was encouraging to know that the younger audiences made no such comparisons and were not influenced by memories of past productions and enjoyed the thriller in its entirety.

Revivals makes one wonder of the paucity of good original writing and plays.  Even in the West, there are many revivals on stage.  While writing is languishing somewhat, the acting talent has kept us glued to our seats – Nawazuddin comes to mind immediately – be it screen or stage!

Theatre contribution to LGBT awareness

One had shared whispers and accusatory rumblings of something called lesbianism in college.  A decade later Mumbai – then Bombay – introduced me to their creativity.  And one of the earlier plays in my theatre career was YES, MOTHER DEAR by Kamala Ramchandani directed by Adi Marzban – in which I played one of two sisters with lesbian preferences forced into marriage by a dominating mother (Mehra Vakil), and listed as a psychological drama . 

Farid Currim played my husband. It was a play. We learnt lines and were shown our movements and entries and exits, and I can’t remember dissecting and analyzing the issues. The year was 1984.  
I resurrected the brochure and cast. The author Kamala Ranchandani’s note reads: “There is no plaster cast for a broken mind.  Who can experience another’s pain? Where does it exist? Only in the mind of the person living it, and it can be sublimated into self expression…Human relationships is what it is all about.  Bewilderment. Pain. Warmth. Sincerity. Frustration…..What is this thing called family?  Man-created. Man-inflicted…What is love?The truest love is letting. Letting those we love go.  I write about life as you and I live it.”  The rest remains a memory. 
The protagonists in my orbit were playwright Erna Watcha-Gandhy and erstwhile Editor of Eve’s Weekly, Inez Dulles…and Alyque Padamsee even directed Pearl Padamsee and Bubbles Padamsee in Erna’s play ASYLUM.
Then I met the smart irreverent bright journalist Ashok Row Kavi…and I did get lascivious pleasure gossiping with him about many closet celebrities.
One evening he even invited me to accompany him on his mission to distribute condoms in a bar in Tardeo …and  to launch the first issue of BOMBAY DOST at their remote offices in Andheri East.. And mention of HUMSAFAR multiplied in our conversations. Then the Fund Raising Auction for the Richard Gear Foundation for AIDS brought the issue into South Mumbai focus…and some long-needed attention from Governments and Health Ministries…even funds for some 40,000 condoms from the  Elizabeth Taylor Foundation. Perseverance and dedication to this cause was abundantly clear at the Liberty.

The KASHISH MUMBAI INTERNATIONAL QUEER FILM FESTIVAL at Liberty Cinema set my mind thinking of the number of LGBT offerings in theatre in the past few years. Far be it for me to rewind and list the number of plays – Indian and international -- that have been staged at various youth festivals and in every language. But my involvement with the LGBT movement cleared away many cobwsebs. 
Chief Guest Ian McKellan mentioning that Antonio had the ‘hots’ for Bassanio, made me turn to Director Vikram Kapadia immediately, and ask if he is rethinking that portrayal --  he had opened the Aadyam-sponsored theatre festival with Merchant of Venice.
And the latest Aadyam offering of Purva Naresh’s LADIES SANGEET affirmed the theatre fraternity’s commitment to mirroring life as it is -- exposing prejudices and changing mindsets of the elite who have thus far succeeded in ‘buying’ society approval, and sweeping all their insecurities and complexes under the carpet and creating psychological monsters. A very brave movement is afoot.  Let their voices be heard and scrap Article 377.

April, 2016


When director Trishla Patel announced Luigi Pirandello’s SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR, I promptly jotted down the date and commuted all the way to the Prithvi Theatre in Juhu – which took me almost 2 hours… But I wasn’t going to miss it because it took me back to 1987.  Back then, it was 26-year-old ambitious Vikram Kapadia’s directorial debut, and he invited me to play the Mother with Denzil Smith as the Father. Vikram reminded me how every rehearsal our eyes were always pealed towards the main gate of Girton School (Behind Bhatia Hospital) where we would all assemble for rehearsals, awaiting the arrival of our lead cast – Imtiaz Khan (brother of Amjad Khan of Gabbar Singh fame) and Krutika Desai.  And it is a production none of us will ever forget….it was the first play where a sponsor volunteered since it was a Pirandello script.  And we went on stage having barely read Act 3 twice! It was an experience that kept Vikram off direction for some 10 years!
The New Cast of 'Six Characters.."

