AK's Various Thoughts






 So I’ve missed a couple of issues of The Script, and I feel bad. But I feel worse about the plays I’ve missed in the recent past. Two prominent ones are Shikhandi and Elephant in the Room. 
   The former, written and directed by Faezeh Jalali, is her new play in collaboration with the NCPA. I had the good fortune of working with an excerpt of this play for the Sultan Padamsee Awards function, where it was nominated. I read it back then and knew it was a formidable piece of work, tackling gender issues by putting a spin on mythology, and written almost entirely in verse. Having read all the nominated plays, I was very surprised that Faezeh didn’t win for this original and innovative script. Anyhow soon enough Faezeh was directing it for stage with an interesting ensemble, and it has opened to rave reviews. I’m keeping an eager lookout for further shows.
  As for Yuki Ellias’ one woman tour-de-force, Elephant in the Room, I’d been hearing very good things on the experimental venues circuit. Then I saw that it was nominated for a bunch of Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards, among a bunch of biggies. I reached META a day after their show, and already the buzz was insane. Sure enough, the play went on to win big at the awards, and has since won much praise for a recent Prithvi run. 
Two other plays that have had some good word of mouth are Dhaaba, an object theatre piece by Choiti Ghosh, starring two ladies and some vegetables, and Dohri Zindagi by Gurleen Judge, again featuring two ladies in a taboo relationship. Of course, The Gentlemen’s Club I am yet to watch, which is a Patchworks Ensemble production, run by two very talented ladies – Sheena Khalid and Puja Sarup. I don’t mean to sound sexist in the least, but the ladies are seriously taking over. The men better get our act together.
    Speaking of men, one play I did watch was Muktidham by Abhishek Majumdar, featuring Shubhrajyoti Barat, Kumud Mishra, Sandeep Shikhar and Ajeet Singh Palawat. Yet again, two ladies – Ipshita Chakraborty and Irawati Karnik – stole the show. As did Mohit Takalkar’s stage design / scenography. Fun fact: Mohit and Ajeet collaborate again on the Hindi version of Gajab Kahani, slated to open as a part of the third season of Aadyam.  
    Ajeet is also particularly hilarious in a web series called Boygiri that we just made. Written by Adhir Bhat (who recently won the META for Best Original Script for Dhumrapaan), Adhaar Khurana (director of Some Times and Internal Affairs) and Siddharth Kumar (playwright of the much awarded and performed The Interview), the show features a host of theatre actors. Too many to name actually. Particularly special is a little cameo by major Marathi theatre director Nipun Dharmadhikari. He gets to do what he does best – be critical of Amey Wagh. Directing this show took almost a year of my time, and it is also one of the reasons that I have missed so many plays that I want to watch. And a bunch of ideally unmissable NT Live screenings. And the magnum opus Mughal e Azam, which the wife is pretty keen on.  Damn. I need to get my priorities in order. 





One of the most exciting developments for our theatre world in January is that Abhishek Majumdar has opened a new play. Muktidham. Kumud Mishra and Shubhrajyoti Barat return after their fantastic turn in Majumdar’s Kaumudi. Indian Ensemble regular Sandeep Shikhar, so good in Gasha and Kaumudi, is in it too. Ajeet Singh Palawat and Ipshita Chakraborty Singh, both of whom were splendid in Main Hoon Yusuf Aur Yeh Hai Mera Bhai, join the cast. As does playwright Irawati Karnik. And Mohit Takalkar is the scenographer. And the project is managed by Indian theatre’s voice of reason, Vivek Madan. A bit like a serious theatregoer’s wet dream, this.

Another interesting development is Aadyam’s third season. I’m privy to some of the plays that have been selected, and I can quite confidently say that some good material is in the works. There has been some criticism in the past of the initiative being beset by crowd pleasers, but even if there was any truth in that, things have changed. Quasar Thakore Padamsee is directing his first play for Aadyam. As is Mohit Takalkar. The writing includes work by Bertolt Brecht, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, Rajiv Joseph, and Jose Saramago. Cases in point. 

At our end, we had the opportunity to travel into the foggy winters of North India in January. Twice to Delhi, and once to Patiala. Our play Internal Affairs may well have been the first English production to perform in Patiala. The show was at Harpal Tiwana Centre of Performing Arts, a wonderful auditorium, the trustees / founders of which include Raj Babbar and the late Om Puri, who were both students of the late Harpal Tiwana, an NSD pass out himself. We met Mrs Tiwana, also from NSD, and heard stories from their son of how his parents travelled with Punjabi plays all over the world in their heyday. We battled the cold with makeshift woolens listening to stories of performances in the winters of Winnipeg. A conservative evening of theatre stories and home cooked Punjabi food, preceded by a very well received show of an adult urban romantic comedy. The upcoming Punjab elections affected attendance slightly, but those who came – ranging from 17 year old school girls to retired Income Tax Commissioners – seemed thrilled by this invasion of new, contemporary, somewhat risqué material. So theatre folks, there’s a hungry audience out there, in case you’re interested. 

We also returned to The Bombay Canteen for a show after a hiatus. I’d forgotten how wonderful it is to perform there. I’m keen to regularize this. Speaking of alternate venues, I visited the Oddbird theatre in Delhi, and I must say it is a delightful space. A large black box in a mill compound, it had the theatrician in me salivating. I’m lining up shows there soon, so will shared feedback soon. Back home, our odd bird - The Cuckoo Club – is gathering steam. In October 2016, the average occupancy for theatre was 23%. It hit 51% in December. And in the very first month of 2017, the average occupancy has been a whopping 80%. Fingers crossed that the next few months will deliver similar or higher numbers, but in the meantime it is clear that an audience is being cultivated.

That’s about it for now. Some of the things to watch out for in February: the Bombay premieres of Abhishek Majumdar’s Muktidham and Atul Kumar’s Khwaab Sa, a couple of shows with Pankaj Kapur on stage, Zubin Driver’s dramatization of stories from his novel about Bombay, and the nominations Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards. More on some of these things next time. 


MAY-BE NOT

I missed out on a lot of stuff in May. Ian McKellen, for one. A bunch of plays including Beauty and the Beast and Jungle Book 2. Food at a restaurant opened by a theatre buddy – Garam Masala by Imran Rasheed. My own uncle’s play for kids – Five on a Treasure Island at NCPA’s Summer Fiesta. This list is beginning to make me feel pretty bad. 
I did manage to watch Cats, the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, in French. Also Ladies Sangeet here at Aadyam. Did some fringe shows. And another show of the play for children that we recently opened - A Special Bond Part Three - with four new actors / replacements. Also flagged off a very interesting and exciting collaboration with Aasakta, the legendary theatre group from Pune. More on that later. 

About the stuff I saw:
I found myself in Paris. The plays with English subtitles were either too expensive or not very appealing to me. Then I discovered that Cats was playing at Theatre Mogador. In French. But I knew the play. And theatre is supposed to transcend language and all that jazz. So I took the plunge. And it was quite memorable. Not knowing the language, and already knowing what happens, I found myself paying more attention to every other element of the production. Quite an enriching experience. I even bought some merchandise for Siddharth Kumar and Sananda Mukhopadhyaya, a theatre couple here that has an unhealthy obsession with felines. 

Siddharth Kumar was in fact one of the reasons I went to see Ladies Sangeet. Shikha Talsania was another. Lovleen Mishra’s return to the stage was yet another. Mounted grandly, as is the Aadyam way, the play looked at all the possible interpersonal relationships in a house that doubles up as a wedding venue, with lots of music thrown in for good measure. Gopal Dutt was his endearing self as the wedding planner, and Sid Kumar, not famous for his Hindi, sang a full blown Hindi song! The play has apparently had particularly admirable houses. 

Up next at Aadyam is Twelve Angry Jurors, produced by Rage and directed by Nadir Khan. I had the privilege of seeing a run through. And it’s amazing how well this classic text holds up even after all these years. 

I’m going to be missing lots of stuff here in June as well, since I’m traveling through the month. Not sure how much I’ll have to share next month. But I’ll be on the lookout for stuff to watch, so I have something to say. May also catch up on reading some plays to jog my mind for future work. Talk of the Prithvi Festival and NCPA’s Centrestage has already begun. And Akvarious better get some stuff into the pipeline.   

May, 2016

PIECES OF APRIL

We started the month with more Fringe shows. Our second show at Bombay Canteen was as well attended as the last one, and we have another show there in May. We also returned to House of Wow, with many cast replacements. One of whom was Rohini Ramnathan, a well known RJ (in Mumbai and Singapore). Rohini did her first ever play with Akvarious, namely Pigs on the Wing, back in 2002 for Thespo. This was the first in a series of comebacks this month. More about that later. 

April also saw the 4th edition of Writers Bloc. It is a matter of great shame for me that I did not manage to watch any of the featured plays.I could say that I compensated by directing (and acting in) a staged reading, and moderating a session about the writing of Masaan, but I would have felt much better if I had managed to watch at least one play.Our staged reading, of Anupama Chandrashekhar’s Disconnect, was rather well received.I think it helped that the cast included Amey Wagh, Dilshad Edibam Khurana. Mithila Palkar and Namit Das, all of whom came aboard rather sportingly.I did manage to watch Ali Fazal perform the highly acclaimed White Rabbit Red Rabbit, and I understood all the hoo-ha about it. It is a delightful and pretty groundbreaking piece of writing. Hats off to festival director Vivek Madan for chancing upon it a few years back and pursuing it so doggedly. 

One of the reasons I was so caught up during the festival was that we were rigorously rehearsing the final chapter in our Ruskin Bond trilogy – A Special Bond Part Three. It was my comeback to the Bond universe after seven years. And it turned out to be more ambitious and complicated than either of its predecessors. With a huge cast of 21 members, infinite costume changes, and wonderful choreography by Amey Mehta,
A still from the play 'A Special Bond Part Three'
it was always going to be a challenge. Casting also wasn’t easy, what with Writers Bloc and Aadyam consuming a lot of the talent. So while I had some old faithfuls (pillars, really), there were a few first timers (Shawn Lewis of Bombay Film Factory made his acting debut!), and a couple of comebacks. Nishi Doshi returned to the theatre after a year and a half, Muzammil Qureshi returned to Akvarious after four years, while Shaun Williams (actually a founder member of Akvarious, and the lead in Pigs on the Wing) did a full-fledged play after nine years. So along with being exhausting, it was also a somewhat emotional journey. And the show opened pretty well. 

A still from the play 'Loretta'

I also managed to watch Sunil Shanbag’s ode to Tiatr (the Goan form of theatre), Loretta, which was a part of Aadyam. A simple and sweet play, with topical interludes by a narrator duo, a pretty design, and a title song that got stuck in my head. 

Next up at Aadyam, Akvarious regulars Siddharth Kumar and Shikha Talsania in Ladies Sangeet, followed by Nadir Khan directing Twelve Angry Jurors, the unforgettable classic by Reginald Rose. There’s also lots of interesting stuff for kids out there. Hoping I can catch some of the new Summertime plays. Happy to see the names of Akriti Singh, Chitransh Pawar and Lokesh Rai among the directors this year. 

So lots of air-conditioned theatre watching opportunities to escape the May heat. Book your tickets now.


