Q's Countdown

April, 2014

10 theatre wallahs who made movies

The much acclaimed and anticipated film Court is releasing this month. With a first time director and producer at the helm, it is amazing that is has seen the light of day. But they cut their teeth in the theatre, so in honour of the film’s release, I thought it would be fun to countdown 10 regular theatrewallahs who made a film or two, but still keep one foot in theatre:

      1.  Chaitanya Tamhane, Court:
is truly a brilliant film. It has a rhythm and a narrative style all of it’s own. Chaitanya has been known to deeply research his work, and that is probably thanks to his time spent with master chronicler Ramu Ramanathan. His play Grey Elephants in Denmark, was a breath of fresh air, as it took a fresh look at the Indian magic profession through the competition between two magicians. He studied the magic for months, and then passed it on the secrets to his actors, who were also bound by the code. Court is similar in its detailed research and unravelling of events; at a pace all of its own – realistic and yet stylistic. The humour is never forced. Do watch it if you can.

      2. Naseeruddin Shah, Yun Hota To Kya Hota:
While Naseerbhai’s claim to fame is his numerous film roles, he has always been dedicated to the theatre. More than as an actor, his commitment to telling stories in the live medium has always been remarkable. His plays often find new forms in telling old material, like the stories of Ismat Aapa or Sadaat Hassan Manto, etc. His film directorial debut was much anticipated, particularly among the theatre fraternity who had been hearing the rumblings for years. While the film didn’t do too well at the box office, it did have all the director’s trademarks: strong characters, powerful performances, and a story with soul. It remains his only directorial credit in film.

      3. Mahesh Dattani, Mango Souffle, Morning Raga
One of India’s most prolific English language playwrights, Mahesh Dattani, made the transition from writer to stage director to film director. His first film, based on his play A Muggy Night in Mumbai, was not very proficient technically, but his Morning Raga was almost a watershed film for independent cinema. It saw a strong release, and was one of the first films to have a liberal use of English, backed up with very strong performances.
      4. Nagesh Bhonsle, Goshta Choti Dongraevadhi        
Nagesh Bhonsle has dominated the Marathi and Hindi stage for many years. Along with a very successful career in Marathi cinema and television. In 2009 he finally debuted as a film director with his film on the plight of the Maharashtrian farmers. He has directed a few more after, but remains dedicated to the theatre.

      5. Mohit Takalkar, The Bright Day
Mohit Takalkar has been one of experimental Marathi theatre’s leading
directors for over a decade. His work has always been quiet, detailed and usually looks at the world from a distance - finding beauty and grace in things that are often mundane. His film is no different. Using a strong coterie of stage actors, and the one-for-all theatre principle where everyone doubled up on duties, the film has a production value that is remarkably impressive for a film with such a small budget.

      6. Manav Kaul, Hansa
This was another film that had the whole theatre community talking about it. It was much anticipated and eventually became a festival film. Like most of Manav’s plays the film involved a search, except while his plays looked inwards this film was actually about a daughter looking for her father. Soon after, Manav’s film career as an actor took off and he hasn’t made a second film to date but he continues to write profusely for the stage. 

      7.  Makrand Deshpande, Sona Spa
Easily the most prolific of all the playwrights in the country, Makrand Deshpande writes plays the way he orders chai….by the case load. Sona Spa was a brilliant idea terribly executed in its stage avatar. Barely had the stage run finished, when Makrand rented a location in Madh Island and shot the film. In true Mak style, it was quick, chaotic, and impulsive. The film did find its way to release, but failed to make any waves. His earlier film Shahrukh Bola Khubsoorat Hai Tu, which was made and marketed with more care, did make a more significant impact, particularly on the festival circuit.

      8. Roysten Abel, In Othello
This was another theatre director making a film version of his play. Unfortunately the deep themes of the stage version only translated to dark scenes in the film version, which ended up being far more intense and inaccessible that perhaps intended. The plot is about a group of actors rehearsing Shakespeare’s Othello and how slowly but surely, life begins mirroring the play. Surprisingly, the film version failed to properly create the world of theatre with insight and understanding (ala Birdman), maybe because it was trying to make each frame look like a film noir painting.

      9. Jagdish Rajpurohit, Bumboo
Jagdish is a regular feature at the Prithvi CafĂ©. He has worked in numerous plays, gets regular work in television commercials. Therefore it was quite a surprise that he decided to direct a film. It was even more surprising that it was light, commercial fare. The film didn’t do very well, but it’s quite likely that the enterprising Jagdish will be back with another.

      10. Pushan Kriplani, Threshold
This one hasn’t released yet, but fingers are crossed that it will. Pushan Kriplani has leapt from cinema to theatre for most of his career. As a cinematographer he has worked on commercial films where the focus is the cleavage, while in theatre he has directed Karnad and Genet. Always an inventive theatre director, his first film showcases that inventiveness, but from the technical side. The film has only two actors, and masterfully guides us through the claustrophobia of the situation. Shot beautifully, with no artificial light, the film might just become a blue print for low budgeters in the future. It’s a film worth seeing with strong performances, and hopefully will release soon.

Also Rans:
There are plenty of theatre people who have made the transition to film making: Siddharth Roy Kapur, Ronnie Screwvala, Vivek Vaswani, the list is endless. But very few who have remained working in theatre, and that is what the list tries to capture. Rajat Kapoor has become a very successful film director, and opens new plays, while the prolific Akarsh Khurana is poised to direct a feature film. 

In case there are others you know about, please do let me know. Till then….go catch COURT.

October, 2014

10 Theatre things to look out for at Literature Live!

This is clearly becoming a yearly phenomenon, and mainly because as curator I’m always very excited to share the performances that take place at Literature Live! Each year. This year in celebration of the festival turning five there are events at NCPA and Prithvi:

     1.    Two good!

Marty Moran is a one man powerhouse. He has skilfully managed to convert real life events (sometimes shocking) into beautiful pieces of theatre. He will be performing two different shows, one is called The Tricky Part that documents his time as a young boy and traumatic events that took place at camp. The other, All The Rage, is a look at the same events but now as a mature adult. The plays, though an exciting double bill, are not sequels in the true sense. You can enjoy one completely independent of the other.
The Tricky Part: 30th October 2014, 5pm, NCPA Experimental, and 1st November 11am, Prithvi House.
All The Rage: 31st October 2014, 2pm, NCPA Experimental and 2nd November 2:30pm, Prithvi House.

     2.    Singing for the Bard
So good old Shakey turns 450 this year. And in honour of that milestone, the Pune Chamber Choir has put together Serenade for Shakespeare, a collection of songs that have been inspired by the world’s greatest ever writer. Interspersed with speeches by stalwarts like Gerson da Cunha, the evening promises to be a wonderfully unique take on Shakespeare’s words, with some of his speeches even being set to music and sung!
Serenade to Shakespeare: 31st October 2014, 8pm, Tata Theatre.

     3.    Balladeers galore
Probably the most unique set of performances at the festival is the Katha Gayan series. An initiative by Musicafest to revive old folk forms of traditional story telling. Across two nights, Litlive will present three very different kinds of folk performers from Rajasthan and Chattisgarh,. Pabuji ri Phad tells the story of Pabuji through Phad paintings that are strewn across the backdrop. Pandoon ka Kada, tells the story of the Pandavas through couplets sung by  Islamic singers who retell the story in the Tomar Vanshiya version. The third form, Pandvaani involved a lead singer enacting and singing as she tells the story of the Pandava brothers.
Katha Gayan 1&2: Pabuji ri Phad & Pandoon ka Kada October 31st, 6:30pm, NCPA Sunken Garden.
Katha Gayan 3: Pandvaani, November 1st, 6:30pm, NCPA Sunken Garden

     4.    A Wale of a time
Collaborations come in many forms, but one of the strangest has to be Gazzalaw, between Welsh and Indian musicians. Love poetry of the two ancient traditions are woven together to the accompaniment of harp, table, guitar and harmonium.
Gazzalaw: October 31st 2014, 6:30pm, NCPA Sunken Garden.

     5.    Shake it baby
Tim Supple is back. The maverick, mad, director who came up with the fantastical yet earthy Midsummer Night’s Dream a few years ago, makes an appearance at Literature Live to talk about what he knows best. Shakespeare. A talk about his journey with Shakespeare is followed by a workshop about how to 'play’ Shakespeare. This is a real treat for theatre wallahs. Exact dates are still to be confirmed. Check out www.litlive.in  for details.

     6.    Word up!
It is a literature festival after all, and what’s the point if the writer’s don’t participate. So three playwrights Marty Moran, Nicholas Billon, and Purva Naresh will read excerpts from their work, and talk a little about how these works came to be. This is an interactive session so there will be a talk back with the audience. Again for the exact time and date check out www.litlive.in
      7.   Easy to say, hard to show
One of the more interesting panel discussion sessions this time is the one around sexual violence, and in particular the challenges with how it can be represented on stage. Priyanka Bose (Nirbhaya), Marty Moran (The Tricky Part) and Mahesh Dattani (30 Days of September) join Kaizaad Navroze Kotwal (Director, Vagina Monologues) as they share what their challenges have been in bringing their stories to the stage, and how sometimes the theatre can elevate a story past the banality of the deed.