Sharing my-week-that-was over a family dinner which included Alyque Padamsee and Gerson daCunha, they reminisced about their staging of this classic Pirandello play in 1967 when Alyque played the Father, Gerson was the Director, Jerry Sayani played the mother, and Usha Katrak played the step-daughter. All these greats were directed by Sylvester daCunha. None of them saw our version as the play closed after opening night!!!
What a shame all we have to remind us of those days are a few photographs…but Vikram’s Production doesn’t even have that. The only positive thing that came out of that was that Imtiaz Khan married Krutika Desai…and hopefully lived happily ever after.

Trishla’s Pirandello had the only name I recognized -- Darius Shroff as the Father. And it took me back to Alyque Padamsee’s production of WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF – in which he played Cliff to my Honey with Alyque as George and Jinx Akerkar as Martha. And even today wherever and whenever Jinx and Alyque accost each other, be it at a party or theatre, he uninhibitedly yells out 'Martha' in his stage voice.  
Interesting to see how Six Characters In Search Of An Author has evolved in these fifty years! Three generations of theatre fiends have attempted Pirandello and Trishla has attempted introducing a bit of absurd theatre. And she wins with her portrayal of the step-daughter. A new director to watch out for.

March, 2016


EVERY theatre enthusiast I have met recently, and every theatre column I turned to, made a mention of Veenapani Chawla’s GANAPATI. Apart from reading the raves about this production, and taking pride in it, it evoked memories of that wonderful evening at the Rangashankara in Bangalore where Veena and I watched this production together, sitting twelve inches apart – she wrapped up in a very stylishly designed warm blanket-like ‘phiran’ wheezing silently at the awe that her rhythms created.  Everyone exclaimed at the wonder of Veenpani’s production. And a few of us trooped into a nearby restaurant to dine together.  She regaled us with anecdotes of each team member.  And we hung on to her every word. Much as we insisted she spend the night with us in our hotel, she was adamant to drive back to Adishakti at midnight – in spite all her well-wishers dissuading her.  But Veena was not one to adhere to any advice and she drove away accompanied by her faithful...strange but some of us lingered long enough till the tail lights faded away…and that was my last ‘goodbye’. 

Took me back to my first encounter somewhere around 1980.  I was thrilled by a sudden phone call from Veenapani Chawla inviting me to a rehearsal of THE TROJAN WOMEN at the open air stage in Bandra at the start of Linking Road opposite National College – Rang Mandir I think it was called. I didn’t consider myself a theatre reviewer or critic then.
Today, I can’t even recall the cast but I do remember it was in English and was impressed by what I had seen, and wrote about it in one of the several columns I handwrote in those years.

I am very particular about hoarding everything that I have written or has been written about me through the years. And this evening I have spent hours pouring over files dating back to pre-motherhood – which is getting closer to four decades! …trying to rummage through the cuttings for the one on The Trojan Woman…but alas. But have discovered many gems..like the one reviewing I S Johar’s play BHUTTO in which the inimitable Suhel Seth played Bhutto and Ashok Vishwanathan was Gen. Zia. The date was October 22, 1989.

I.S JOHAR was a multi-talented man maligned for his honesty and gutsy peccadillos. In his last years he wrote a play in English that created a controversy with the censors. It was finally cleared for staging. But no one in then Bombay thought it prudent to produce it. So the Birla-patronized cultural organization Sangeet Kala Kendra brought the Calcutta Workshop Group to Bombay and it was staged at the Nehru Centre.