April, 2016

MARCHPAST 


For a major part of my life, March meant exams. Then March started taking on some financial connotations. Filing returns, taxes and other such jargon started cropping up. Then between 2009 and 2012, March became the month of META for us. The Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards are held in Delhi in the first couple of weeks on the month. In the aforementioned period, at least one play of ours was making it to the final nominations at META. We found ourselves (often in huge groups) excitedly heading off to the capital, to stay in a modest hotel in Nizamuddin, watch lots of theatre, and stage our own production(s), with a smidgen of hope of some national recognition (and financial assistance). On our first visit, two of our plays were nominated, with 15 nominations between them and we won zero awards. But the people were friendly, the exposure was amazing, the party was fancy, and the booze was free. And the experience became more important than winning. Fortunately, we bagged a few awards along the way. And this year, after a three year hiatus during which we went through serious FOMO (just learnt this), we went back with A Friend’s Story. And good times were had. I watched two plays – Mohit Takalkar’s Main Huun Yusuf Aur Yeh Hai Mera Bhai (an important and well performed play about Palestine, and the big winner this year) and Kaizaad Kotwal’s Agnes Of God, which was earlier plagued with an absolutely uncalled for controversy. And we hung out with lots of theatre folk (from Bangalore, Bombay, Delhi, Kerala, Pune). And we had a pretty good show, as a result of which we came home with one win (Best Actress) for Sayalee Phatak. 

Sayalee Phatak in A Friend's Story
I managed to watch two more plays in Bombay. The first was Raghav Dutt’s Parey, which I had missed thus far. And I’m glad I made it this time. A very mature play, with sparks of brilliant writing, and a game changer of a performance by Gagan Riar. The second was Sapan Saran’s Waiting For Naseer, which took some time to get into, but was eventually very enjoyable, and featured an excellent cameo by Debtosh Darjee. It was performed at Brewbot, a lovely new performance venue option in Andheri, that we can proudly take some of the credit for. Run by friends - Anand Morwani, Ansh Seth and Ketan Sinh – Brewbot brews great beers and serves yummy food, and we had the privilege of experimenting with it as a performance space over January and February, to surprisingly good results. Good to see Tamasha Theatre and NCPA follow suit.

Similarly, another venue that we’ve broken into (not literally) is The Bombay Canteen inside Kamala Mills. Our first show went particularly well, and we’re going back for an encore performance less than two weeks later. Coincidentally, both Brewbot and The Bombay Canteen are designed by my childhood buddy, and contemporary design legend Ayaz Basrai, who was instrumental in making the latter venue happen for us. Small world. 
AK Various at Bombay Canteen

Other than that, March has marked the beginning of our rehearsals for our eighth production for children, which will premiere at Prithvi’s Summetime Festival in April. It is the final part of our Ruskin Bond trilogy, and is thus a little ambitious. It features a cast of over 16 people, a lot of whom I have never worked with before, who are being put through a rigorous choreography routine by the very talented Amey Mehta. So far so good. But its going to be sweaty few weeks. 

Besides Summertime, April will see the second Aadyam play, Loretta, directed by Sunil Shanbag. It will also see the Writers Bloc Festival happen, and this time’s festival director – our dear friend Vivek Madan – has some very interesting ideas in place. Maybe we’ll do a little something for the festival too. Keep an eye out. And see you at the theatre. 



March, 2016 

INNOVATIVE INITIATIVES 

I’m told that my 2015 year end poll article (see below) will also appear in this issue, albeit two months late. Not that these lists matter in the long run, but I’m glad that the poll has proven itself fairly representative, given that one of the top five plays and two of the ‘bubbling under’ ones have been nominated at the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards. Not that everyone ever agrees with the final selections there. But clearly some appreciation is unanimous. 
Owing to the sporadic nature of my articles of late, there seems to be a lot to report. But I’m going to keep it limited to highlights. And focus more on 2016. Big year for Bombay theatre. The second season of Aadyam. The return of Writers Bloc. An unprecedented rise in the number of plays for children this summer. Over the next few months, we’re going to see at least 25 to 30 new productions premiere. Where we will perform them after they open, God alone knows. But it’s a good thing for the cultural landscape. And a great opportunity for actors. 

A paucity of performance venues led to us experimenting with “fringe” pieces. What started as a kind of sideshow at our 15th anniversary festival at Prithvi, has now got a life of its own. In both January and February we have taken those pieces and more to smaller venues with very favourable results. From a brand new audience in a brewery (Brewbot, Andheri) to the dingy mezzanine floor of Riyaaz Amlani’s office (Jude Bakery), and from a beautiful basement in Bandra (House of Wow) to an acting studio courtesy Jeff Goldberg. We also received tremendous love and support from Sharin Bhatti Nair, Sudeip Nair and Yugandhar Deshpande, first at The Hive, and then at their wonderful new venue in Bandra – Cuckoo Club. The shows have been fun, as well as great grooming for some new entrants. The audiences have been sporting and receptive. But what’s best is how good and generous all our hosts have been. I’m enjoying this “fringe festival” series, and am hoping to make this a regular practice, and discover new spaces.
Other interesting things that happened in recent times:

We performed in Pune for a ‘breakfast and theatre’ initiative by Pradeep Vaiddya. It was quite a success. People trooped in at 9am for a nice Maharashtrian breakfast, and then watched a show at 10am, which was a first for us. But then given that Prithvi’s 7:30am shows of Indian classical music have been running to packed houses, there’s clearly an interested / hungry audience out there, waiting to be tapped into. 
We experimented with a theatre merchandise stall at our run of shows at Prithvi. And unlike the week of performances, the stall turned out to be a profit making venture. Quite a few items sold out. Hats off to Tahira Nath for pulling it off. Some interesting stuff is still available at her store, Loose Ends, in Bandra. 

We returned to Lucknow for the Repertwahr Festival, which is only going from strength to strength. With a superb line up of live music performances (which almost overshadowed the plays) and a film festival added to the roster, this is quite a magnificent achievement by Bhupesh Rai. 

Of course, the Prithvi Festival and Centrestage NCPA happened. Both threw up some very interesting plays. One of my all time favourites – Kaumudi – opened the Prithvi Festival. I managed to catch Ishq Aaha at Centrestage, which was very enjoyable, albeit overlong. Mohit Takalkar’s Main Hoon Yusuf aur Yeh Hai Mera Bhai was missed, but I’m going to catch it at META for sure. 

That’s about it for now. Gearing up for possibly the final installment in our Ruskin Bond trilogy. Yes, this summer we’re opening A Special Bond Part Three. The first part did 53 shows and the sequel did 37, and both plays gave us some of our best theatre stories. Which are a very important part of the process, I dare say. Here’s to some more. 




2015
EXIT POLLS

As we exit 2015 and enter 2016, I’m back with my annual round up. I’m quoting my opening paragraph of last year, because, to my surprise, nothing has changed.

“Surprisingly this year a lot of these theatre lists popped up. Most publications carried their favourite plays of 2014. I found a couple suspect. One compiler had clearly seen none of the plays in the list, and had got synopses and casts wrong. Generally reeked of ignorance. So I’m not sure how they go about their stuff. Mine comes from compiling votes from a bunch of people. Not a massive bunch but comprising either theatre professionals or regular theatre watchers. Who are mostly objective. By that I mean, nobody votes for their own work. So some sort of a balance is maintained. And then I list them, in an alphabetical order.”

This time the sample size of the survey was larger. Up by fifty percent. And I’m glad that our productions feature prominently yet again. Enough gloating. On with the results. 

THE TOP FIVE (in alphabetical order)

BOMBAY DYING
This came as a bit of a surprise honestly. I didn’t know so many people had seen it, let alone liked it. The play premiered at the Prithvi Festival, and owing to logistical issues with the set, the cast went on without a walk through on stage. They really found their rhythm in the second show, and we were primed for a solid run a month later. But two actors were incapacitated owing to health issues and replacements were sought. One with two days notice, and the other with two hours (Hussain Dalal, you legend). So the next two shows were also under some duress. But they turned out fine. And the story resonated with two large houses. Always helps to have a killer ensemble which includes Ira Dubey, Siddharth Menon, Kumud Mishra, Shriya Pilgaonkar, Ayesha Raza Mishra, Anand Tiwari and Tariq Vasudeva. Yes, a casting coup of sorts. And three darkly comic intertwining tales about our city. Feeling rather fortunate and relieved.   

A FRIEND’S STORY
No surprise this. A story by Vijay Tendulkar (originally Mitrachi Goshta). Directed by Akash Khurana, who cracked another Tendulkar adaptation (Mat Yaad Dila, originally Ashi Pakhare Yeti) back in the day. Produced by the NCPA as part of their Classics series. And featuring some of Pune’s finest actors, including Abhay Mahajan, Parna Pethe and Sayalee Phatak. A simple tale about a complex relationship. Written long ago, but even more relevant than before. I had my concerns about the success of this play given the seriousness of the subject matter (tackling a taboo lesbian relationship in the 1940s), but I was proved wrong at the premiere itself. The play touched a chord, and it makes sense that it has done 20 shows across 4 cities in less than 4 months. 

THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR
This was part of the ‘next five’ at the end of 2014. Now having done 30 shows across 9 cities, it has made its way up to the ‘top five’. Produced by the NCPA, who seem to be making some good choices, I can take very little credit for this production. And this is because of its phenomenally talented ensemble, with comic timing to die for. Adhir Bhat, Hussain Dalal, Dilshad Edibam Khurana, Adhaar Khurana, Siddharth Kumar, Kashin Shetty, Shikha Talsania and Amey Wagh – all funny people in their own right, here at the top of their game, playing multiple versions of themselves. Nikolai Gogol’s classic adapted to a theatre / backstage setting, the play is packed with hilarious interpersonal baggage that constantly evolves. I personally never tire of watching this show.   

ILA
Another play that was part of last year’s ‘next five’, Ila’s rise to popularity has been meteoric. And with good reason. With an inventive and accessible piece – not easy, when you’re devising, and tackling gender issues – Patchworks Ensemble has clarified that they are here to stay. At times funny, at times lyrical, the play features an interesting and energetic ensemble choreographed very nicely by Amey Mehta. Finding its roots in “The Pregnant King” by Devdutt Patnaik, Ila is an important piece of work, getting its due recognition around the country now. Do not miss it. 

KAUMUDI
While some plays aspire to graduate from the ‘next five’ to the ‘top five’, there are those that refuse to leave the ‘top five’. Kaumudi firmly holds its place among the favorites. Opening the Prithvi Festival allowed a lot more Bombay folk to be blown away by Abhishek Majumdar’s modern classic. This year, as I had predicted, it made it to META, won a couple (not enough) and did shows all over. I saw it twice, and loved it even more the second time. Shubhrojyoti Barat, Gopal Datt, Kumud Mishra and Saneep Shikhar are pitch perfect. Quite a masterclass in my book, this one. 


THE NEXT FIVE (again, alphabetically)

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
I haven’t seen two of the top ten plays. This is the first. But I heard hell of a lot about it. Long ago, at the Disney office, I heard rumblings about this production. I wasn’t sure it would see the light of day. But it gathered momentum, put together a cast, put them on a gruelling schedule, and armed with a massive (unheard of) budget, this spectacle was put up at NSCI. And was a theatre event immediately. Everyone went. Everyone spent. Our first full blown Disney musical. Of course it was a crowd magnet, and what’s better, it was bloody good. People haven’t stopped talking about the sets, the singing, and the technical razzmatazz. 

CHITTHI
The big Thespo winner usually makes it to this list. Unfortunately, this is the second of the ten plays that I haven’t seen. I had the opportunity to see only one Thespo play. I saw Hero, from Pune, which also got a few votes. Chitthi, also from Pune, opened Thespo, and was unanimously loved. Produced by Theatre Dil Se, Chitthi is a light-hearted, poignant story of Manisha, an illiterate married woman trying to catch her husband having an affair. Her only clue is a handwritten letter from another woman. Thespo connoisseur Kashin Shetty called it a “wonderful and high spirited start” to the festival. Here’s hoping the team builds upon this winning platform. 