     8.    Row, row, row….
Winner of the best of Toronto Fringe this theatre adaptation of Jerome K. Jerome’s hilarious novel Three Men in a Boat comes to Litlive with a great reputation. Quick witted and as sharp as the writer intended, the play promises to make you bust a gut with laughter.
Three Men in a Boat: 1st November 2014, 6pm & 9pm Prithvi Theatre; 2nd November 2014, 6:30pm NCPA Sunken Garden.

     9.    Which country?

It’s very odd to have a place from Canada that’s called Iceland, that actually has very little to do with Rekjiavik. But confusions aside, this is a beautifully nuanced and detailed piece of theatre by returning troupe Why Not Theatre, who enthralled audiences two years ago with Spent. A must watch.
Iceland: 1st November 2014, 8pm, NCPA Tata Theatre; 2nd November 2014, 6pm and 9pm, Prithvi.
    10. Short but tall
Last year one of the hits of Litlive 2013 was the simple and effective Tall Tales section. The stories were completely true and told devoid of any artifice or extraneous wizardly other than the story teller. Tall Tales returns this year with three even more powerful stories. It should be quite a blast. Exact schedule yet to be decided. Check out www.litlive.in for details.

That’s my ten. Let me know if there were some other theatre things that caught your fancy at Litlive 2014. Hope to see you at the fest. Till then happy reading!

September, 2014

10 Canadian theatre events

In the month of June I spent some time in Canada, interacting with the Canadian theatre community. Some were formalised interactions, and some were random social gatherings and some were just good ideas that surprised me.:

      1.  Magnetic North Industry Series:
The Magnetic North is an annual theatre festival of Canadian work. It is a bouncing festival with every even year held in a different Canadian city, and every odd one in their head quarters in Ottawa. Being a celebration of Canadian work, there is also a very strong Industry Series that is put together. This allows Canadian artists from all over the large country to meet, share ideas, and also interact with international delegation. It was a brilliant organised week of meetings, sessions, shows, and more. The details of some are listed below.

      2. One to Ones
No this is not Rage’s sequel to their monologue series… The One to One’s were a formal series of meetings, where the presenters were each assigned a table. And artists from Canada could fix up short 15 minute appointment to meet with the presenters. This allowed for a formal interaction that was short enough for each side to introduce themselves and their work, so that they could take up conversations later during the week. A bell rang precisely at 15 minutes and everyone had to move. I met some fascinating people, working on fascinating shows, and since I am not really one for ‘bar’ conversations, this allowed me to start conversations which I could continue in the following days.

      3. Compass Points
Traditionally festivals are mainly about celebrating the established theatre people.  But internationally, festivals have started investing in what they term ‘emerging artists’ as well, with programmes such as the International Talent Campus (Manchester International Festival), and Compass Points (Magnetic North). The Compass Point programme involved young artists being attached to senior theatre groups for a week during the festival. Observing rehearsals, sitting through techs, and a whole lot more.
     4. Guerrilla Theatre
Some members of the Compass Point programme were conscripted to perform at various places in unannounced gigs. It added hugely to the festivity of the whole experience, and more importantly took theatre to newer audiences, surprising them on the ferry, sidewalks, thanks to the stilt walkers even on their first floor houses.

     5. Demo Stage
Probably the most unique experience of my trip.  Demo Stage was essentially a sharing. Different theatre people got up onto stage, and had five minutes to share what they were working on. Some on a show, some a text, some an idea. And as they set up their presentation, the crowd shouts out their introduction with things like “Like chocolate!”, “Was in xyz band”, etc. It’s an informal experience and a lot of fun. It was also remarkable to suggestions the audiences have on how to make a project/idea better. The most exciting presentation was about a piece of technology mounted on a pair of opera glasses, which can project onto the screen what the actor and the glasses are supposed to be looking at. The demonstration involved the Sistine Chapel, so as the actor moved from left to right, we saw a different section of the beautiful fresco.

     6.  Pitches
This was another new experience for me. Pitching shows to venue, producers and presenters who had gathered as part of the Industry Series. These were formal presentations where artists had ten minutes to take the audience through their project, and to define what exactly they are looking for. Some of the projects were over a year away from opening. Each presentation took its own route. Some were sung, some performed, some power points and some were films. An incredibly useful opportunity for performers to get people to support or fund their work. The formality and the tight time line helped make this an entertaining experience as well.
     7. Poker Night
As part of their effort to make each performance group comfortable, the Magnetic North Festival organised a special event for each troupe; and usually it connected with the topic of the play. I tagged along with the gang who performed Iceland, which is loosely connected to the financial crash. The event organised was a poker game in the backyard ‘den’ of a wellwisher. What was wonderful was those that were invited were regular inhabitants of Halifax City, but who were not involved in the festival. It was a lovely exchange of ideas and conversation as we each tried to figure out each others ‘tells’.

     8. Thirsty Thursdays
Easily the best idea I’ve ever heard. Each Thursday a costume designer from Halifax throws open her home at 9:30pm. She makes some food, and people bring their own booze. The only caveat to attend is that you HAVE to be part of the theatre community. Fifty of us crowded into the kitchen and regaled each other with theatre stories. Such a wonderful evening, so warm, so generous, so lovely. It was a great way to spend my last evening in Halifax.

     9. Stratford Canada
I could not believe there was a humshakal of the original, but there was. Startford in Canada like it’s UK counterpart is a town dedicated to Shakespeare. It’s a proper theatre town. Hardly anybody lives there other than local merchants and the performing company, but two hours a away from Toronto makes it a regular destination for people who want to get their theatre fix. We managed to catch two shows on the day we were there, a version of Alice Through The Looking Glass and the musical  Crazy for You. Both incredibly populist, and fun in their own way, but not really my cup of tea. But it is still nice to wander through theatre town. Where everything is dedicated and because of theatre. Would be nice to replicate that one day.

     10. Theatre Centre Talk
This was a hastily arranged evening where I was asked to do what I do best…TALK!!! An informal conversation between my hosts Daniel Daley and Ravi Jain to talk about urban Indian theatre to anyone who was interested. It ended up being a lovely evening that, inevitably, went on much longer than anticipated. The conversations were about new writing, the economics, how do people tour, etc. It was heartening to see that even so many miles away, the theatre community is confronting the same things. Made me think of Howard Taubman’s immortal quote, “It is the destiny of the theater nearly everywhere and in every period to struggle even when it is flourishing.”

July, 2014

10 Canadian plays

In the month of June I had the privilege of going to the Canada’s Magnetic North Theatre Festival in Halifax. As part of the festival I got to watch a selection of Canadian experimental work. So in the first of a two part countdown, I am only going to round up the shows I saw:

     1. Jet Lear
In principle it sounded fascinating – a woman playing King Lear. However it turned out to be a ‘meta-theatrical’ piece, with solid German ‘deconstructionism’ thrown in. I don’t know if I understand those terms correctly, but Lear seemed to fit what I think those terms mean. Using inventive sound samples of an argument from rehearsal, interesting choreography and at one point even getting the audience to shift location and occupy seats on stage, the play was interesting even if not altogether absorbing. Since I was fighting jet lag (I had landed in Halifax only a few hours before), the stillness of this virtually ‘performance art’ piece made it hard to stay awake or concentrate.

     2. Not Wives and Girlfriends
In football season it is remarkable how words take on new meanings. What should have been a straight forward title, Wag, left us clueless. An almost one woman show, the play told the story of an actress making her way in the snow to a performance. She is feeling low, until she sees a dog. Then she does things to make herself feel happy and better. Beautifully told, the piece seemed to have a lot of ‘in’ references. Not sure how people who don’t appreciate theatre would respond to it. The wonderful turn at the end would perhaps have been a little more effective if the fun ball gown dance number hadn’t been so long.

     3.  Er…who is Spalding Gray?
Another piece that needed a strong Canadian theatre context was Who Killed Spalding Gray? Later research revealed that Spalding Gray was a practitioner who specialised in one-man shows, very similarly to the performer/creator Daniel McIvor. Gray committed suicide in 2004, and McIvor uses this event to evaluate his own life. This was the only debuting show at the festival, and I actually caught opening night. The show was interesting in narrative through two real stories and a fictitious one of a man called How. Not understanding the significance of both Gray or McIvor, I was a little lost as to why these stories should be important to me, but to those who have followed their works, the play seemed a wonderful insight into the men.