A few pages after that another of my column headlines caught my eye….Encounter with the ‘Tiger’ dated Sept. 10, 1989… I couldn’t resist re-reading it..but what caught my attention was the para I had written: “It seemed a paradox that the staunch Maharashtra Tiger was to arrive at the doorstep of a non-Marathi speaking, non-militant, non-traditional, non-conservative, but passionately nationalistic secular citizen like myself.  And I recall correctly my first words of greeting were a nervous introduction in a similar vein. My mind was immediately put to rest when he declared me a Maharashtrian nonetheless because I have lived in Bombay since 1969”.

With all the ‘noise’ being generated over such issues, this reading became very relevant.

October, 2015


 WITH VAGINA MONOLOGUES occupying two weekends a month for almost four years, I have had to decline many invites to view plays and theatre festivals – in Mumbai and elsewhere. I didn’t realize how ‘left behind’ I was till I accepted to be part of the Screening Committee of the National School of Drama last week – foregoing three shows per day this weekend at the Prithvi…a challenge for any actor – particularly a ‘senior’ actor like me!
The Theatre world has galloped ahead in its challenges, developments and ideas.  And the National School of Drama reined in as many theatre professionals from every corner of India that could devote five days of pure theatre watching of some 588 plays for the Bharat Rang Mohatsav scheduled for a month in February 2016, in the eight or nine theatres around the Mandi House precinct. 

While Himani Shivpuri, Afsar Husein, Ravindra Tripathi, Laique Hussain, Hema Singh, Suresh Bhardwaj were some of the names and people I recognized – apart from the informal interaction with the NSD heavies:  Chairman Rattan Thiyam and Director Waman Kendre -- there were some 27 others that I had the honour and privilege of interacting with -- albeit briefly – since we were ensconsed from 10 am to sometimes 7pm everyday in eleven different spaces of the National School of Drama. It would be pertinent to mention here that the NSD staff deputed to attend to the visiting professionals excelled themselves in their patience, hospitality, and co operation.  We were plied with tea, coffee, biscuits, pistas throughout the day – not to mention the sumptuous lunches from Delhi’s gourmet corners like Karim’s.

I cannot speak for the experience of the other groups, but Manohar Khushalani and Sachin Tewari in my group were a storehouse of experience and sharing….and each day brought in more delights for the senses. The repartee and comraderie enriched our theatre bonding…and the patience young Amir displayed in operating the DVDs.

I was introduced to the uninhibited fluidity of the body in the mime and non-verbal presentations, and the numerous multi-lingual communication projects presented. While there were lavish stagings that were a flashback of the NSD training of some of the Directors, there was an invasion of sophisticated body movement and technical prowess from the young and unknown actors and directors. And one is aware of the budget constraints most groups work under. But it was a marvel to see their end-product. 
While some entries included names of famous playwrights, it did not always follow that the presentation of their work on stage was outstanding.  We were there to judge acting and production not a script selection.

A refreshing introduction was the focus on transgender awareness…and many issues relevant to the youth of today…albeit interpreted through movement, mythology or modern day politics.

It was the production sophistication many displayed in technical craft…be it lighting, props, costume, and sound track. 

Each year the Bharangam Festival in Delhi offers something for everyone, and caters for all diverse tastes and preferences  -- in language, dance, drama, solo, acrobatics, audio and visual treats -- from every corner of India – North, South, East, West and even introduces us to imported plays from other countries. 

The final committee is sitting in Delhi as I type.  Therefore, it would not be in the order of things to mention my personal preferences.  And in any case, I only saw 55 plays out of some 588 in every language of India!!!!  The Committee has an arduous task and is out on it!!! In theatre there is no caste , prejudice, or religion. It is an observation and expression of life.

Theatre has matured and come a long way. If only the fraternity can be allowed to continue to express itself without interference from lumpen goons.
PS: The foyer display of the history of NSD in photographs, and its various productions under each Director is a welcome addition – as is the new clean washroom!!!!!

June, 2015


While most of Mumbai empties out during the month of May, what a God-send it is for cars and drivers.  I could self-drive between Palladium in Lower Parel where every alternate weekend of my 6 pm shows of Vagina Monologues clashed with the 8pm original offerings of theatre at the Jamshed Bhabha, Tata, Experimental in Nariman Point of the NCPA; and even the 9 pm cant-be-late at Prithvi shows. 