GOD OF CARNAGE
The first of the Aadyam plays on the list. At first glance, the simplest of the plays in the line up. But look closer and you find an intricately layered script, powerhouse performances (particularly by Zafar Karachiwala), and a stunningly intelligent yet unassuming design. This is a text I am familiar with, and I even worked on an adaptation a while back. However, permission wasn’t granted, and the play had to be performed by QTP in its original form. This presented a fair amount of challenges that were masterfully navigated through by director Nadir Khan and his cast. 

THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES
The second Aadyam play on the list. One of ours. Directed, again, by Akash Khurana, who has had a busy (and fruitful) year in the theatre. A madcap comic version of the famous detective story, with Karan Pandit joining the league of charmers to have played Sherlock Holmes. He also gets to play a very strange woman named Cecile. Inspired casting decisions led to Arghya Lahiri returning to the stage, with wonderful results, as Dr. Watson, and the import of the secretly talented Vivek Madan, from Bangalore, to play almost everything else. Rytasha Rathore (also in 07/07/07 in the bubbling under section) and occasionally Vivaan Shah offer able support. Packed with quick costume changes, a large stuffed hound, latent homosexuality, strange accents, and general lunacy, this almost Vaudevillian show is quite a riot.

ONE ON ONE 2
I love it when a play has a sequel. We managed one, for A Special Bond. And it was pretty successful. When One on One opened (the first one) it was a certainty that this format would continue, and Rage would carry on the good work. The first one was so successful that the second took some time to take off, but it finally did in 2015. A good mix of stars from the previous edition and fresh new blood was cast. Old writers returned, new writers were included, and the fraternity grew. Which is one of the big positives of such a project. Of course there were people who preferred the first edition and others who had selected favourites, but that is the nature of the beast. I was involved and watched a couple of shows, and one big advantage of the format is that there is something for everyone and you’ll get your money’s worth. Guess that’s where all the votes came from. Fingers crossed for a long run. 


BUBBLING UNDER

There was a fair amount of love for other Akvarious productions like our latest, Miss Cuckoo, and old favourites like Internal Affairs, The Interview and Rafta Rafta. But some new work made quite an impression.
Faezeh Jalali’s 07/07/07 premiered at NCPA Centrestage and made a strong statement working with the true story of a 19 year old Iranian who was executed for murdering her rapist. The folks at Patchworks Ensemble established themselves as a force to reckon with through their new collaborative work The Gentleman’s Club. Gagan Dev Riar and Sukant Goel got appreciation for their ambitious musical Ishq Aaha, which also opened at Centrestage. Makrand Deshpande’s Maa in Transit, featuring Ahlam Khan Karachiwala, opened at the Prithvi Festival and found some loyalty. Another play to open at that festival was Main Hoon Yusuf aur Yeh Hai Mera Bhai, a play about Palestine by Pune auteur Mohit Takalkar. And lastly, Warren D’Sylva returned to the theatre, as did Ali Fazal and Shivani Tanksale, with our regular Hussain Dalal, to create Sundays, a particularly moving fringe piece based on true stories that took viewers quite by surprise. 

That’s all for now. Keep an eye out for shows of these plays if you haven’t seen them already. And lets see what the next few months have in store for us theatre goers. 2016, here’s looking at you, kid. 

October, 2015

TOURING TRIALS AND OPENING NIGHTS GALORE

 It has been four months since my last article. But then there hasn't been an edition of The Script since June. What’s important is, it seems like we’re back. So much has happened since then, most of which I can’t remember. But I’m going to try. I need to keep my place in this set up. Especially now that there’s some new QTP initiative called Thespo Ink, which prefers younger writing. Sigh. It is a constant struggle to not become obsolete. 

So what were the highlights of our lives in the theatre from June through September? 

The Interview performed for top ranking officials from banks across India at IIM Bangalore. We went in not knowing who was watching. Then found out the RBI was hosting some session with them. Then happened to lunch with all these head honchos. The institute itself was on a break, so was quite surreal already, roaming its empty campus. And then these 60 people in formal attire walking into our show. Perfect audience for the play though. Went rather well. 

We tried our luck with a play at Blue Frog, and didn’t manage to pull much of a crowd. We danced with gay abandon after. Didn’t have much of a crowd for that either. So we went to Hoppipola. 

We returned to India Habitat Centre in Delhi after a while. Had middling success. QTP’s God of Carnage played on the same dates and hogged the crowd. We were still very warm to their cast when we ran into them at Khan Market. We did not dine together. 

The Hindu Theatre Festival happened. We did three cities, and had a fantastic time. Had a replacement for one of the shows, who fell ill at the last minute. So a replacement for the replacement was prepared in all of three days. The cast was surprisingly supportive. And she was surprisingly good. 

We went back to Delhi with Aadyam, for shows of The Hound of the Baskervilles. We celebrated Quasar’s birthday there, even though he stole our audience on our last visit to the capital.  

Sleep deprived, we flew to Muscat. Via Bahrain, for some reason. Did two plays there, one of which was plagued with audio issues. We shopped. 

In the midst of all this, One on One 2 opened, and did many shows. I directed two of the pieces. People occasionally said nice things about them.

Also amidst this, Natkhat Krishna opened, and became a hugely successful play for kids right away. Directed by Akvarious regulars Dilshad (also my wife) and Tahira (also a Thespo winner), and featuring Thespo regulars like Abhishek Saha and Kashin Shetty, it ranks amongst the best looking plays for children I have seen. And features some lovely music. 

On returning from Muscat, we opened a new production. And English translation of Vijay Tendulkar’s controversial classic Mitrachi Goshta. Rohini Hattangady, who was in the original production, came for opening night. The play opened to great response and then headed off for an 11 show run at Jagriti, where it also got lots of love. 


And yes, The Interview turned 100. Back at NCPA Experimental, where it premiered in 2010. Was a full house, a lovely show, and a generally good vibe. Shawn Lewis (of the Bombay Film Factory) covered the event, and a very nice video is now online. Cake and wine happened. Then some Backstreet Boys routines happened. What a night. 

I managed to watch God of Carnage, and was super impressed. I am very fond of the script and know it well, and the cast managed to surprise me with how well they handled some of the tough bits. Particularly this handsome fellow called Zafar, who nailed one particularly tricky monologue. 

I watched Dalan yet again, to see how popular Amey Wagh really is, after his television show has regaled the youth of Maharashtra. I watched The Doll, to see Hidayat Sami tackle Miro Gavran again (after All About Women). I watched Charandas Thief, a Jagriti production of Habib Tanvir’s classic, in which this standup comic called Shunky Chugani showed off his dancing skills, again.  

Beyond this, my “Thespo boodha” memory fails me. Maybe it will come back and I will add it in next month’s article. Yes, maybe there will be an article next month. I’m hoping for the best. It’s the only regular job I’ve got. 



June, 2015

OF BANGALORE, BLOOD AND BROKEN BONES

So I’m picking up from where I left off. Bangalore. I wrote the last article at the beginning of our trip. And it turned out to be an eventful one. We first performed at a new venue – The Humming Tree. A lovely bar / lounge / performance venue run by a nice young man named Nikhil Barua. While music gigs have been really popular, they’ve recently diversified into theatre, with the help of the Sandbox Collective. Life tends to be cyclical, and the world tends to be small, which explains how the girl co-ordinating the event for us was once an Akvarious intern. Maybe we got some extra food coupons owing to this. Lovely little space though, and a nice new audience. Hoping to go back there soon. 




The next day we started a five show run at Jagriti, of our play for children – Saraswati’s Way. This production opened two years ago, and either due to the oddness of the title (unappealing to some) or the content (that played better to older children) it didn’t become a runaway success at first. After the first run, we were wondering what to do with it. A subsequent run had some dismal performances, and I wondered if we had a turkey on our hands. But in July 2014 a show in Pune came up. I thought it might be our last. And the cast was fun bunch to hang with. So I decided to give it all we got. Some cast additions happened, for the better. And we started preparing for a strong send off. But that show was a hit. Big crowds, happy children, offers for more shows etc. We were back. A lease of life. And honestly, since then, it’s gotten only better. I stayed stubborn and refused to do a new play for the children’s season of 2015. We chose to run this, and the response was very rewarding. Good shows at Prithvi. A great show at NCPA. And then Jagriti invited us. And the response there was heartening too. We had repeat audience, spouting lines from the play. That is quite a high.



We also had a crisis in the last show of the run. The irreplaceable Kashin Shetty had an accident minutes before the show. He had to be rushed from a blood soaked greenroom to a neighborhood hospital. And we had a show to do. One man down. And no light and sound operator, as I was with him. While Jagriti’s in-house entertainer Shunky Chugani entertained a patient and concerned audience, the crippled cast formed a huddle and came up with a Plan B. Bold, ambitious, risky as hell, but a glimmer of hope. Characters were combined, roles were swapped, lines were rehearsed, and we had a show. Sound effects were live and performed from backstage. Changes happened on stage as the show progressed. I came back halfway and watched in awe as this bunch of brave actors pulled off a miraculous show, occasionally guided from the foyer by a bandaged Kashin. I applauded, cheered, and perhaps controlled a tear (or two) as they took their final bows. There is magic in the theatre, if you believe in it. 



The only play I watched this month was Motley’s Ga-dha aur Gad-dha at Prithvi. Naseeruddin Shah having fun with multiple characters, and Faisal Rasheed and Aseem Hattangady in top comedic form. What more can you ask for? Plus they danced, just like they once did in My Friend Pinto. The show I watched was also dealing with an accident and a replacement. Sahil Vaid broke his hand and Salim Arif stepped in at short notice. Still, many fun things in it. Was nice to see the Motley crew let their hair down. I plan to catch Charandas Thief and The Doll over the next couple of days. 



I was also one of the privileged ones to attend one of the first set of readings for Rage’s follow up to their immensely successful One on One. And there’s some very enjoyable new writing in the mix. I’m looking forward to it. And I’m sure you’ll hear lots more about it soon.



May, 2015

FIRST QUARTER

Time, as it does, has flown. We're almost at the end of the fifth month of 2015. Almost impossible to keep up. Probably why this article is coming to you somewhat late for May. Or is it early for June? Could also be because QTP has been frightfully busy with their recent opening of God of Carnage, the well-received last play of the Aadyam lot.

I missed it unfortunately. On the first day we had a show for children next door to them. They were at Tata while we were at the Experimental and it was good to cross paths with their crew on post lunch walkabouts. On the second day I went off to Pune. A very fine gentleman named Pradeep Vaiddya has started an initiative called Drama in Video (DIV) where recordings of plays that have shut down are screened in the presence of the director, followed by a Q&A. The last screening was of our production of Baghdad Wedding by Hassan Abdulrazzak. It's an interesting new initiative and a great opportunity for aficionados. And steps like this (and the absolutely fabulous NT Live) should help us seriously rethink the rudimentary kind of archiving we do for our work.

So we did lots of shows in the last few weeks. One at Oberoi School to a fantastic audience. What's also fantastic there is the cafeteria. And the facilities. Since when did schools have air conditioned basketball courts and two swimming pools? We went back to Kochi too. And following the natural order we went to Dubai. Our first time there. Five shows. Great trip but poor houses owing to a poor choice of venue. But the few who came, from various nations, liked the show lots. Looks like we'll go back at some point.


We returned to our biggie. The Hound of the Baskervilles for Aadyam. Opening at the mammoth JBT. Another first. And this needed a complete change in perspective from us. A serious scale up, which we managed with some invaluable support from the folks at Oranjuice. Also, thanks to the extensive promotion we landed up playing to an average of 1000 people per show. The marketing has been pretty successful in changing perceptions. Every production has felt like a theatrical event of pretty epic proportions. Now of course they have the task of riding the wave and being able to sustain this level of activity.