     4.  Sometimes the process is more interesting
We crowded into the Bus Stop Theatre to watch A Tale of Nova Scotia, a piece which had been derived from interviews from people from all over Nova Scotia. While the plot was thin, and the denouement a little silly, the journey we were taken through, based on real stories of the people of the region was quite fantastic. Because of this context, we forgave the fact that it was only five actors playing the many characters and the odd moustache falling off. One of the ensemble was Adam Paolozza from Spent, which had performed in Bombay a few years ago. The recording of testimonials was seamlessly interwoven into the story of the Nova Scotia town grocery stores fighting for survival against the whole sale stores.

     5.  A simple idea. A genius idea:
Even before I got to the festival I wanted to see When it Rains (Watch trailer Here). The promotional material promised a ‘graphic novel on stage’ and I was keen to see if they’d make good on their promise. And this they did. With virtually no set, the play was lit entirely by a single projection. The projection provided the set, the moving fan, the psychological comment, etc. It was such a simple and powerful idea, that I felt almost inadequate for not having thought about it. We are hoping to bring this play about love and humanity to India, maybe in 2015.

     6.  Very little to do with the country
One show that we will be able to see in India is Iceland, created by the makers of Spent. The show is scheduled to tour here in November. A brilliantly crafted text by Nicholas Bilton, delicately directed by Ravi Jain and performed by three outstanding actors made for the highlight of the Mag North festival. This was easily the most polished and tight piece of work. But am sure it will make it to my October countdown when I list the shows coming to Literature Live! So I won’t spend too much time on it now.

     7.  Play in the Elevator
The National Elevator Project is a series of plays to be performed in elevators. Each is only about 10 to 15 minutes long. The one I caught (Dear Mr. Keith) was about a woman who is going to visit her husband in other city and surprise him. She gets into the lift, asks us the audience to help with her bags, and then presses the appropriate button. Sure enough the husband walks in suitably drunk and being seduced by an attractive woman. We stood there like mute spectators to a domestic squabble as the events unfolded. It was funny, awkward, powerful and mesmerising all at the same time. Plus we were going up and down in an elevator.

     8.  It’s broke, please fix it.
The one show of the festival that disappointed me terribly was Broken Sex Dolls. This musical about pornography and reality tv style popularity seemed to lack any real substance. While the singing was strong, the choreography was pedestrian. The production design was tacky. Yet the actors gave it their all, which is why I returned from the interval. Although it was the commercial hit of the festival, I was incredibly disappointed with the piece. A lot of people seemed to term the play ‘misogynistic’.

     9.  Native voice
After watching play after play of ‘white’ or urban experience I was wondering where was the diversity that Canada boasts of. This came in the form of the hard hitting Huff, a one man show about young First Nation boys growing up in a defunct school system and even more defunct family. Clifford Cardinal who wrote and performed it, made us squirm in our seats as he presented what was essentially reality for a number of First Nation people. Audience were left shell shocked and one old man even broke down.

     10. Come play with me
Dylan or rather an excerpt from Dylan was performed outside one of the other venues. As part of the Guerrilla Theatre section of the festival, the piece would pop up in unexpected places – on the ferry or on the pavement. Told by 23 year old Gillian Clark, the story is about a young boy who tries to retell famous stories with endings he prefers. In the case of this excerpt, Medea. The 12 year old boys retelling of a modernised classic that doesn’t necessarily end in tragedy was both compelling, and funny. 

So that’s the first installment of Canadian stuff. My next month’s piece will be about other things I did in the ten short days I had in Mounty country…eh!

June, 2014 


Its no secret that my biggest fear with the overwhelming majority of the BJP government is the clamp down on freedom of speech, and more particularly artistic freedom. These repercussions are already seen in the literary world with the withdrawal of Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus and also more recently Communalism and Sexual Violence: Ahmedabad since 1969 by Dr Megha Kumar. Therefore I thought it apt to count down ten plays that have been (have threatened to be) banned:

    1. No Sense of Humour
In the 1980s there was a hilarious spoof play entitled Shakespeare Ki Ram Leela. I was only child, but it was my first encounter the ‘might is right’ syndrome. The play was light hearted comedy of errors, where Ram and Sita end up falling for Juliet & Romeo respectively. Confusion reigns supreme, until order is restored. The premise was delicious and the audience seemed enthralled, until the auditorium doors were broken down and the performance interrupted. Legend has it that the director was made to kiss the mob leaders feet as apology. Defeated the troupe revived the play a few months later as Shakespeare Ek Film Set Pe, where the star crossed lovers were crossed with Amitabh Bacchhan and Rekha.


     2. Let's not let the truth get out
     It was unheard of in the 1960s that an Indian play would get to perform internationally. And that too one which was in English. Partap Sharma’s Touch of Brightness was invited to be part of an international showcase in Edinburgh. The play set in Kamathipura, is a humane look at the lives of workers in the Bombay’s red light district. The night before the troupe were about to leave, their passports were impounded. The reason, the play shows India in a bad light! Partap Sharma fought valiantly against the ban, and eventually almost thirty years later, the ban was finally lifted by the court.

    3. High Caste Low Caste
There have been many illogical bans. The one on Habib Tanvir’s Charandas Chor has to rank up there. It had performed all across India for many years, but suddenly under a new government in Chattisgarh, the play was banned in 2009. The offence the play is supposed to have committed is that a lower caste thief used a temple to hide in. So much for the constitution.

    4.  Theatre shouldn't be a mirror
      The arts have always questioned society’s stand point on a great many things.  Vijay Tendulkar’s Sakharam Binder caused a storm when it was released. It shocked people with its boldness, and its truth. Sex out of wedlock, emancipated women, Hindus befriending Muslims, were not things to be tolerated. The ban was eventually lifted and it created a shift in a paradigm of what can happen on stage in Maharashtra. Sunil Shanbag’s Sex Morality And Censorship aptly captures the history of the banning of Sakharam…

    5. Villains cant have points of view
Mi Nathuram Godse Boltoy was an explanation by Gandhiji’s assassin surrounding the events that led to the murder of the Father of the Nation. The play was a sell out, but the performances were marred by huge disturbances. Citing law & order, the play was banned in 1999. Eventually that ruling was overturned and full houses resumed.

    6. It's a Law and Order thing
Law and order issues seems to be the convenient excuse to prevent plays for being staged. Although not officially banned, the Chennai police refused to allow Vagina Monologues to be performed in their city. It took almost ten years for better sense to finally prevail.

    7. Too much comment
While Ramu Ramanathan’s Cotton 56 Polyester 84, did excellently in Bombay, it was not so welcomed in the interiors of Maharashtra. Once show being called off, hours before the curtain opened. The troupe then relocated to a private hall, where they did a selection of songs from the performance to a rousing reception. The play talks about a time in Bombay that not many of us remember. A time before the Shiv Sena, and when the mills were actually mills and not venues for eateries. It tracked the decline of the city’s favourite occupation, and clearly the powers that be didn’t like it.

    8. It's Pakistani!
Our favourite reason to ban shows. In a ridiculous situation, Mahesh Dattani was threatened to suspend his play Sara because it was about a Pakistani writer Sara Shagufta and her letters to India author Amrita Pritam. The performance eventually went through, despite the threats, in one of the rare occasions where the police provided security to the artists and audience alike.

    9. We think it might be objectionable
The most recent case of Ali J being banned has to be the saddest of the lot. After opening in Bombay in November, it was cancelled at the last minute at the Kala Ghoda Festival in February. The play is about a Muslim youth in jail, that might or might not have parallels with Mohammed Ali Jinnah (who incidentally spent most of this life in Bombay). Trouble followed the play, and it’s Bangalore run was also stopped. Evam, the producers used the most democratic of mediums to get the play an audience by screening the play on youtube. I guess it’s just a matter of time before youtube gets banned as well

    10. Communism is evil
This was a belief a long time ago in our country. And the rest of the world. At the height of the cold war communism seen as reason enough to stop or even assassinate. Malayalam play Ningalenne Communistakki (You Made Me a Communist) was banned in 1953 because it was felt that it roused people to revolution and contained provocative material that might prove harmful to the integrity of the state. The ban was eventually overturned and the play went on to over 10,000 performances.

So that’s the list. There are plenty more. Safdar Hashmi giving his life for speaking out through his work, Badal Sircar’s bold statements, all haven’t made it to the list. Members of Kabir Kala Manch have been persecuted as anti-nationals and the label of Naxalite is as strong a stigma today as it was at the height of the cold war. In today’s India, will we still be allowed to have a point of view that isn’t the majority’s and more importantly isn’t pro-business?

March, 2014

10 QTP Highlights

Fifteen years is a long time to try and cram into a list of ten. But the following are some of the things we’ve done, over the years. This is not a list of what is important, but a list of what is varied. And how with each we pushed in a new direction:

    1. Thoreau (1999)
You always remember your first! But The Night Thoreau Spent in Jaiil, wasn’t just a play. It became a life philosophy, and also in a way an artistic philosophy. It’s the one that started it all. Fresh out of college, a brand new theatre company, we managed to sell out on Cricket World Cup Final night. We felt like we’d conquered the world. The real staggering statistic is that of the team of 15 that were part of the show, 12 are still actively pursuing theatre and or performing arts. What a good way to start.  It also gave us the confidence (or arrogance) to kick start Thespo!