There is an air of nostalgia in most productions – and the film star craze has brought in full houses in recent months: Deepti Naval and Shekhar Suman in 'Ek Mulaqat', Arif Zakaria and Sonali Bhendre in 'Gardish Main Taare', and Anupam Kher and Neena Gupta in 'Mera Woh Matlab Nahin Tha'. The  Jamshed Bhabha Auditorium is no more the stronghold of Western Classical Music and Concerts! 

The sets have got bigger, and producers have splurged on lavish sets. But real theatre was seen at the Mahalaxmi Race Course in Prithvi -at-the-Turf experiment – albeit free – but in excrutiating humidity there was not a seat available in this open-air recreation of Prithvi Theatre.  The best of the lot was undoubtedly 'Ismat Aapa Ke Naam' – with Naseeruddin Shah sweltering in his bandh gala achkan et al.  I would cross many seas to see his daughter Heba Shah on stage – for those that remember she is a Shaukhat Azmi come alive.

This trend delights my theatre-heart.

Titles of plays are getting more intriguing. The last play by Nadira Babbar had me phoning her Ekjute producer to get the title right – 'Jaise Sooke Huye Phool Kitaabon Mein Milein'. It was an unusual experiment of literary characters and poets coming to life to enact episodes from their life…and we get a glimpse into Mirabai, Surdas,  Subhadra Kumari Chauhan, Ghalib, Iqbal, Sahir Ludhianvi…what a treat for those interested in our literature….when a library is being to be closed and land sold to a mall-builder!

INT -- INDIAN NATIONAL THEATRE celebrated its 70th anniversary…and there was no way I was going to miss not being there with Gautam Joshi the only surviving doyen from my association with INT which began in 1971. History passed thru my head and heart – Pravin Joshi, Bachu Sampat, Mansoor Joshi, Damu Jhaveri and his unforgettable wife Maltibehn.

Freshly returned from London, I remember trudging up the stairs of Babulnath Temple where  INT had its godowns and spaces for rehearsals of 'A Touch of Brightness' by Partap Sharma.  A play about the red light district of then-Bombay originally directed by Alyque Padamsee and made more famous for its banning in 1965 on the eve of their departure for the Edinburgh Arts Festival…and the actors including Vijaya Mehta, Pearl Padamsee, Farrukh Mehta were barred from leaving India’s shores.

In its revival -- after Partap won the Court case – INT staged it with Dina Pathak (mother of Ratna Pathak Shah) playing Bhabhirani…and Kalpana Lajmi, and I playing Suraksha the inmates of the brothel  (among the names some of you may remember).

A phone call from Pratibha Ratnakar Matkari inviting me to the Marathi Sahitya Sangh in Charni Road to see their daughter Supriya playing INDIRA had me ferreting my way there after almost 40 years. Again nostalgia.  A very popular venue for many plays in the early 70s, it suddenly disappeared from my radar.  And recently Jehan Manekshaw has revived it with his Drama School for theatre professionals.

'Indira' was a flash back again. Two years ago the script of 1 Safgdarjung Road arrived at my door asking me to direct the play. Written by Ratnakar Matkari it encapsulated the life of Indira Gandhi from June 12, 1975 --  two weeks before Emergency till her assassination on October 31, 1984.

Since June 26 was only two weeks away, it seemed appropriate to do a reading of it for the Press Club of India. And I was able to assemble a good strong cast with Shernaz Patel playing Indira Gandhi. Anju Bedi as Pupul Jayakar,  My reading was in English. And while there were many in the audience who had some personal and interesting experiences to relate of the Emergency, sadly the Press stayed away even though it was in their premises.  Already the Emergency was a forgotten chapter for them in 2013.

'Indira' directed by Ratnakar Matkari was a full production in Marathi. And Supriya Matkari as Indira and the rest of the cast held the emotions of that era alive.