On to what I watched. Propelled by all the hype created by its very first show, I rushed to see Ila. Directed by Sheena Khalid and Puja Sarup, it is a very clever production, and perhaps the most accessible devised piece out there. Which is what really helped me enjoy it. I also caught The Naughtiest Girl in the School, directed by my uncle Vikash Khurana. A play for kids from Nagpur which had five full houses. Seems like Enid Blyton hasn't lost any of her charm. And this should serve as encouragement for more outstation groups.

Speaking of outstation, I'm writing this from Bangalore. We have a bunch of shows over the weekend. Most of which are at Jagriti, which is a lovely place to keep coming back too. More on this trip in the next article. That's it for now. Gotta go focus some lights.

Maybe I can sneak in one filter coffee before that.

April, 2015

THE IDES OF MARCH

It was roughly around the ides of March that we got a call saying that the big Stage 42 festival was cancelling all further theatre shows. Pretty big blow. But can’t say we didn’t see it coming. From the beginning there was a bit of dodgy planning on their front when it came to the theatre segment. Odd venues, dates clashing with other big events, questionable pricing etc. But I think a good lesson was learnt by the organisers. What was particularly nice was that they made individual calls, apologizing, and promising not to abandon theatre in the future as long as the theatre community didn’t give up on them. So the intentions were honourable. And with the Seinfeld fiasco, they faced some pretty big setbacks too. So no hard feelings. 

But basically after the ides, we had no shows of our own in the month. As a result, it was around then that I watched the second Aadyam play – The Sidhus of Upper Juhu. Front row seats in a packed house at the Tata. And a crowd that went absolutely nuts. While I have a particular fondness for Rajit Kapur, who always delivers, my foucs was more on the on stage debut of my mother, Meera Khurana. While she has done a casual walk on in one of our plays for children, this was the real deal. Coincidentally, she played a Punjabi aunty in both appearances. But in Sidhus it was well rehearsed, and integral to the story. Now any seasoned actors can get nervous in front of a thousand people. And despite her very first time, she did remarkably well. She met me after the show, and with a mixture of relief and pride said “I didn’t forget any lines”. That’s pretty much half the battle won, isn’t it? We tend to get caught up with so much else that sometimes we forget that very basic requirement. And it took a sexagenarian debutante to remind me of it. I think that was a moment there. 

Moving away from the ides, there were some shows we did and one show I saw. We performed to a surprisingly decent turnout on Holi. I guess it helped that India won the cricket match that day. We had a surprisingly low turnout the next day, but that I believe had to do with the nature of the play. Everyone who comes to see our production of Brian Friel’s Faith Healer gets engrossed and affected. But it isn’t the easiest play to watch. The downside is people have caught on to that, and to its very obviously ‘heavy’ vibe. The upside is we only get serious aficionados. The downside is that costs are ridiculously high owing to performance rights. The upside is there’s enough respect and support being generated out there for us to keep trying. 


I did finally also catch The EQ. A Thespo hero of sorts, which I had missed every time. I can see what all the praise was about. Some very good devices by some very young people. And some surprisingly mature performances. A little longer than I would have liked perhaps, but certainly worth a watch. 



Now April is upon us. Looking forward to a few things. Ila, for sure. Been hearing so much, on the basis of just its opening show. Some revivals in the Ansh festival. A school show of The Government Inspector. And perhaps our first ever shows in Dubai (fingers crossed). Hope it all works out, so there’s more to report next time.




March, 2015

THEATRE EVERYWHERE

February was pretty fruitful. Performed 12 shows across 4 cities. Other than the regular stuff in Bombay, first headed off to Delhi for a show of The Interview as a part of Stage 42. While the focus of the festival has been more on its comedy and music gigs, there is a pretty solid theatre section also featuring the likes of Dastangoi, The Glass Menagerie, Hamlet etc. With our Delhi show, I think perhaps the timing wasn’t perfect. We were bang in the middle of the NSD festival, time wise and geographically. So relatively fewer people turned up for us. What was interesting was that while we were in Delhi, it seemed like the Bombay theatrewalas had taken over the capital. Well at least the Mandi House area. Club Desire, Umrao and a couple of others were performing next door to us. What was even more interesting is that not too far away, another production of The Interview was performing simultaneously. A college production as a part of a competition, but it’s quite clear that Siddharth Kumar is India’s Mamet. 

Next we pushed off to Lucknow to be a part of the lovely Repertwahr festival there, conducted by Bhoopesh Rai, a very cool biker and entrepreneur with a passion for the theatre. We had the privilege of catching (finally) Kaumudi at the festival. I’ve gushed enough about it on social media, but here I go again. Abhishek Majumdar is a genius. And that cast, led by the always-amazing Kumud Mishra, is to die for. Humbling experience. I hope it sweeps the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards. Coincidentally, like the play we were performing the next day – The Government Inspector – this was also about theatre, among other things. And had a play within a play. And had a similar stage layout. But completely different tonality. So Lucknow folk thronged in for two shows of our play and seemed to have a pretty good time. I think it helped that we were the only comedy in the stellar line up at the festival.    

More shows in Bombay followed. One of our actors, who was out of circulation due to a football injury, limped back to normalcy and took to the stage again. The Cineplay festival got launched at Matterden (Deepak Cinema). The opening event was tasteful and well attended, with loads of free champagne. Thus inebriated I landed up at the grand opening of the Aadyam theatre festival / series, for the premiere of the Masque production of The Merchant of Venice. As he often tends to do, Neil Bhoopalam stole the show with a relatively small part. The bugger even made the Shakespearean language sound hip. Ira Dubey as Portia also seemed in control of the iambic pentameter (always wanted to use that in a sentence) and made lots of sense of it. 

The next day we pushed off to Pune for a show, where rain played foul. A harmless drizzle turned into an unexpected downpour (which then led to flooding) and drenched our scheduled outdoor venue at the Poona Club. So a late decision was taken and we shifted to an indoor venue. A delayed start was inevitable, but eager club members grabbed good seats and watched the entire set up. Although not quite patiently all through. We finally began 90 minutes late (miraculous, to be honest) on a stage that was half the size of the smallest stage we have ever performed on. Blocking was made up on the spot, microphones fell like it was going out of fashion, but the audience loved the play and they apparently want us back. And the day ended with an outstanding meal cooked by Hussain Dalal’s mother. So all was right with the world again. 

I’m watching The E. Q. in March. Also the next Aadyam offering – Rage’s The Sidhus of Upper Juhu – in which my mother makes her formal acting debut. So until next time… toodles.



February, 2015
Play Watching

Back to generic theatre talk after last month’s theatre poll results. A couple of the plays in that list are performing in February, so go watch if you haven’t yet. I fully intend to. I’ve been pretty good of late. Watched seven plays in the last two months. Hoping not to lose the momentum. So here’s what I saw:

CHINESE COFFEE, a play by Ira Lewis made famous by Al Pacino, who acted in the stage and screen version. It’s a well written conversation piece, between two writer friends coping with eking out an existence in New York. The version I saw featured Danish Hussain and Vrajesh Hirjee and was set in Delhi, though I personally felt that the adaptation / relocation / customization hadn’t gone the distance it perhaps should have. Didn’t feel Delhi enough in totality and I wanted that, because the bits that did worked best for me. 

A CHRISTMAS CAROL, an NCPA production targeted at children, families etc. The age old tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and his ghostly visitors. This version featured Dodo Bhujwala as the protagonist and was set in the world of Bombay Parsis. Again an adaptation that seemed to not completely commit to its new setting. Also perhaps a bit too simplistic in design and execution, given the kind of plays being churned out for kids today. More on that later. 

COCK, the big Thespo winner production produced by the darling of Disney, Shweta Tripathi, and gang. The play of course is as far away from Disney content as possible. I missed it when it played at Thespo and the Prithvi Festival, when Manish Gandhi was directing and starring. Many iterations later, the mantle has passed to Jim Sarbh, and has a spanking new cast, including one of my favourite stage actors – Siddharth Robert Kumar. It is a lovely script by Mike Bartlett. In fact I must confess I considered staging it back in the day. The show we saw ran on longer than stipulated time though, and ate into the next show at Prithvi, which was a cause for some concern.   

JAMES AUR EK GIANT PEACH, directed by the very talented Gagan Riar for Rangbaaz. I didn’t quite know what to expect and was pleasantly surprised. A fun energetic cast and some lovely ideas. Also amazingly interactive with the kids in the audience. As I mentioned earlier, this is another example (like Trishla Patel’s Wolf) of the way the bar for kids’ plays is being raised in terms of production design and scale. We’ve done seven plays for children at Akvarious which have been minimalistic and have worked well. But this new lot of plays may just be changing the game. 

NORMAL, the only Thespo play I could catch. Had a lead performance that eventually won an award I think. A nicely dark play about a serial killer and his lawyer. Made me feel a bit old because I was one of those a little disapproving of all the profanity and graphic descriptions being used excessively on stage. I was gutted that I missed Walking Path from Sri Lanka which went on to sweep this year’s awards. 

THE OUTSIDER, again. Yes, my second viewing. Because I liked it. Because I was curious to see how it would hold up in a space like the Sathaye College auditorium. Because Kumud Mishra is in it. And yes, because my wife is in it. Personally worked better for me at NCPA in terms of space and choreography. But that play has something going for it. Happy to learn that they have finally got Prithvi dates. 

PITRAS KA RAS, also by Rangbaaz. The only play I landed up watching (besides my own) at the Prithvi Festival. Imran Rasheed and gang back in their comfort zone, being administrated by Pawan Uttam, attempting to be stern. Some issues (including a lost voice) led to their opening shows being somewhat shaky, but have been hearing good things about subsequent shows. Also featuring Muzammil Qureshi, Farrukh Seyer and a very pretty bicycle.
I missed THE DOLL, which had Makrand Deshpande directing Hidayat Sami and Trishla Patel in a Miro Gavran piece (who was made famous in India by Sami’s directorial debut All About Women). 

But here’s what I’m looking forward to in February, besides the great big theatre wali wedding of Shruti Vyas and Namit Das. Colour Blind, by Manav Kaul, though rumor has it that the shows are sold out. The EQ, finally. The Merchant of Venice, which signals the beginning of Aadyam – a series of large productions backed by the Birlas. Seems like I’m going to miss The Glass Menagerie and Mahua yet again, because we’ll be away performing The Interview for Stage 42, a two month long festival of comedy, music and theatre across five cities. Yes, exciting things on the horizon. Check them out I say.



January, 2015


EXIT POLLS

As we exit 2014 and enter 2015, I’m back with my annual round up. Surprisingly this year a lot of these theatre lists popped up. Most publications carried their favourite plays of 2014. I found a couple suspect. One compiler had clearly seen none of the plays in the list, and had got synopses and casts wrong. Generally reeked of ignorance. So I’m not sure how they go about their stuff. Mine comes from compiling votes from a bunch of people. Not a massive bunch but comprising either theatre professionals or regular theatre watchers. Who are mostly objective. By that I mean, nobody votes for their own work. So some sort of a balance is maintained. And then I list them, in an alphabetical order.

THE TOP FIVE

EINSTEIN
No surprise this one. “Naseeruddin Shah as Albert Einstein”. This phrase alone catapults this production to the theatrical event of the year. Premiering at the Prithvi Festival, where I saw an unbelievably packed show from seats that were not enviable, this went on to do more shows, to larger packed houses, towards the end of the year. There were some people of the opinion that the text itself was not phenomenal but no one could deny the Shah’s mastery and how comfortably he, all alone, owned every square inch of the stage.

INTERNAL AFFAIRS

One of ours. Last year it was in the next five. This year it has climbed up to the privileged few. An unassuming urban rom com at the outset (then briefly called My Romantic History), with some great lines and stellar comic performances, this production has found its legs and how. Now 35 shows old, it has a genuine following and the writing seems to be resonating with a large part of the under 40 audience.