     2.    No excuse (2001)
    One of the first advantages of going full time, was to be able to concentrate on theatre related projects. Every time we met someone who said, “I didn’t know the show was on,” we bemoaned the loss of an audience member. So we started THE SCRIPT. To take away the excuse of the people. It began relatively modestly, with a 100 subscribers. Now we have 20,000. It’s still not as exhaustive or fancy as we’d like, but we have managed to regularly list, review and reminisce about the month gone by and the month to come.

    3.    Read it and weep (2002)
Reading a play is a lonely and slightly schitzophrenic exercise when done in solitary. Therefore it made sense to put people together and read  a play together. Plays that sound familiar but have not been read. We started with Williams, Miller, Shakespeare, Shaw, and have since moved to more varied ‘greats’. Some Indian, some modern. The fact that the last year has seen record turn-out, means that Great Texts is still an activity that people like.

    4.    Touring Team (2003)
Nothing thrills as much as going on tour. We watched with envy as fellow troupes packed their bags and headed off to play in venues across the country. The ‘Mera number kab aayega’ syndrome, led us to plan our own tour. A wonderful tour of Bangalore. The audience received Minorities with a lot of love and appreciation. The public stayed back to chat well after the show, and the hospitality of the fraternity in housing us, continues to make Bangalore our second home.

    5.    Overkill (2004)
The year of our fifth anniversary was a hectic one. We dived into every thing at full speed. We opened a new play at Writer’s Bloc I, another at the Prithvi Fest, and conducted Thespo in three cities. But the real kicker was the ambition to celebrate five years with five plays by five directors, in a festival aptly titled 5Live!

    6.    Oz Tales (2005):
When Scottish director Toby Gough, approached us to build a Bollywood dance show, we scoffed at what life it would have. But 9 years and over a 1000 shows later, Merchants of Bollywood is still going strong. The show also was our first time working in another country – Australia. It was also our first (and only) interaction with the film world.

    7.    Dreaming for three years (2006-08)
Working on Tim Supple’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream gave us a taste of what professional theatre was all about. On the road for three years, we performed almost 6 nights a week. From working in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Swan Theatre, to performing at Shakespeare’s church, to playing in a 2000 year old Roman Amphitheatre the play was quite surreal. It was exhilarating, it was magical, it was a dream come true.

    8.    Stripping it down (2009)
Project S.t.r.i.p. marked a new direction in how we wanted to mount theatre. We locked the actors and writer in a room for 6 weeks and argued, wrestled, explored, cried, fought, celebrated and emerged with a show we are very proud of. We learned that show building was a collaborative process; and that often the best ideas have to be sacrificed if they don’t fit with the overall vision of the show.

    9.    More than a show (2012)
Tenzin Tsundue’s Kora, served as an inspiration for us to just start building a play. We had no idea what it would turn out to be. Annie Zaidi wrote ideas, and suddenly we developed a close association with the cause of Tibetan independence. So Many Socks started as a play and soon evolved into something much larger. Taking the show to Dharamsala changed the very nature of the show. It’s now much larger. Actors have gone to Dharamsala to conduct workshops, and an intern from Dharamsala is now working at QTP.  

    10. Nirbhaya (2013)
Another show and experience, that wasn’t initiated by us, but one that we are proud and thankful to be part of. South African director Yael Farber chose to use the Nirbhaya incident of 2012 to build a show around the real life testimonies of the performers. After an intense rehearsal process in Delhi, what emerged was a show that is hard hitting and gut-wrenching. It plays this month across India. And we are kind of proud to have helped make it happen in some small way.

November, 2013

10 theatrical things to look for at Tata Literature Live! The Mumbai LitFest

There are many things I should or could countdown this month. New plays opening, new performances happening, festivals occurring, but in the end I’m going to be a bit biased and talk about the ten theatre things that are happening at Literature Live! The Mumbai International Litfest, which takes place at NCPA. They all seem a lot of fun. And I hope people catch them…especially because they are all free!!!!!!

1.     More Green Poems for a Blue Planet – Martin Kiszko
Martin Kiszko in More Green Poems
for a Blue Planet
UK’s Green poet came last year to the fest as well, to do what we thought was just a ‘poetry reading’. Boy, were we wrong! His performance was so riveting, that a special second show had to be added. So he’s back. This time with the sequel to his earlier book of poems. Armed with props and wonderful slides of illustrations by Nick Parks, this show is technically for kids, but the adults seem to have as much fun, if not more!
November 14th: 12:30pm. Godrej.
November 16th: 12:30pm. Godrej. 

2.     My Journey to the National – Nicholas Hytner
This is a coup. Nicholas Hytner is the Artistic Director of the National Theatre, London, and he’s going to talk about his career and how he got there. A must for anyone who is even vaguely interested in theatre, considering he is considered one of the worlds best minds. He has worked in Opera, Musicals, Experimental theatre, Movies, and now the head of UK’s premiere institution.
November 14th: 2pm: Experimental Theatre.

3.     Mr. Jeejeebhoy and the Birds – Gillo Repertory Theatre
Gillo Repertory's Mr. Jeejeebhoy & the
It’s for kids. And it’s Gillo. Easily my favourite children’s theatre troupe, I’m always keen to watch anything they do. This one opened in the summer, and is no-frills theatre. Based on Anitha Balachandran’s quirky little book, the play is about the wonders of our city and the world seen through the eyes of these two - rather special - young children. Since it’s Children’s day, the show is a special treat. It is also being staged in the rarely used Sunken Garden. 
November 14th: 5pm. Sunken Garden. 

4.     The Colour of the Peacock: Karan Grover, Rani Dharker and the Diwana Group
I’m not sure how to define this one. It sounds very exciting. It’s a unique multi-media show specially created for Literature Live. The much acclaimed Sufi singing troupe Deewana Group, will be joined by author Rani Dharker and architect Karan Grover to talk about the three pillars of the creative arts – truth, beauty and passion. Through word, slide and Sufi song, the audience is made to see, understand and feel these pillars. Should be a fun evening conjuring up images of whirling dervishes. 
November 15th: 8pm. Tata Theatre.

5.     The Price of everything: Daniel Bye
The Price of Everything: Daniel Bye
Another performance from the UK. This promises to be very interesting. It did very well at the Edinburgh Fringe this year. Masquerading as a lecture, Daniel takes the audience on a tour of bizarre facts and impassioned arguments, is relevant in today’s world of economic despair and is comic and provocative. And if you’re lucky you might even get a glass of milk.
16th November: 2pm. Experimental Theatre. 

6.     How Not To Write A Play – A Workshop by Evald Flisar
Evald Flisar is a Slovenian playwright who has had a long and distinguished relationship with India. In fact his plays are very popular in Bengal and have been translated and performed there. The workshop promises to fun and engaging.
16th November: 2:30pm: Sea View Room.

7.     The Tin Ring – Jane Arnfield
The Tin Ring - Jane Arnfield
A really simple story, told in an even simpler fashion. A love story set during the Holocaust. Based on Zdenka Fantlova’s book which tells her story as one of a handful of Holocaust survivors still alive today. Born in Czechoslovakia, Zdenka was 17 when the war began and the ring of the title was given to her by her first love, Arno. Zdenka kept it with her as a symbol of truth and hope, from Terezin to Bergen Belsen. The play is about the uplifting quality of love, even when faced with immense adversity. 
16th November: 6:45pm. Sunken Garden. NCPA.