KAUMUDI


Abhishek Mazumdar makes it to the top five again. Last year, Gasha was prominent on the list and won itself lots of acclaim and awards. I’m predicting a repeat performance this year. And I haven’t even seen it yet. There’s a chance I will see it in Lucknow in February. Eagerly looking forward. Featuring, among others, one of my absolute favourites - Kumud Mishra - this play about an estranged father and son set in the world of the theatre has knocked many people’s socks off.



MARRIAGE-OLOGY


Sunil Shanbag goes small and still hits the big time. After the scale of Stories in a Song (one for the ages) and Club Desire, he spearheaded a collection of short pieces designed to be performed in alternate spaces. With limited audiences and new venues, the play has still created enough buzz for itself. Featuring a large ensemble and directed by Sunil and his Club Desire collaborator Sapan Saran, this set of vignettes about marriage has clearly struck a chord.



A PEASANT OF EL SALVADOR


This came as a very pleasant surprise. Featured in the top five last year, and back in the top five this year. A formidable achievement. Congratulations to everyone involved with this. Big feather in QTP’s cap methinks. Here’s an excerpt from last year’s listing: “A nice text, wonderfully communicated by Quasar’s arsenal of lovely little theatre devices. Some very sharp and well designed storytelling.” More power to the peasant.





THE NEXT FIVE (again, alphabetically)



BOMBED


Another one of ours. In fact, our most serious comedy. A play dealing with themes of religion and terrorism, but dealt with in the trademark tongue-in-cheek and occasionally bizarre manner. A principle cast member’s knee injury slowed him and the production down somewhat, but a decent run was managed with the director stepping in, nicely topped off with a show at the Celebrate Bandra festival which was received exceptionally well. Hoping to push it this year. (Shameless plug: Feb 22 @ Prithvi)



COLOUR BLIND
Was in the bubbling under section last year and expectedly climbs the ladder. Manav Kaul takes on Tagore. Kalki Koechlin stars along with Amrita Bagchi, Satyajeet Sharma, Swanand Kirkire and a lot of Aranya regulars. Another one I have missed. Immense praise for this one but I think they’ve done more outstation shows so lots of Bombay janta is waiting to watch. Performing at Prithvi at the end of the month. I’m going.

THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR
NCPA first collaborated with Akvarious on Tuesdays with Morrie which was in the top five last year. This new collaboration seems to have started strong considering it has had just one show in Bombay so far. (There were 11 shows in Bangalore though) Having directed this, there isn’t much I should say, but I will say that it is a lot of fun, and features a delightful ensemble. A contemporary take on Gogol’s classic that satirizes corruption and theatre. Lots of shows coming up. (Another shameless plug)

ILA
Another play that has had just one performance in Bombay. Puja Sarup and Sheena Khalid’s directorial debut was quite the talk of Centrestage in 2014. I missed the play but saw a ten minute excerpt and immediately warmed up to it. A devised piece, with physicality, but more accessible than others in the genre. And funny. I suspect Shruti Vyas has a hand in that. Social media was flooded with praise for this production and its leading lady.

WALKING PATH
Technically a Sri Lankan play, but after it swept this year’s Thespo awards, it was hard to ignore. And it did so without saying anything. Yes, a wordless piece about the relentless urban beautification drive in post war Sri Lanka. Last year Thespo struck poll-time gold with Kabadi Uncut (which got some votes this year), and this year Walking Path left a strong impact. Here’s hoping it will somehow return.


BUBBLING UNDER

Some other promising productions were:
Eat, a devised piece for kids by Habijabi, a new group spearheaded by Ratnabali Bhattacharjee,
Nirbhaya, which swung by India after its golden international run, and moved / disturbed many Indians, and
Under the Chestnut Tree, allmytea’s latest, featuring a memorable performance by Siddharth Kumar.

Of these, not sure when the first two will happen here next, but UTCT is back at Prithvi in March and is worth a watch for its topical content and witty dialogue (written by Akash Mohimen and Siddharth Kumar).

Also, old Akvarious productions got some love. Rafta Rafta (the reboot with a new cast) and Some Times (which will soon have a Cineplay avatar as well) continued to get some love. Our heavy weight (in terms of content and cast), Faith Healer, also managed a few votes despite being a fairly niche production.

One brand new production there is great buzz about is F1-105, the latest from the already-legendary Mohit Takalkar and Aasakta. Having done only two shows in Pune so far, votes were limited, but my spidey sense is tingling. The writing is on the wall. This one’s going to make some serious noise.

That’s it for now. I’m planning on watching quite a few plays this month. Also saw a couple in the last few months, while both The Script and I were on a hiatus. Will update about all this next time. Happy New Year and Go To The Theatre.  



September, 2014


AUGUST RUSH

And suddenly, after a couple of months of sporadic shows, we did 20 shows in August. This was achieved in ten days, over four venues, across three cities. I also missed one play I was really looking forward to (Abhishek Majumbar’s Kaumudi) and saw my first ever Parsi play (Silly Point’s Soda Bottle Opener Wala).

It all began with an ambitious plan of staging three shows each of four different plays from Thursday to Sunday at Prithvi. And then, as luck would have it, we got one show at the Hindu Metro Plus Fest, in Coimbatore, bang in the middle of that. So best laid plans went for a toss, and reallocation of resources needed to be done. Actors had to step up and take on greater responsibilities. And help from beyond the confines of the regulars had to be taken (since a large percentage of the old faithful gang was to be in Coimbatore with me). So lights had to be focused by one person, who headed to the airport for a flight right after, while another had to take over operation. Stage designs were being confirmed over the phone. New lighting designers were diligently mailing light plans to old ones for approval. First timers were being thrown into the deep end, and they all stayed remarkably afloat. Chaotic, challenging, but memorable, and fun. True teamwork was on display. And invaluable contributions by the likes of Niranjan Gokhale (our savior from Attakalari), Shweta Tripathi (while still being stalked via Vodafone), Siddharth Kumar (who graciously expanded his attention span) and Yael Crishna (perhaps the busiest technician in the country).  

Soon after, we were scheduled to head off to Jagriti, Bangalore for a run of six shows. A week before our departure, our lead actor had a pretty nasty knee injury while playing football. And after a couple of days of wishful thinking, the doctor proclaimed that it was rather serious and ruled out any travel for him. So the director, Adhaar Khurana, also our most dependable replacement in times of crisis, stepped in and took on the challenge. Under a lot of pressure, the bugger delivered rather well, but it was unfortunately to a bunch of shockingly poor houses. We broke our own records, and not in the best way. With ample publicity, press coverage, and a somewhat stellar track record, we were all left scratching our heads. Except Aseem Hattangady, a member of our cast, who could not scratch his head as he had to get five stitches in Bangalore after a hockey stick crashed into his skull in one of the shows. Post which, instead of being on stage during the curtain call, he was stumbling blindly into the tech booth with blood streaming down his face. He was led to a clinic as a very concerned exiting audience looked on and provided encouragement. An eventful trip. A tough trip. But we got through. With only a couple of bruises to show for it. 

We returned and went straight into another show, which had a refreshingly solid house for a weekday. I also managed to watch Soda Bottle Opener Wala, on account of my wife being in it. She played a catering college student who makes lethal custard. Based loosely on the case of B. Merwan, a hundred year old bakery in Grant Road that had to shut shop owing to a family feud, the play was cheerful and provided great laughs for the horde of Parsis present. The group also provided mawa cakes and the famous Raspberry soda in the interval. Parsi New Year well spent. 

September has one promising set of shows scheduled to happen abroad, but we’re eagerly awaiting confirmation before we start changing currency. Also a new play is to be rehearsed extensively, which I’m rather looking forward to. NCPA’s magnum opus The Buckingham Secret opens at Tata, which is looking very interesting. Rage has a run at Prithvi, and I shall aim to finally watch Mahua and/or The Glass Menagerie. There’s also a Direction Workshop I’m supposed to conduct for Thespo, which is making me more nervous than any opening night. Maybe I’ll just tell funny theatre stories. And pretend that there are some deep lessons of theatre and life in them. Hmm. Sounds workable.
 

August, 2014

PAOOS AALA, PUNE ZHALA

I don't have all that much to say this month. But considering I'm typing this while I'm on my way to judge 19 one act plays over the weekend, I promise there will be stories next month. Also because I have 20 odd shows of my own in August. I'm sure there will be enough achievements and misadventures to share.

What we did manage in July is to somewhat reclaim Pune as a viable theatre venue. Last January I got badly burnt after an ambitious run of shows in Pune. Subsequently conversations with local theatre folk threw light upon the scary decline in the numbers of theatre audiences. As a result, we warily did one show in the next 18 months. But this July, we did three shows there, riding on the confidence of Act One Scene One, a unit dedicated to promotion of theatre, as yet still in its infancy stage. And the experience was rewarding, thrice.

We first went with Some Times to the Turf Club. Now I have always had concerns about performing youth centric stuff in a gymkhana set up, where the audience tends to be 45 plus. We faced some of that at Bombay Gym. I was prepared for the same, especially since this was Pune, but we were surprised to be performing to a good mix of youngsters, Bombay folk and sporting elders.

We followed this up with our first ever public show of a children's play in Pune. Now Saraswati's Way, our seventh play for kids, is a play I'm fairly fond of. While it has found appreciation in Bombay, it hasn't always found an audience. I think that's largely because of its title and some errant artwork. With a spanking new design, aggressive PR, and significant edits, we actually had a cracker of a show. May just have reinstated my faith in the product and given it a lease of life.

The third play was Internal Affairs, our safest bet. It has been to Pune before, at Olive Bistro (a very pretty place if you're ever visiting), and found as much love this time around too.

So seems like our neighbour across the expressway is getting friendly again. We'll go across again, soon. 



July, 2014

WHERE DID TIME GO??



How did it get so late so soon?
Its night before its afternoon.
July is here before its June.
My goodness how the time has flewn.
How did it get so late so soon?
- Dr. Seuss

What? Where did six months go? Half of 2014 is already behind us. I need a minute to absorb that. And June being action packed didn’t help much.

Well, to be honest, June wasn’t action packed as per the conventional definition. In fact, owing to sudden circumstances, I found myself out of work at the top of the month. This resulted in more time to do my own thing, which included much needed visits to the theatre. So as far as watching plays was concerned, the month was pretty active.


And I didn’t just watch. We also opened a new play at the comedy festival at NCPA. It received a nice response and an even nicer review in the Time Out.


And it wasn’t just plays. I also attended a screening of a play. Well, actually, a “cineplay”. A hybrid product, somewhere between a play and a film, which has its fair share of supporters and opposers. The one I watched was actually of one of our plays. I took it on as an experiment and a challenge and when I watched it with paying public, I wasn’t ashamed.



So now on to the plays I watched, in alphabetical order:



CLUE: Saloni Shukla’s directorial debut. And another theatre group is born. After a couple of acting stints in Akvarious productions, and backstage work with us and Rage, Saloni donned a new hat and gave us the stage version of the popular board game. Featuring a nice set, some surprisingly good singing, Rahil Gilani with green eye shadow, and a tirelessly engaging performance by Aseem Hattangady to keep it all together.




UNDER THE CHESTNUT TREE: Lots of friends involved in this one. I saw a relatively dull show, but could not miss the promise it held. A taut script with sparkling dialogue and a topical subject. For his witty repartee, his dapper costume, and his near perfect performance, Siddharth Kumar was the star of the show for me.



THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS: I actually watched this last month. This time around it was at Prithvi and I was around more for production and technical support. But I got great joy from the large turnout for a literary classic written 96 years ago by Kenneth Grahame. The kids are alright.   



WOLF: Trishla Patel’s latest play for children. An accessible tale with a contemporary twist. Absolutely stunning production design by Pavitra Sarkar (the animal costumes left me quite awestruck) and featuring a fresh, driven and characteristically large cast, including Rahil Gilani (again) as a kooky shaman.  



I missed Arpana’s Marriage-ology, which played at Avenue 29 in Santacruz. I heard very good things. I intend to watch it soon. There’s also Chinese Coffee at Prithvi this weekend. Club Desire returns to new venues with a brand new cast. Sharman Joshi returns to the stage after many years. And T-Pot (which has recently become bloody prolific) has shows of its Pirandello play featuring Benjamin Gilani and son (yet again). Pretty packed calendar for theatre aficionados. See you at the venue.



June, 2014

KIDS TIME AND MANAV KAUL

Bombay is under siege. The summer is upon us and along with the crazy heat, there has been an onslaught of theatre for kids. I was at a meeting recently where I heard that there were over 20 new plays for children this year! This is pretty fantastic. What isn’t so fantastic is that not one of those is ours. We sat out this summer because our children’s play from last summer was to have a second run, but that didn’t work out either, given how many premieres the season had. Time to start planning our entry into next year’s carnival for kids.

Anyhow, moving on to what I managed to watch. Of the kids’ selection, I caught two. First was Cycle Wallah Michael, directed by Amol Parashar. Based on Tendulkar’s Cyclewallah, adapting this for a younger audience was a pretty brave decision. Also very tricky, because when you’re combating a fair amount of mature elements, some generation loss is bound to occur. Still, a super charged lead performance by Abhishek Saha carried the play through (hats off to him for the constant interaction with the viewers), and the children in the audience did enjoy some of the sequences thoroughly. Towards the end of the month I caught a stage adaptation of The Wind in the Willows. Again, brave. Again, tricky. Directed by my uncle Vikash Khurana, and performed by his troupe from Nagpur, this adaptation of the classic novel clearly plays better to elder children. While the characters are all animals (from an English countryside), one shouldn’t go in expecting Madagascar or Jungle Book. This is more about wanderlust, and old world charm, and eccentric friends. In June I plan to definitely catch Trishla Patel’s Wolf and debutant director Saloni Shukla’s Clue.

Moving on to more adult stuff. I plan to catch Under The Chestnut Tree, directed by Abhishek Saha, and senior and junior Gilani (Benjamin and Rahil, just in case) in Six Characters in Search of an Author, again directed by Trishla Patel, who is getting bloody prolific of late. The one ‘adult’ play I did see in May was The Outsider at NCPA’s Hindi festival. Based on the novel by Albert Camus, and directed by Gouri Dutt, this is as brave and tricky a move as it gets. The text was never going to be easy to handle, but given that, armed with a good cast (including Kumud Mishra, Amrita Bagchi and my wife) and some fantastic stylized / choreographed bits (also Bagchi), it was a pretty enjoyable watch with some serious talent on display. Despite some throwbacks to the recent work of Manav Kaul, some strong individuality was visible.

Speaking of Manav Kaul, not only was he in the audience, he is also in Citylights, in cinemas now.  And he’s very good in it. Especially in one scene involving some loosening up and a joke. I was told by him later that most of that was improvised, which made it even more impressive. Look out for more theatre faces in the cinema halls over the next few months as Kumud Mishra and Gopal Dutt star in Filmistaan, Ali Fazal goes into hero mode in Bobby Jasoos and Adhir Bhat kicks off Humshakals.



April, 2014

WHERE DID THE FIRST QUARTER GO?

What? April already? Damn. 2014 is keeping up the pace so far, I must say. Didn’t even allow me the time to write my article about February for the March edition. So lots of catch up to be done.
 
Performed only two shows in February. Both at Canvas Laugh Factory (formerly The Comedy Store). Both to somewhat poor houses. That venue has been progressively discouraging for us, and I may reconsider performing there again. Hats off to the non-stand-up performances that manage to pull in good houses there. 

Don’t remember watching any shows. I do remember missing Dude Bhagwan Zinda Hai, The Glass Menagerie and Hela. Two interesting Bombay based productions opened outside the city. Outsider, directed by Gouri Dutt and based on the novel by Albert Camus, and Under the Chestnut Tree, written by Akash Mohimen and Siddharth Kumar, directed by Abhishek Saha. Looking forward to their Bombay premieres.


February marked the worldwide telecast of a television film I made with tons of theatre artistes led by stalwarts Akash Khurana an Benjamin Gilani. The others included:
Abir Abrar (Joke, Rafta Rafta), Adhaar Khurana (Rafta Rafta, Tuesdays with Morrie), Adhir Bhat (Baghdad Wedding, Gasha), Chaitnya Sharma (Some Times, The Ugly One), Chandan Pethkar (Jaal), Gagan Riar (OK Tata Bye Bye, Piya Behrupiya), Hussain Dalal (Afsaneh: Bai se Bioscope tak, Internal Affairs), Kashin Shetty (Confessions, The Interview), Narottam Bain (Aisa Kehte Hai, Ilhaam), Pawan Uttam (Aaj Rang Hai, Bade Miyan Deewane), Preetika Chawla (Aaj Rang Hai, Proof), Umesh Jagtap (Sex Morality and Censorship, Uney Pure Shehar Ek) and Veera Saxena (Saraswati’s Way, Uney Pure Shehar Ek).

And considering the unanimous praise that has been coming in for the performances, I choose to look upon this as a little victory for our hardworking theatre buggers.
 
Then March began. The only play I watched was the NT Live version of Coriolanus featuring Tom Hiddleston, Mark Gatiss, copious amounts of blood and one stunning shower scene among other things. No, not like you’re thinking. Again I left amazed with the spoken quality the actors managed to bring to their Shakespearean lines. Biggest challenge we face for our own Shakespeare production, which is currently scheduled for 2016. 
 
The Interview returned to theatres in March after a long hiatus, and still held up well enough. We also shot it for this new venture called Cineplay, which tries to achieve a hybrid form of theatre and cinema. It was very interesting to approach the play that way, and I’m keen to see how audiences react to the text in another medium. 

Tuesdays with Morrie also returned, and played to surprisingly good houses, despite having done so many houseful shows in Bombay already. I do think that this play now needs to travel. It has performed in Bangalore and Kochi, but we need to spread its reach further.


March also marked my return to Thespo. No, I did not miraculously pass off as under 25. But the parents of Thespo decided to give us oldies a shot. As part of the celebrations of QTP turning 15, some Thespo old timers had to put together a short play featuring people with a preferably happy history with Thespo. So I found a script by Thespo winner Apoorva Kale (Pigs on the Wing) and cast more Thespo winners such as Divyesh Vijaykar, Kashin Shetty, Siddharth Kumar (later replaced by Thespo nominee Shaun Williams) and the abroad wale uncle of Thespo, Arghya Lahiri. I couldn’t spend as much time as I wanted on rehearsal with this epic mix of people, but we got a piece out. And some people laughed. Yes, even off stage. 

Above all this, the sense of coming together again, the attempts to hassle Toral Shah in vain, the silent support of Nadir Khan, and just the process of helping each other out without breaking a sweat was a superbly nostalgic throwback to my Thespo times. 



Bas now. More later. Will try watch some stuff in April. Catching War Horse (NT Live for life!) for sure. Completing 50 shows of Some Times and 91 shows of The Interview next week. Should make for some fun after party stories. Till then, toodles.
 


February, 2014


 A WHIZZING JANUARY



January 2014 has whizzed past us and become February all of a sudden. Probably has something to do with the fact that we performed 21 shows in the month. So super busy show days plus rehearsal days spent juggling time slots and the days after the run spent recuperating made sure that time flew. Especially since eight of these shows happened over two days. Hats off to all those involved, who powered forth tirelessly. Even more so if they managed without Red Bull.


In terms of play watching, I managed only one. Nine Parts of Desire, featuring a solo performance by Ira Dubey. Besides wanting to see her tackle it, I was intrigued because it was set in Iraq, which was such an integral part of my life while Baghdad Wedding was active. For the amount of work Ira has put in to create all these different female characters, with different accents and personalities, all within the Iraqi milieu, she probably has a good shot at a META nomination (anytime now). All reservations aside, no one can deny the sheer effort put in by her. Speaking of which, it would be interesting to see what all makes the cut at META this year.

February is relatively lean for us. We're returning to try our luck at Canvas Laugh Factory (formerly The Comedy Store). Not much besides that. One sure shot platform we had early in the month was the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival. However, for the first time in seven years, we're not a part of it. We also tried to get an installation approved for Rampart Row (involving some of our theatre folk) to maintain some association but failed. I've had to leave town and head off to Goa to get over the withdrawal I'm feeling. Its true. I'm typing this from there, as everyone around me takes an afternoon nap.

After years of missed opportunities, we finally ventured into the corporate skit universe. With surprisingly good results. Shows increased, actors got paid, some money got made. I see now why friends of ours have been dabbling in this so regularly.

Speaking of which, heartiest congratulations to QTP. They have now completed 15 years. No small achievement, this. And what makes me happier is that there is some talk of us contributing to the celebrations. And I don't mean by providing booze. 

Not much else to report at this stage. There has been some preliminary planning for our next production (#44), scheduled to open at NCPA Cheer. I head off to my first ever show in Udaipur (as an actor in Refund). And I want to watch a few plays that I've been missing, most of all The Glass Menagerie. That's all for now. Shall go order some sausage pulao.
 

January, 2014 

YEAR END POLL


As I wait for the end of the year in a breezy balcony in Pondicherry, I also write this, my favourite article of the twelve I do annually for The Script. The year-end poll. I have assimilated all the votes and made a nice little Excel sheet and now have the top plays of the year, as per the votes of an interesting mix of theatre people and unbiased audience members.

THE TOP FIVE (in alphabetical order):

BAAWLA

This is probably the youngest production in the top five. A Thespo play made it to the top ten, but not this high up. Interestingly, Baawla didn’t qualify for Thespo, but did get a chance to be staged professionally at Thespo at Prithvi. Then on, Rangbaaz has been convinced of its merits and has been doing regular shows. Here’s what I wrote when I saw it: “A surprisingly mature piece of writing from young Raghav Dutt. Featuring lots of original poetry and some Manav Kaul-esque touches. The show I saw was perhaps not the most ‘felt’ performance, but one could clearly see that the play had the potential to move its audience.” Going by the number of votes this little bugger got, it certainly moved quite a few people. This is a wonderful sign for contemporary Hindi writing. Rangbaaz just opened Poora Ek Din by Imran Rasheed, which got some serious early appreciation. Raghav is now writing his next play, Pare. This is a young man to watch out for. 

GASHA

Speaking of contemporary Hindi writing, here’s another gem. Big winner at the META function earlier in 2013, this remains one of my favourite plays in recent times. Abhishek Majumdar uses a text by Irawati Karnik, creates a wonderful forgotten world, and extracts stunning performances from Adhir Bhat and Sandeep Shikhar , to prove that he is indeed quite a ‘dada’. Adhir’s involvement makes this a play even closer to my heart, but it has won many more with relative ease. Again, here’s what I wrote: “Based largely on the years spent in Kashmir by Adhir and his family, a sufficient amount of humour keeps the serious goings on from becoming too heavy, but never takes away from the effectiveness”. Abhishek is already workshopping his next production, which features Kumud Mishra, among others. Rumor has it that it is a musical. I’m excited. 