Arthur Miller: An Actor's Godsend
& Antigone - Alyque Padamsee
8.     Arthur Miller: An Actor’s Godsend & Antigone – Alyque Padamsee
Sunday at the festival is belongs to the legends. Alyque Padamsee first gives a talk on why Arthur Miller is such a great playwright, interspersed with scenes. Then he directs Gerson da Cunha, Dilnaz Irani, Dolly Thakore and others in a staged reading of Antigone. Gerson as Creon is quite the treat. 
17th November: 11:15am. Experimental Theatre (Arthur Miller)
                             2:00pm. Godrej Theatre (Antigone)

9.     A Tribute to Saadat Hasan Manto - Naseeruddin Shah & Ratna Pathak Shah:
Ratna Pathak Shah in A Tribute to Saadat
Hasan Manto
It's rare when actors get a chance to let the words do the work. Litlive provided Motley just this opportunity last year, when they did Thurber and Seth's Animal Stories. This year they are back. This time Naseeruddin Shah will read the seminal story Toba Tek Singh, and Ratna Pathak Shah will read an essay called Safed Jhoot, which is Manto's defence of the obscenity charges levies against him. Partition struggles and freedom of speech. Themes we are still dealing with.
17th November: 6:45pm: Sunken Garden

10.            How To Skin a Giraffe: Perch, Chennai & Rafiki Bangalore

How to Skin a Giraffe
Based on Georg Buchner’s bizarre comedy Leonce and Lena, this show has all the ingredients of a bollywood film. Two dynasties. A son. A daughter. A marriage of convenience. An escape. A chance encounter. Yet it is beautifully told, using imagination, music and a simple but ever evolving set design. What’s more it’s in four languages - Tamil, English, Kannada, Marathi
17th November: 8:00pm. Tata Theatre

September, 2013

10 Thrilling Threesomes

Recently I opened a new play. It has three actors. One day in rehearsal, as I fumed about how difficult it was to get three actors NOT to stand in a straight line, my mind was cast back to other plays with terrific or terrifying threesomes. So here goes:

     1.    Peasant of El Salvador: From even to odd
I am starting with this one, because this is the play that I’m working on at the moment; and is therefore the play that started me thinking about this countdown in the first place. Originally written for two actors, this Peter Gould and Stephen Stearns’ text felt incredibly restrictive when I was auditioning. By opening it up to three characters the play seems more open. The three story-tellers take us through the trials, tribulations and adventures of 1970s El Salvador – where the sweat is salty, the feuds are bitter, but the corn is sweet!

      2.    Butter & Mashed Banana: Three idiots
The baap of all three man pieces…at least in its original avatar; before a cast change resulted in a musician and a singer sitting to one side of the stage. But easily the funniest, tightest and most compact three-man show I have ever seen. A performers delight, considering there were NO light changes and the only props were a guitar, bongos, a bed-sheet, ghungroos and a pink bucket!

      3.    An Incident at the Border: Two guys, a girl, and a park bench.

This one opened the week before Peasant, which would indicate some sort of ‘trend’ emerging of three character plays. The play is the absurd tale of two lovers caught on either side of an unnamed border, and the border guard who refuses to let them cross/unite! Although there is an unnamed unseen character called George who is present via walkie-talkie, and of course the park bench that always occupies centre stage.

     4.    Tuesdays With Morrie: A third wheel.

Another three-hander that played in August. It’s really the story of the two protagonists, a student and his teacher Morrie (essayed superbly by Akash Khurana). Though there is a third actor plays all the cameos, from the student’s wife, to the nurse, etc. Unfortunately, her characters are woefully underwritten, and her presence could just as well have been established without her actually being shown.

      5.    Three’s a Crowd: Community triplets
This was not a play as much as a collection. In 2002 Akvarious had the novel idea of putting together an evening of short plays, where the only rule was that each play must have ONLY 3 people. Four directors volunteered – Akarsh Khurana, Karan Makhija, Rohit Bagai and myself. So successful was the exercise that two of the pieces went onto much fuller lives. Rohit Bagai’s The Fitting Room, found a life at Thespo, while Nitin Batra’s Three Character’s Sitting in a Urinal found its way into another collection – Minorities  - a year later.

     6.    Acid: Sulphuric on the inside
Emerging out of the first ever Writer’s Bloc workshop, this play by Anupama Chandrasekhar told the story of a TV news anchor who is recovering from an acid-attack, and her complex relationship with her successor and her producer husband. The lack of other characters/performers added to the claustrophobia that she was facing. The fact that we were locked with these three people for almost two hours gave us a sense of what it was like living the TV anchors life.

      7.    Hard Places: So close, yet so far.
Another play to come out of the same Writer’s Bloc that conveyed a similar feeling of claustrophobia through its three actors, who played son, daughter and mother. The children and parent were separated by a border, and would yell at each other across the ravine. These meetings were clandestine, and incredibly dangerous. In a nod to Hamlet, the mother was the widow of the previous ruler, and had married the usurper for survival, but had managed to get her children to safety across the border. Powerful, hard hitting, the three of them managed to create a world much beyond the stage. Their positioning on either side of stage, served to highlight their distance from each other and also their isolation from the world in general.

      8.    Two Steps Behind: Fair is foul.
The RAGE play that should have kept running. Unfortunately bad box office figures caused it an early grave. The production was an adaptation of Frank McGuiness’ Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me, replacing the three European hostages trapped in Lebanon with three Indian hostages in Kashmir. The play was a harsh look at human nature, our own xenophobia and how desperate, desperate men can get. The play also has the distinction of putting the three fairest Bombay actors on the same stage – Ashvin Mushran, Rehaan Engineer and Sorab Ardeshir – a lighting designers dream!

      9.    Molly Sweeney: Letting the words do the work.
Although I’ve tried to exclude monologues from this list, this one had to be featured. Three standout performances from Shernaz Engineer, Vijay Crishna and Rehaan Engineer, about a woman and her blindness. There was virtually no movement. The three actors sat in chairs and told their version of the story, yet they created a world of hospitals, doctors, colours and made us weep.

      10. Art: The beauty of grey.
Directed by Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal in the early 2000s, this Yasmin Reza play was a hit from start to finish. Using the simplistic coding by dressing the characters in black, white and grey. Three friends argue about whether a piece of art (white paint on a white canvas) is actually art or not. The discourse tests the very foundation of their friendship and philosophy at large.

So that’s the ten. There are also many also-rans:
  •  Lilette Dubey’s Love on the Brink , but I haven’t seen it,
  • The seminal three-character play No Exit, but it hasn’t played in Bombay for many years.
  • Last year’s Thespo entry Being Sartak Majumdar, but that highlighted some of the difficulties of being restricted to only three characters. 
  • Dreaming About Being Me, another Thespo entry, from 2004, but it had about 20 people in the final scene.
  •  Park is primarily three characters, but a child and mother do appear at the beginning.\
  • Similarly Betrayal has a waiter in one scene and therefore doesn’t make it to this list. 
  • Me, Kash & Cruise is about three of them, but Rajit Kapur’s cameos steal the show, so it was disqualified.
  •  In Cock, the father makes an appearance destroying the three-character dynamic that was building so nicely.
  • Ismat Aapa Ke Naam didn’t make it because it is a series of monologues.
  • Ditto for The Vagina Monologues, though it is originally a five character production, on quite a few occasions it is played by just three.
In case I have missed out any, do let me know.

May, 2013

10 Theatre Training Opportunities

Theatre training has come a long way in India. From informal settings to formal courses, today there is more access if you want to be an actor. True not all of it is for theatre, but a lot of it is. Here’s charting a few landmarks in the theatre training history of India.

1. The Institutions:
The NSD (National School of Drama) is the big daddy of them all. Started in 1959 with the aim of imparting theatre training to the new nation. However it meandered for three years until Ebrahim Alkazi grabbed it with both hands and overhauled the syllabus in his tenure as director from 1962 -1977. He ensured that the training, facilities and experience gained at NSD will make better actors. The alumnus of NSD is a who’s who of theatre in India, from Ratan Thiyam to Naseeruddin Shah.
Other institutions too have sprung up. With not quite the resources or power that NSD commands. Thrissur School of Drama has a huge impact in Kerala and Ninasam in Heggodu, Karnataka also is a powerful force in regional theatre. The actors from both institutions are dedicated and well trained in body, voice and a variety of performance skills.

2. Living Theatre:
Ebrahim Alkazi in Living Theatre Rehearsal
In the 1990s, Ebrahim Alkazi decided to start a training repertory of his own. Although there was only one real batch, each of those who were touched by his method have gone on to make a name for themselves in film, while keeping one foot firmly planted in theatre. Sushant Singh, Jayati Bhatia, Joy Sengupta and many others have all benefitted from Alkazi’s last stint in theatre.

3. Ninasam:
Ninasam is an institution, but they run an excellent ‘Culture Course’. A week of discussions and talks, that culminates every evening in watching a play. It’s a bit of a trek to get there, but definitely worth the trip. Most who have attended the course are better theatre people for having done so. 

4. Adishakti:
This idyllic theatre paradise in the middle of Pondicherry is a theatre makers dream. After years of amalgamating various tradition Indian styles they have finally begun to share the knowledge and research. Their intensive workshops are only two or three weeks long. Participants emerge with blistered hands, and minds drained, but yet strangely invigorated. 

5. Mumbai University Masters Programme:
Waman Kendre
When it was announced, it was a breath of fresh air. It was an idea whose time had come. Waman Kendre has spent the last few years moulding actors for the stage. A lot of them have gone on to strong careers in theatre, but the financial lure of film is often the reason why they sign up in the first place. 

6. Film Acting Courses:
Richa Chadda in Asylum at Thespo 11
Throw a rock in Andheri and the odds are it will hit a poster or a sign for a film acting course. This has really been the bane of theatre. Many actors having done one of these extremely pricy short courses seem to think that they have ‘arrived'. Most of the time they are mistaken.  The grand daddy’s of this business are Kishore Namit Kapoor and Kiran Juneja. But the also-rans are Anupam Kher’s Actor Prepares and Barry John’s Actor’s Studio. The last one is the biggest loss to theatre. When in Delhi, his workshops fuelled generations of committed theatre-wallahs, but in Bombay it is mainly aimed at film aspirants. However to give them their due, some fine actors have also emerged out of these courses. Richa Chaddha who was so good in Gangs of Wasseypur, was excellent in a  Thespo 11 play Asylum. Proof that there is merit in all training. 