A PEASANT OF EL SALVADOR

I used to complain that Quasar doesn’t direct enough plays. Now in less than two years, he staged So Many Socks (which qualified for META and won one award) and more recently, A Peasant of El Salvador. This one came out of the blue. A week before it opened, I saw a poster at Prithvi and did a double take. I even expressed my surprise to Q, who nonchalantly underplayed it as usual. I missed its opening run, and some more shows, but finally caught its last show for the year, on the terrace of Temperance, in Bandra. I remember being super impressed. I also remember the big hug I gave Q on the dimly lit stairs right after. Shamelessly quoting myself again: “A nice text, wonderfully communicated by Quasar’s arsenal of lovely little theatre devices. Some very sharp and well designed storytelling”. Also I’m a sucker for Spanish music, and Suhaas Ahuja provided some of that (and fluent Spanish dialogue!) rather ably.

SOME TIMES


The first of the two productions that featured in the top ten last year and are back again this year. Well, this one, I can proudly say, features in the top five yet again. This may have something to do with the number of shows it did in 2013, or that it was selected for the Hindu Metro Plus Theatre Fest, thus expanding its reach. Last year it was perhaps the youngest play on the list, but now, compared to Baawla, these guys have aged. Well, I might add. Directed by Adhaar Khurana, with Karan Pandit usually leading a fantastic ensemble, Some Times remains a comedy favourite. I think the advantage it has is that it covers various aspects of the young protagonist’s life, so while you get some rom-com moments in his scenes with his girlfriend, there’s also workplace bizarreness, drug induced banter with the buddies, and some parental issues. Something or the other is bound to be relatable. Now 45 shows old, here’s hoping Some Times keeps going strong through 2014 as well.

TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE


The NCPA got into production last year and opened one Marathi play and one Hindi one to begin with. As 2012 came to a close, NCPA opened its first English production. The stage version of Mitch Albom’s bestselling (and often life changing) novel. This choice itself must have ensured robust opening crowds, but nothing can take more credit for its popularity than Akash Khurana’s bravura performance as Professor Morrie Schwartz. Lovers of the book have often come armed with some scepticism, but have left teary eyed, because not only does his performance resonate with the much loved character, but more often than not, it reminds one of someone they once loved and lost. Ably supported by Adhaar Khurana as Mitch Albom, and sensitively directed by Meera Khurana, this family affair is a pretty moving piece of theatre. 25 shows old, the stage is set for some serious expansion.


So those were the five plays with the maximum votes. As usual, I mention the next five plays to get a formidable amount of love in the poll.

In alphabetical order:



A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE

Kashin Shetty takes another shot at the dark comedic brilliance of Martin McDonagh. Armed with a keenly developed sensibility of the text, a couple of quirky performances, and the magic of witty dialogue. Simplistic staging but enjoyable fare.



INTERNAL AFFAIRS

The second play in this list written by Adhir Bhat and Bobby Nagra, and directed by Adhaar Khurana. A fresh take on an office romance. Knockout supporting acts by Hussain Dalal and Shikha Talsania as many crazy characters. Contemporary English comedies have seemingly found a loyal audience. 



KABADI UNCUT

This comes as a surprise. One of the finalists of Thespo, it probably had only one show in Mumbai, but got a large number of votes. So I assume many people from the fraternity went for it, and whoever went was impressed. A Marathi play set in a landfill, its production design and innovative staging (especially one fabled camcorder playback sequence) made an impact, and the play won five awards. Well done Team BMCC! 



NOISES OFF

Michael Frayn’s comedy classic, revisited by the Company Theatre. A frenetic script, performed by a well rehearsed and super energetic cast (well, couple of casts) featuring comic stalwarts like Neil Bhoopalam, Yuki Ellias, Tariq Vasudeva and Sumeet Vyas among others



PIYA BEHROOPIYA

The second play to make the list in 2012 and 2013. A fantastic Shakespeare adaptation by Amitosh Nagpal, helmed by Atul Kumar, and featuring a delightful ensemble, including Sagar Deshmukh, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Gagan Riar and Neha Saraf, this was one of 2012’s genuine crowd pleasers, and apparently it continued its golden run in 2013 as well.



So that’s the top ten. Perhaps a tad populist, but then it is the voice of the people. As usual, I’m never satisfied, and will slip in a BUBBLING UNDER paragraph. 



Thespo clearly had a good year, considering THE E. Q. and MI GHALIB, both finalists, got some serious votes. The Prithvi Festival and NCPA’s Centrestage perhaps happen too late in the year for widespread viewing, but AATMAKATHA (from Kolkata, featuring Khulbhushan Kharbanda), THE GLASS MENAGERIE (by Rage, directed by Rajit Kapur) and UMRAO (by Aarambh, directed by Hidayat Sami) from the former, and COLOURBLIND (Manav Kaul), THE COMPLETE WORKS OF SHAKESPEARE (Aadar Malik and gang) and KHIDKI (written by Siddharth Kumar, directed by Sananda Mukhopadhyaya) got some decent votes. Should be interesting to see their journey in 2014. Ratnabali Bhattacharjee’s devised piece ONCE UPON AN APPLE TIDE got some love, and the two outstation plays that featured prominently among the voting were HOW TO SKIN A GIRAFFE (Perch, Chennai + Rafiki, Bangalore) and UNEY PURE SHEHAR EK (Aasakta, Pune), both of which I had the privilege of seeing, and now have taken on the responsibility of recommending.


So, ladies and gents, that was 2013, somewhat. Pretty packed and varied. Let’s hope for an equally enjoyable 2014. Given that last paragraph, I think we have a good year just around the corner. 
 


November, 2013

OCTOBER


The life and times of a legendary music composer. The silent struggle of a farmer in Spain. The troubled relationships of a singer in a Mumbai nightclub. The three plays I managed to see this month covered a lot of ground.

Life lessons against the backwaters of Kerala. An entertaining office romance in a beautiful bistro. The two shows we performed this month, and their venues, poetically described.

Poonam Sareen, my dramatics teacher from school, directed a well mounted production called The Sounds of Silence, about Ludwig Van Beethoven and the timeless music he made as he got progressively deaf. Despite the title, a fair amount of sound cues played through the show, operated deftly by my wife. So I had two very strong reasons to go and see this Roger Drego production. And, of course, the music. Of the ensemble, old hand Sanjeev Vatsa entertained the audience with his performance as Daddy Beethoven, while newbie Gurinder Pawar pulled off his multiple parts rather bravely and competently.


Quasar Thakore Padamsee returned (pretty soon after his last outing, shockingly) in crackling form with A Peasant of El Salvador. I caught it at Temperance, the hot new venue in Bandra, pun intended. A nice text, wonderfully communicated by Quasar’s arsenal of lovely little theatre devices that left me most impressed. Some very sharp and well designed storytelling.

The third play I saw was the much awaited collaboration between Sunil Shanbag and the NCPA, Club Desire. Second time in a month that I was back in the Tata Theatre. Second time in a fortnight, even. The previous visit was for Uma Dogra’s dance recital that was a part of the Nakshatra festival. This time around the stage had been transformed into a pub / lounge space for the play, which was run by the always energetic Gagan Riar, and which was the location where the story of the play (based on Carmen) unfolded. Mansi Parekh Gohil played the singing seductress, Faisal Rashid played the intense poet and lover, and the scene stealer, Karan Pandit, played this particularly cool DJ. More swooning happened among the female audience.

So not too shabby in terms of theatre watching. As for performing, let’s just say we were being ‘selective’ when it came to taking shows. Even the Olive Bistro (Pune) show got confirmed only once cast approved of the place, and more importantly, of the food menu. As a result, theatre activity levels were low, but the eleven upcoming shows of Rafta Rafta should more than balance that out. 


Hence, off to Bangalore for a long haul in a couple of hours, so won’t catch much of what’s happening in Bombay in November, (basically the entire Prithvi Festival) but already excited about a couple of shows I can watch in Bangalore. There’s Dead Man’s Cell Phone, produced by Jagriti and directed by Vivek Madan. I’m particularly keen to see this, since I read this play some time ago, and decided against doing it because of the trickiness of the second half of the play. Eager to see how Mr. Madan has cracked it. Also there’s a show of Pub Crawl, written by Gautam Raja, scheduled to happen at a lounge in the neighborhood.  Free booze will be there da? 


October, 2013

SILENT SEPTEMBER

After all the theatre activity in August, this last month landed up being pretty quiet. Compared to the 14 shows put up in August, there were only six in September. Even the number of plays I managed to watch plummeted down to zero. Even though Treadmill, A Peasant of El Salvador and Noises Off were on the cards.


We did manage a couple of rehearsals though. One for a revival and one for a new play. The revival is of Rafta Rafta by Ayub Khan Din that we once did over 20 shows of. A large cast is difficult to co-ordinate, and its run ended somewhat prematurely. However, after last year’s season of The Interview at Jagriti in Bangalore, this year they were keen to host this east-meets-west family comedy, which is how it got this lease of life. Half the cast is new though, and given that the last show of this play was in November last year, it does feel like putting up a new production altogether. The last ensemble managed some crackling chemistry. Will be interesting to see what this mix of old and new brings to the table.

The new play is a production that will premiere at Centrestage at NCPA this year. Titled Common People, it is written by old Akvarious favourite Apoorva Kale. Currently working as a copywriter in Singapore, Apoorva wrote his first full length play – Pigs on the Wing – in 2002, and it went on to win five awards (including Best Play and Script) at Thespo that year. He followed this up with Once There was a Way, which premiered at the first Writers Bloc in 2004. Soon after he moved to New York, but his association with Akvarious continued as his short piece Santa’s Little Call Girls premiered at the Prithvi Theatre Carnival and went on to become a finalist in the second edition of the Short and Sweet Theatre Festival in Mumbai. While Apoorva and I have worked together on many occasions, three out of the four actors in the new play have never worked with his writing. In a sense, this too is an old-meets-new project.
 
Initially, when I thought I didn’t have much to report, I wanted to write this article about how and why plays shut down. Was going through a pensive phase looking back at the fates of the 42 productions we have opened so far. And how only nine or ten are still alive. Dark and depressing stuff. Maybe next time. Thought it was better to write about birth (well, interesting developments really) than death for now.

Another interesting development is the number of theatre actors on hoardings across the city these days. Sumeet Vyas checked us out as he stood shoulder to shoulder with Sridevi (English Vinglish). Anand Tiwari looked unhappy to see us since he was hanging with Saif Ali Khan (Go Goa Gone). Nimrat Kaur busied herself with cooking up a storm (The Lunchbox). And most recently, Adhir Bhat is glaring at Anil Kapoor, probably for not investing in theatre. Now to wait and see if this exposure translates into a spike in ticket sales for the theatre producers who can’t afford a single hoarding.

 
September, 2013

AUGUST RUSH

August has been a packed month. Put up fourteen shows across five cities. Watched six plays. And acted in two shows of one. That’s an involvement of some sort in twenty two shows, technically.

The shows that we staged went off smoothly. Not much to report on that front. Some debauchery happened behind the scenes, especially when outstation travel was involved. The Hindu Metro Plus Theatre Fest tends to pamper theatre groups with air travel and five star accommodation. Many pools had their waters tested. Many buffets were massacred. But that’s the stuff one finds in one of those autobiographical exposés, and not in a serious theatre related article, which is what I always intend to write.

So on to the six I watched, alphabetically…

Baawla. A surprisingly mature piece of writing from young Raghav Dutt. Featuring lots of original poetry and some Manav Kaul-esque touches. The show I saw was perhaps not the most ‘felt’ performance, but one could clearly see that the play had the potential to move its audience, which is what I believe happened in the very next show.

A Behanding in Spokane. My second viewing, actually. Shikha Talsania stepped into the part I had originally seen Shweta Tripathi play. And Abhishek Saha appeared sans his racial makeup. Some evolution had taken place since the opening shows, and some of it was for the better. The winner still remained McDonagh’s quirky text. 