SUmeet Vyas in All in the Timing
7. Ekjute:
While Ekjute is only one of three groups that regularly run workshops, they have by far been the most consistent and impactful. Mainly used as a scouting ground for people to ‘graduate’ to the group, the bi-yearly workshops have thrown up excellent talent. Although the student to workshopper leader ratio is quite large, the group has still managed to develop talent like Shivani Tanksale, Sumeet Vyas, Imran Rasheed, Pawan Uttam and others. People who now boldly forge theatre groups of their own. 
Neeraj Kabi

8. Pravah:
Neeraj Kabi’s workshops are a trial by fire. They are intense, demanding and often VERY draining. Neeraj is an exacting task master, and while a few participants run for cover, those that persevere emerge with incredible fundamentals and dedication.

Gulshan Devaiah
9. Intensive Drama Programme:
The IDP was a short 3 week course run every summer. Started in 2009 by Theatre Professionals, this year the course takes a break. The full time course treated participants like students with ‘classes’ scheduled every hour. It was/is perfect for Bombay where actors find it difficult to take too long off shooting schedules for training. Many have gained vital perspective and skills from doing the IDP.

10. The Drama School:
The city’s most generically named theatre company, Theatre Professionals, continues with their trend of naming things as they are. The Drama School Mumbai, is about to launch. A natural progression of the IDP module, this trades in the three weeks for a year-long activity. The trainers are top notch, and the programme is perfect for the starting out actor. Although a little expensive, the course might just be a good investment in a career.

That’s the ten. Am sure there are others that I’ve missed.  Many universities now have active drama programmes, Chandigarh, Pondicherry, Pune, just to name a few. If you know more, let me know.

December, 2012

10 Things I’m looking forward to at Thespo 14

It’s finally happening. I am having less and less to do at Thespo. The curators, Kashin and Gitanjali have done a FANTASTIC job lining up the performances. The festival is around the corner, and I realised that I don’t know what the fuck is happening at the festival. So for the first time in my life, I had to look at the schedule and figure out what is on at the fest. I picked what I’m looking forward to, so I thought’s I’d share:

Karl Alphonso
     1. Return of the Man in Black:
For those who know a little bit of Thespo and QTP heritage, Karl Alphonso was part of the original gang. Often building the festival, quite literally, with his bare hands. And recognised by his goatee and backstage blacks. In 2005 he wandered off to the US to study Stage Management. Now an Assistant Stage Manager at the prestigious Oregon Shakespeare Festival, he has timed his holiday to India to be here for Thespo. And he’s doing a workshop about how Stage Management can be a huge asset to actors, directors and designers. To register for his 2 day workshop call : 9920664357

      2. Poetry platform:
It’s been quite a while since Poetry had a strong presence at the festival. Tenzin Tsundue was part of the inaugural first two but since then, poems have been few and far between. This year Thespo has tied up with Caferati. So on the first day, at 8pm, young poets (under the age of 25) can sign up and recite their work. It’s an open house. Should be fun to see what comes up. All in the spirit of this year’s motto - One for All and All for One!

      3. Contra-Band:
The one unnoticed event at Thespo that seems to be getting better with each year is the band performances. The short forty minute acoustic sets has slowly built a following. And the bands are really good. This year the fare on offer is incredibly diverse – from R&B to Punk-grunge to blues, it should make for a fun ambience at Prithvi.

      4. Multi City
Of all the surprising things this year, it is the number of cities participating in the festival. Yes it’s true we reached out to many more cities during Orientation. Yes it’s true we saw more plays that ever before. But realistically we thought this would still be a ‘Pune dominated festival’. And it’s true. There is strong representation from Pune. But there is so much more talent we found. While the full length plays are from Pune (2), Bombay (2) and Delhi(1), it’s in the other aspects of the festival where the other cities have made a strong impact. Platforms from Bangalore and Delhi. Fringe performances from Ahmedabad, Calcutta and Nagpur. That makes it 7 cities participating. How cool is that! Thespo might just be a National festival after all.

      5. Not a hair cut
The Fringe is back. No not the hair cut. Not the Ed Fringe. The Thespo Fringe. Started two years ago for shorter ‘no frills’ performances, the Fringe was always an ‘optional’ section to the festival. But Kashin and Gitanjali were adamant that we’ve found enough good material to necessitate the return of the Fringe. Its theatre at its purest. No lights, no set, no fee. Just a room with actors and audience! 11th to 14th December at Prithvi House. 7pm.

      6. Dancing under the stars
Last year Amey Mehta was part of a site specific dance platform performance called A.T.T.A.C.H.E.D. This year he’s back in the role of choreographer with a piece called Unleashed. An incredibly gifted dancer and choreographer, and still only 24, it’s wonderful that Thespo is able to give him a platform to devise and showcase his work. 12th December. 8pm. Prithvi Foyer.

      7. “From the makers of”
Very rarely in theatre do we get to say “From the Makers of”. This is usually reserved for cinema releases. But Nipun Dharamadhikari’s first play at Thespo was something of a perfect storm. It wowed everyone who watched it and has become a bit of a cult for the unadulterated joy it brings. So am really looking forward to Apradhi Sugandh, from the makers of DALAN. 14th December, 9pm, Prithvi Theatre.

      8. Patel Rap
Burjor & Ruby Patel
I don’t know much about this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award recipients Ruby & Burjor Patel. The younger generation would know them better at the guy in the Vodafone ad, or Shernaz Patel’s parents. But the truth is they were both powerhouses in their time. Ruby on stage, and Burjor almost single handedly kick starting what we now call the ‘commercial English theatre’. I look forward to Thespo introducing me to the wonderful world that was the Patel’s lives in theatre and eventually meeting them at the Thespo Awards Night on the 16th of December at NCPA Little Theatre.

     9.  What’s in a name?
Am not really sure why I am looking forward to this play Naav or ‘Name’. But every so often Pune throws up a play that makes us change the way we look at the world. My gut says Naav might just be that play this year. 15th December, 6pm and 9pm at Prithvi.

     10. Social media:
Perhaps it’s just the title, but ‘Facehooked’ sounds like a lot of fun. The troupe from Bangalore is descending with their take on our biggest obsession since Sachin’s 100th 100. Kashin assures me a vibrant and exciting performance on 13th December 8pm at the Prithvi Foyer. Can’t wait.
So that’s my ten. It would be fun if we could compare the post festival TOP TEN and see how many match. Do write in and let me know. Hope to see you at Thespo.

August, 2012

10 Theatre Siblings

In the spirit of Rakshabandhan I felt it would be appropriate to count down 10 sets of siblings who have been active in theatre. I hadn’t realised how many family members were part of the theatre fraternity…it just might be a family business after all. Here goes!

1.     The Sami Brothers:
They could very well have been a qawali duo, but in actual fact they are the busiest lighting and technical designers on our theatre shows. Inaayat (although younger, but many mistake as older), has not been as active of late. But Hidayat is part of the credits of virtually every play at Prithvi in some way or another. He acts, directs, lights and is generally the man you go to for help. Inaayat had a short stint as an actor, but since then has been far busier behind the lighting desk. When they were less imposing in their presence, they were affectionately nicknamed Hideous & Enormous.

Adhaar and Akarsh Khurana in Rafta Rafta
2.    Khurana & Khurana:
It almost seems that older brother Akarsh dragged younger sibling Adhaar into the theatre. But after small cameos in a variety of his brother’s plays, Adhaar has now found his feet as a director. Akarsh, on the other hand, seems to be a force of nature. He has taken the word ‘prolific’ to new definitions. In Akvarious’ Rafta Rafta, Akarsh even played Adhaar’s father!

Lushin and Lillete Dubey
3.    Dubeys: While most might think this refers to the younger Neha and Ira, it actually refers to Lillete and her sister Lushin who is incredibly active on the Delhi circuit. Although sisters, the work of Lushin and Lillete is very different. Perhaps it is because one is based in Delhi and works primarily in Hindi while the other works in Bombay and does mainly Indian stories, but in English. The body of work by both is really quite immense. By comparison, Neha and Ira are still Dublets.

4.     Dynastic duo
In keeping with the inheritance theme, there are no two other siblings with greater baggage. Heeba and Imad Shah have both primarily worked with their father’s (Naseeruddin Shah) company, Motley. It is a pity that neither has ventured out and worked with too many others. Both are fine performers, albeit with different skills. But it is still early days, and hopefully they both soon will appear for different directors and groups. There is a third sibling, young Vivaan, but he hasn’t quite received his ‘theatre chops’ yet, although his film career does seem to be booming.

5.    Tremendous Threesome
Makrand Deshpande is responsible for theatre’s Maurya Empire. Three brothers, each unslike the other, and yet very alike all the same. Sanjay is hardly seen since he tinkers away on lights and sound. Teddy’s work always makes an impression with his set designs. And Vijay enjoys the limelight and the arc lights. Other than their last name, what does unite them is a certain ‘madness’. They all, in varying degrees, have an insane energy for theatre and performance and this is almost palpable in the work they do.

Prerna and Pritika Chawla
6.    2 Ps in a Pod
I am not sure how these two really got involved in acting. Sisters with similar builds but very dissimilar styles of performance. Prerna and Preetika Chawla have been around for a few years, and partly due to aligning with Akvarious but mainly due to an insatiable love for performance, these two have been in virtually every second play. They even played siblings in Proof in 2009.

7.    Unlikely siblings
Sumeet Vyas was the darling of Ekjute. His sincerity and affable manner had earmarked him as a talent to watch. And then Shruti decided to wander on to stage. And unless you know them, it is really hard to say that they are brother and sister. Shruti’s onstage persona is SO different from her brothers. Uninhibited, energetic and boundless when compared to Sumeet’s restraint and understated-ness. Who says siblings need to be alike?

8.    Kapoors
Sanjana and Kunal Kapoor
Another strange set of siblings. Alike in their love and dedication to theatre and completely unalike in their temperament and mannerisms. Kunal and Sanjna Kapoor have successfully run Prithvi for the better part of twenty years. Yet their styles are different. Neither wants to venture onto stage and yet both are incredibly passionate about theatre. Perhaps the passion was too much for just one organisation to be an outlet for it, and now Sanjna has branched out and started Junoon, freeing her from the Prithvi space, but also allowing Kunal to drive the theatre into a new direction, starting with repairing the roof!

9.    Are they really siblings?
Sanjna’s partner in Junoon is Sameera Iyengar. For all who have met her, she is a no nonsense incredibly driven South Indian woman that loves to speak in Bangla. Vikram, by contrast, is a gentle being (or so he appears). Mainly a dancer by trade, Vikram has successfully started his own company in Calcutta called Ranan.

10. The also rans:
Ten is quite a small number for a list like this. So I decided I woudld list quite a few in my list. There have been some very prolific siblings that no longer exist. Lalit Sathe is the manager of Prithvi, but his brother Baba who used to run the box office passed away many years ago. Vikrant Chaturvedi and his brother Shardul were the life of many parties, until Shardul unexpectedly passed away one morning. Both these pairings are missed.
There are some others, the Sitlanis – Himanshu and Sheena, who for a while were extremely active. But Sheena has now succumbed to the lure of film styling and is no longer seen running around backstage, being yelled at by her stage manager/actor brother. Shamath and Samoti were similar. Although they didn’t quite work together as much. But Shamath is now a rarity even in the audience, never mind on stage.
Then there are the cousins – Meenal Patel & Uttkarsh Mazumdar; Trisha Kale & Namit Das, Abir Abrar & Rehaan Engineer, etc. But these are cousins, so they don’t really count.
Am sure there must be many more. As always, do let me know who all I have missed out. Would be great to be able to make the list 50!

May, 2012

10 Theatre Moms

May 8th is Mother’s Day. It is almost a clichĂ© that a theatre group is a family. So I got thinking and wondering about the maternal theatre families. Them that have a ‘Mother’ as the head. There are plenty of groups that have maternal figures in the general structure like Meera Khurana at Akvarious, but this countdown is about theatre families that are headed by the Mother Figure.

1.   Prima Mama:
A matriarch in the proper sense of the word, Nadira Zaheer Babbar, started Ekjute at a time when it was not usual for women to lead theatre work. Her drive and passion managed to nurture plenty of careers. Even today she is India’s “Theatre Mama”. And while she does have her two children, Bai ji is mother of many aspiring actors. Rang Baaz for example has been formed
almost exclusively by people who have benefited by her tutelage.

2.   Bangla Bai:
Usha Ganguly is probably the Calcutta equivalent of Nadira Babbar. Another matriarch who has drawn people to her with her powerful stories and epic staging. Her group Rangkarmee has been instrumental in paving the way for Hindi theatre in Bengal.

3.   Dub Clan:
When Lillete Dubey came from Delhi to Bombay, she brought with her a new age of theatre - Indian plays in English. Dance Like A Man is still the longest running English play. Since then her productions have since travelled the globe with regular performances in the UK and Malaysia. She works regularly with her family (daughters & husband) and a lot of ‘regulars’ that appear in most productions. 

4.   Queen & Kingdom
Veenapani Chawla is like the poster child for the artistic dream. After working in Bombay and Delhi, she finally upped and moved to Pondicherry. Some people follow a dream, she went and built it. The Adishakti Centre is a beautiful space with trees and farms and a wonderful Koothu Kovil. Her ‘family’ of actors draw from various classical forms and come up with a new grammar all their own. And if you ever go and happen to live in Adishakti for a workshop or rehearsal, you get the full family experience.

5.   A new Junoon:
Sanjna Kapoor was always maternal…even before she was a mother. At Prithvi she felt like nurturing young and old groups alike. But now that she is out on her own and not tied to a space, that instinct should really kick into over drive. Although not producing work, Sanjna has inadvertently mothered many many careers, through advice, initiatives and Summertime at Prithvi.  

6.   Shy ly
She hardly says very much in public. She often steals away when group meetings wind up. But Shaili Sathyu is slowly but surely building a powerful family. Her Gillo Gilehri gang is only two productions old, but they band together like a true family, and have blossomed under her guidance. Although specialists in children’s theatre, the actors who work with Shaili are all in their late teens or older. It is a great example of the benefits of the matriarch system – providing guidance and training and a sounding board.

7.   Motherly License
Shivani Tibrewala started No License Yet almost ten years ago. Her aim was simple – to give a voice to the stories she has written. When she found that people weren’t keen on staging her scripts, she decided to direct them herself. Not as active as most others on the list, Shivani is a ‘mama to be’. She hasn’t quite put enough years under the belt in order to be taken as a true matriarch – but the signs are there.

8.   Dancer Diva
Purva Naresh is a matriarch in the making. Her productions have great scale, huge casts and are often starting point for young talent. Most interestingly, because her group Aarambh is writer driven, she writes what she knows. And what she knows is small town India. So suddenly an entire generation of actors who have left their small towns for work in Bombay have gravitated to Aarambh. Interestingly Purva is not a director, but more a choreographer and writer. So her dedication to the group who work with her is absolute. Many actors have first been noticed in her productions and although the group in relatively new, the large nature of the plays means that many actors have already worked with her.

Put the kettle on:Trishla Patel is probably the most unlikely matriarch on this list. For years we have seen her play young girls in productions. Her vivacious energy has always heightened any show she has been in, and it is always a surprise when one realises she is married and into her thirties. She then started her own theatre group T-Pot productions. Another relatively new addition to the theatre landscape. And Trishla has moved from pixie to matriarch. Her style of working, clearly influenced by the late Satyadev Dubey, is one of hard discipline and dedication. 

1    Pocket sized almighty!Matriarchs come in all sizes and out of all circumstances. All My Tea productions still hasn’t quite made it’s mark on the theatre scene. Their recent production of Cock was an indication of things to come. They have come up the hard way. Working and developing many plays, most not having seen light of day. Yet the driver of the carriage has been a young woman who suddenly threw up her photography career to join the theatre-wallahs. Shweta Tripathi often passes for a 12 year old, but underneath the pint sized frame is steely determination through which she cajoles and controls the ‘boys’ of her group keeping them disciplined and focussed. This is definitely a matriarch for the future!

So that’s the ten. There are plenty of others that have been left out including Suruchi Aulakh’s Jhoom and Choiti Ghosh’s Tram Theatre, but they are still to establish Matriarchal credentials. Someone once wrote that the health of a society is judged by the number of women it has as leaders. It looks like the future of the Bombay theatre community is looking quite healthy.

April, 2012

10 Shakespeare Productions

This is Shakespeare’s birthday month. And the Bard is back with a vengeance. There are two running productions (Nothing Like Lear and Pyaar ka Waar) and another two in development – As You Like It and Twelfth Night. Therefore it’s only fitting that this month’s countdown focuses on the Bard. 10 Shakespearean productions that I have seen:

1.     I Love The Moor:

My earliest Shakespeare play was probably Othello, starring Kabir Bedi as the Moor. To be fair, it wasn’t the words that wowed me, but the scale and costumes of it. The sword fights were exciting. But strangely it’s one of those plays that seems to have followed me my entire life. It was also the most imaginative description of sex I had ever heard “Making the beast with two backs!” Although the main focus of the play is the relationship between the white Desdemona and black Othello, there is a speech in the final act that is my absolute favourite. It is the one that Desdemona’s maid, Emilia, when she talks about the sexist nature of the world. For me it is on par with Shylock’s speech from Merchant in Venice. 

2.    The Bard courtesy the BC:

Way back when the British Council used to have a tie up with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and every so often an RSC production would tour. The first I saw was Comedy of Errors. A simple play about mistaken identity, the play had a slight modern tinge. The language, though Shakespearean, was easily understandable. And it was only many years later that I discovered that the play was directed by Tim Supple, someone who I had the good fortune of working with.

3.    Polygamy

This was another touring RSC production – The Merry Wives of Windsor. I don’t remember very much of it, I was quite young at the time. But two images remain in my head. The first is of the set. Or the lack of it. The huge Homi Bhabha was absolutely bare, except for a large ladder at the rear. It was the first time, where I saw a production unapologetic for the ‘ugliness’ of the venue. No trappings, just actors. The second was when Windsor is trying to hide in a sack and promises one of his many women that, “I love thee and only thee.” My first crack at a watching a sex comedy…still infinitely better written than the current crop. 

4.     What the hell was I saying?

My first tryst with Shakespeare as an actor was in high school when I got conscripted to play Silvius in a version of As You Like It. Most of my lines were about how unloved I am by the object of my affection – Phoebe. It was the first time I also realised how sexual Shakespeare’s words could be. “Oh Corin, That thou knew’st how much I love her” sounds like a simple enough teen confession. But by simply stressing the L of the love, it becomes incredibly powerful. Needlessly to say, I was hooked!

5.    Shakespeare badly spoken:

There is nothing worse than watching a play where the actors seem to be struggling with the words. This holds true for any play, but even more so for Shakespeare. When his words are misspoken it even more cringe-worthy. This happened at a student production of Merchants of Venice. It was directed by the grand dame Hima Devi, and it is unfair to fault the young actors. However it did put into perspective that if you don’t understand what you are saying, neither will the audience. 

6.    Puppet Shakespeare

Each time someone attempts a Shakespearean play, there is some level of reinvention. This is perhaps why so many varied versions of the same play are staged. Anurupa Sen’s Almost Twelfth Night with puppets was unique and riveting. While the words were spoken by the puppeteers, small puppets held us mesmerised through the story. Children and adults alike were mesmerised by the wonderful performance. 

7.    Julius Snoozer

This is quite an embarrassing story. It was the first play I had ever seen at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-Upon-Avon. We had just landed in the UK on tour, and were very kindly given tickets to the RSC’s version of Julius Caesar. Being an ICSE student of the 90s, I knew the play backwards and was keen to watch it. However of the 9 of us watching, 7 of us lost the battle to jet lag. In the prime seats of the house we dozed. The production wasn’t riveting, but the incredibly complicated battle scenes were simply and powerfully staged. The two sets of soldiers simply stood in two lines across the stage. One upstage one downstage. When Marc Antony’s soldiers were talking the would come closer downstage, and then when Brutus’ army talked, the simply exchanged places. It was an incredibly effective way of keeping the audiences’ attention. 

8.    In the Globe

It was almost a religious experience walking into the Globe. A matinee show of Anthony & Cleopatra, standing in the pits, experiencing the play just as the ‘plebs’ did so many hundreds of years ago. Just wish the play was better. It’s not my favourite play. And was the second production of play that I had seen in the last few weeks. So the magic of the words were not as effective. If I were unkind, I would say it was a costume drama. But that is more because there was very little support in the shape of lights or sound (as is the Globe way). It’s a tough place to perform, but definitely a regular visit each time I am in London.

9.    A Dream Run:

Sorry, but no personal list of Shakespeare can be without Midsummer Night’s Dream. For me and the about twenty five others it was a life-changing experience. Even before we embarked on the tour. The rigour with which we approached the play, the seven weeks in Pondicherry were a dream in itself. It was then when I truly realised how rich his words truly are. We could dig and dig and come up with different interpretations each time. The power of his poetry is, that often by saying less, he is actually saying more. I still am not in love with the text, give me the Tragedies any day, but respect must be paid when it is due. 

10. Flashing Lear

It is very rare when you get to watch one of the greatest Shakespearean actors of his generation take the stage. Ian McKellen as King Lear. I was so excited. The production was very powerful. And Sir Ian lived up to his billing. It was an incredibly committed performance. One in which he even dropped his trousers sans boxers for the scene when Lear goes mad. I overheard two women comment, “Sir Ian is truly a BIG actor”. I wonder what they meant? 

So happy birthday Will! Here’s to many more stagings!

March, 2012

Fluke moments in Theatre

The amazing thing about the theatre is that it is a ‘live’ medium. The magic is in the moment and the circumstance. That particular performance can never be repeated. By that very nature, we are not always in control of the circumstances. Things can go spectacularly wrong, or something else might impede that particular performance beyond repair, like the Hidden Fires  show at the Bandra Amphitheatre where they were drowned out by a DJ at a wedding at the Taj Lands End.
But every so often, a magical moment happens. Unplanned, but is able to take the performance to even higher levels of appreciation. These are specific to THAT particular performance. So here goes my countdown – flukes that worked.  I was not witness to all these, so some of them are part of theatre legend. Unfortunately I couldn’t find ten, so here’s the seven I did find. If you know some more, please add.

1.    Chinese Junk
The play was Robert LePage’s Dragon Trilogy. Staged in a hangar in a harbour, the final scene called for the large hangar doors to be opened, so the audience could see the sun set on the water. On one particular evening, by some happenstance, a large Chinese Galleon was passing by at the precise moment that the hangar doors opened. The audience gasped at the beautifully fitting image, unknown that this was not actually part of the show.

2.    Bombs away!:
Yael Crishna tells me of a staging of Rage’s Two Steps Behind at Mysore Association during Diwali time. The theatre is not the most sound-proof of rooms, and the sound of the fire crackers engulfed the auditorium. But since the play takes place in an abandoned location where three people have been kidnapped by terrorist, the surrounding ‘gun fire’ added an extra dimension.

3.    Please keep you mobile phones ON:
An interrogation room. Already dimly lit. Two policemen are questioning a suspect. This was the scene of Confessions, when suddenly the electricity failed at Prithvi Theatre. While the producers and technicians scrambled to restore the power, the actors continued with the interrogation. First the audience thought it was part of the play, but soon they realised that the lights were not returning anytime soon. One by one members of the audience pulled out their mobile phones and shone it on the actors. Soon the entire seen was lit by the glow of the cellular devices. When the power returned there was applause all around. Truly it takes actors and audience to make theatre happen!

4.    Candle Light Vigil:
Another power failure story. This time on Opening Night. The play was Shikara. A packed Sophia Bhabha of invitees crowded expectantly into the theatre. Mid way through the show, the electricity failed. The panic was evident on the faces first time producers until someone suggested continuing with candles. Candles were borrowed from an audience member’s home and after a twenty minute delay the play resumed. When the lights finally did return, the cast were given a excellent round of applause.

5.    Expensive Set:
This one actually happened to us at QTP. Atul Kumar’s Company Theatre used to run a programme called “Theatre-at-Home”, where plays would be staged at someone house. Someone was moving into his new colony in Thane, and before he brought his furniture in, he thought it would be apt if he staged a play in the home as a house warming for all his neighbours. So our play Norm & Ahmed was to be part of a double bill, along with Voices.
  N&A  is set at a bus stop in Sydney where two strangers are taking shelter from the rain. We turned up at the house and quickly realised that the balcony would be the best place to stage this. What was amazing was just as the performance was about to start, the heavens opened and the rain came down with a vengeance. So the two actors in the balcony (aka bus stop), appeared actually taking shelter from the rain with the spray hitting them. For a play made on a shoe string budget, this really was a welcome addition to the production design.

6.    Dancer stops traffic:
I know I wrote about this a few months ago. It happened during a Thespo platform piece called A.T.T.A.C.H.E.D.  A site specific performance during which dancers used all the various areas of the outside of Prithvi Theatre. One dancer was across the road at the footsteps of Prithvi House. At the appropriate moment she stepped out into the small lane that separates Prithvi Theatre from Prithvi House. Just as she took her first steps, a car pulled up to allow its passengers to alight. The driver showing great restraint and presence of mind. He simply paused. Didn’t honk. Didn’t reverse. Just waited. The result – the dancer was beautifully, spontaneously and unintentionally lit by the car’s headlights. This little moment lifted the entire experience of the site specific piece.

7.    Rodent Menace:
It is truly a rare moment when the presence of a rat actually adds to a performance than takes away from it. Most rat sighting are met with disgust and squeals. So you’d imagine the same thing, when the resident Prithvi rate decided to traipse across stage during a performance of Ends & Beginnings, a play derived from Beckett’s Endgame. Except in this case, the rat chose his timing perfectly, entering a minute after the lines, “There’s a rat in the kitchen.”