Bollywood Kee-Maa. Evam’s spoof of everything Bollywood. Coincidences, vengeance, wailing mothers, God, cackling villains, the works. A bit loud for my tastes, and a bit of a ‘been there done that’ vibe for the average Bombay-ite, I would assume, but the Kochi audience I saw it with was lapping it up.

Circus. Performed by Mac-Trics, a Chennai based mime group, this was a Chaplin-esque tale of, well, Chaplin, and his exploits at a local circus. The play started promisingly with some deft shadow play and some pretty precarious human formations. Slowly, however, it got repetitive and played on much longer than one expected / wanted it to. The story was a sweet one, but the central romance was let down by a weak female lead. But clearly a talented bunch of people. 

How to Skin a Giraffe. My favorite play watching experience in recent times. A collaboration between Perch (Chennai) and Rafiki (Bangalore), this was directed by Rajeev Krishnan, whose earlier play Miss Meena has garnered lots of praise. A simple enough tale (with elements of satire) told in a widely inventive manner, by an accomplished ensemble. 

An Incident at the Border. The directorial debut of man-at-arms, Himanshu Sitlani. A quiet and sensible piece, albeit overwritten, with a wonderfully restrained performance by Divyang Thakkar. Himanshu let the script speak for itself, without much unnecessary direction, yet somehow the play seemed to represent his personality rather well.

Oh, and in addition to this, I saw four short plays at the St. Andrew’s Parish annual Zonals. I was invited as judge (almost 14 years after I directed one of the plays), and got to see a play each from the four parish zones and performances by winner in other fields, such as elocution, singing and dancing. Three of the plays were Bandra / Parish centric, of which one (predictably the one directed by Karl Mendes) was extremely enjoyable, and the fourth play was a surprisingly somber Neil Simon piece. A lot of familiar faces were on stage, as some of these talented people have found their way to the professional stage. In fact, my father has directed a couple of them for Akvarious as well. All in all, an inspiring evening, brimming with talent.

So that’s about it for this month. Missed the Project STRIP revival and the new QTP play owing to a show of our own in Pune. Fingers crossed for more shows soon. Will also probably miss Treadmill tonight. Chalo then, I’ll go and sulk.



August, 2013

MY JULY




I finally managed to watch two plays this month, so that long overdue achievement is going to take precedence. Then I can wax eloquent about our shows in Bombay Gymkhana and the monsoons of New Delhi.





I got back from a family vacation in Kashmir, and headed straight from the airport to Prithvi Theatre to watch Ramu Ramanathan’s Postcards from Bardoli. Amol Parashar and Jaimini Pathak took the stage in this two-hander set against the backdrop of the agrarian crisis in India. Told through a series of interactions between a flawed father and his football fanatic son, the play covers a lot of ground, ranging from Sardar Patel’s Bardoli satyagraha in the 1920s to today’s deteriorating state of affairs. As is often the case, there was much to be learned from Ramu Ramanathan’s well researched text.



The second play I saw was, well, four short plays. Four Square, which was a part of Silly Point’s ‘Get Silly’ theatre festival at the NCPA, is a collection of four short pieces that seem to be randomly assembled. Two were about the theatre, one was about dating, and one was about a man and his shrink. The common thread was the bunch of male actors, who played different parts in different pieces. Silly Point is hugely successful in South Bombay, and yet again they had a strong and supportive audience on a weeknight. Besides wanting to witness this phenomenon, I was also drawn by the presence of Shikha Talsania in the cast. She is now quite the Akvarious regular (Some Times, The Ugly One, Internal Affairs) and will be seen in LeChayim’s A Behanding in Spokane in August.



The advantage of performing in the dining hall of the Bombay Gymkhana is that you are served tea, coffee, sandwiches and batata wadas during set up. In some cases, this can also be a disadvantage. The hall itself is a lovely, old school, wood paneled space with a little stage. Outside, elderly members sat and watched the rain soaked maidan as they sipped tea. Very British, the entire affair. We had to put up makeshift wings (and during the show, some lady members of the cast noticed that we had built their changing area right below some CCTV cameras), and rig lights and sound from scratch. We also toned down the profanity for the members. Despite minor mishaps – an actress (unnamed) wore mismatched footwear and later knocked her head while lying down on stage – the show went off well.



The following weekend, the same play (Some Times, by the way) traveled to New Delhi for the first time, to perform at the India Habitat Centre. I think we took the monsoon there with us, because on the first show day, the capital recorded the most rainfall in over a decade. Also, Bombayites have become so immune to the rain that it was almost funny seeing Delhi shop keepers shut for the day and run home after thirty minutes of a downpour. While we stood there, nonchalantly, in ankle high water, wondering what the fuss was. Obviously our house was affected. But those who came were warm and receptive, and particularly enjoyed the punjabipan of the protagonist’s parents. Not a bad thing considering the mother is played by a Gujarati and the father is played by a Mangalorean.



In August, thanks to the Hindu Metro Plus Theatre Fest, Some Times travels to Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad and Kochi. Should return with some good stories for next month’s article. 



To wrap up, another gem from the legendary Sanjay Dadhich. He was recently asked if his group was planning to stage a production of a classic for an upcoming festival. He promptly replied, “We don’t do classics, we create them. Whatever we do becomes a classic.”
 

July, 2013

  JUNE, JAPS and JAGRITI


Last month, an old play went to two cities, a new play premiered to positive response, and a collaborative production left its mark in the South. I also saw… wait… no plays. This is greatly upsetting. I even meant to watch two plays I have missed time and again – Akash Mohimen’s Mahua and Manav Kaul’s Mamtaz Bhai Patang Waale - but I missed them yet again. I need to set this right. For July, I have Postcards from Bardoli on my radar, primarily because it features Amol Parashar. And for August, there’s the new Le Chayim play to look forward to, and hopefully some stellar stuff at the Metro Plus Theatre Fest.



The Interview traveled to Kochi (for the second time) and Delhi (for the fifth time). The Kochi show went off well, and the trip was marked by seafood, swimming pool antics, hounds at midnight and all male bitching sessions. The Delhi trip (well, Gurgaon really) was different. It was the 85th show, and featured two first timers in the cast. Shweta Tripathi and Chaitnya Sharma stepped in to help us out, and rose to the occasion wonderfully. The show was for employees of Honda, and what we didn’t expect was the bonus treat of getting to watch Japanese men dancing after our show. They held light sabers and danced like girls. Theatre has given us so much. Other memorable things from this trip were a ditzy emcee, free alcohol, endless starters, bathrooms without locks, hung-over valets and blasphemy over breakfast.




Akvarious opened a new play – My Romantic History - at NCPA’s comedy festival – Cheer. Adhaar Khurana’s third directorial venture (after the underperformed but hilarious Jumpstart and the hugely successful slice-of-life comedy Some Times) opened successfully. Priyanshu Painyuli and Shriya Pilgaonkar played mismatched lovers to great effect, and they were more than ably supported by Hussain Dalal, who almost stole the show in his much awaited return to the stage, and Shikha Talsania, who gets an award for bravery for putting up a great performance even after sustaining a pretty serious injury in the seventh minute of the show. She bled all over backstage (and onto a few props), and had to get stitches right after, but that didn’t stop her from knocking it out of the park. More shows of this are lined up in July. (Shameless plug)




NCPA’s first English production in years – Tuesdays with Morrie – in collaboration with us, moved out of Bombay after ten shows and did five in Bangalore. I have always maintained that as far as English theatre goes, Bangalore audiences are as good, if not better, than Bombay. No wonder the theatre scene there is flourishing. Our first stop was Jagriti, run by Arundhati and Jagdish Raja, one of the most wonderful couples I know. Fittingly, their space is a beauty too. Throw in a happy and unobtrusive technical director (Gautam Raja), a lovable man-in-charge with an affinity for booze (Vivek Madan, who I first met through QTP) and the country’s warmest technical crew (Manoj and Babu), and you have a theatre professional’s dream come true. We then headed to old favourite Ranga Shankara, and also into the familiar warmth of Anju’s café and the overlooked issues of The Woodbridge, our regular digs. Of course, our shows in Bangalore are impossible without the untiring support of Anil Ramachandra (again, through QTP). Pot bellied and prone to fits of rage, this bugger is our soldier out there.



That’s all for now. Next month, I hope to write about some plays I manage to watch. Also Tuesdays with Morrie ventures into Prithvi. And there will be a Delhi trip with Some Times, which will serve up some stories, and an enviable list of meals thanks to my culinary king Kashin Shetty. Watch this space. 
 
June, 2013

SARASWATI’S MAY

Yes. The month belonged mostly to the goddess of wisdom. My return to children’s theatre was with a script that revolved around her. It also had a large cast that played multiple parts (including those of a bumbling cop, a DVD pirate and a hip hop sadhu), some singing, a little dancing, and mathematics. And since theatre actors are getting increasingly busy (demand is pretty damn high), the team had a lot of first timers with Akvarious. This initially added to my nervousness, but they all rose to the occasion, and it came together quite nicely.


There were two shows at NCPA, followed by four shows at Prithvi. We even managed to get called for a school show in Nashik immediately after. The performance, however, was not for children, but principals and vice principals from schools across India. A crowded bus ride later (which featured the usual attempts to sing and nap) we reached the venue. The stage was red and blue (meant more for a village wedding) and in the parking lot, the platforms were rickety, the lights were only LEDs (meant more for a dandiya nite), the lunch was cold (but warmed after an altercation) and the cast was held in a children’s classroom. I got nostalgic about my school days and wandered into the chemistry lab, only to be strongly reprimanded. I ran back to our classroom, guilty. Man, I was a tougher kid back when I was actually in school. Nashik was hot as hell, so there wasn’t much to do till the sun went down. Some uncomfortable naps and a dog pile later, set up began. Despite all these trying circumstances (including two under confident replacements in the cast), the show finally went off decently. The audience was focused and responsive, and best of all, they didn’t notice some of the on-stage errors that were making my wife squirm audibly right next to me. At one point, one of the replacements, on being questioned by a cop, said “mujhe kuch nahi aata” in all earnestness. That, there, was a rare and beautiful moment of truth on stage.

The actor in question was a young fellow named Hussain Dalal. In 2007, I was a replacement actor in a play where he was original cast. The play was the delightful Me Grandad ‘ad an Elephant, and a very young Hussain (maybe 17) was playing a chorus member. Coincidentally, the shows back then were for a school, and in the last one, the kids were not interested in the goings on and were going ape shit. A decision was taking to edit the play as we performed. As such the second half was 40 minutes shorter, and the characters seemed rather hyper. At one point, Hussain and I danced together, completely out of character. A bond was forged.

Hussain found his way into Akvarious, went on to play a prominent role in Afsaneh: Bai se Bioscope Tak, for which he became perhaps the youngest ever META nominee. Since then, he has been a part of many of our productions, and he has played an excited Sardar boy, a hunchback murderer, a complicated dog, a bisexual, a dodgy grandfather, an innocent Arab and Tintin, among other such colorful characters. And in the next Akvarious production, which premieres on June 16, he plays all these characters (well, almost) in the same play.


However, this long drawn history found its way into the article because on the last day of May, the little man’s first film as dialogue writer released, and besides breaking all sorts of box office records, people are actually sitting up and taking notice of the Dalal’s work. So here’s a hearty congratulations to him, in the hope that he rakes in a lot of money from writing work and pumps it into more theatre! (Now where have I heard that before?)

May, 2013

SUMMER HEAT, THEATRE EVENTS AND NEW PLAY


It’s a cruel, cruel summer. “What’s Hot” has taken on an entirely different connotation. Nonetheless, the theatre listings column is still a crowded place. A comparatively easy month for us at Akvarious though. We had a total of six shows this month (including one at “Canvas Laugh Factory”, the rechristened Comedy Store), and I managed to watch two.

A play directed by Quasar always seems like an important theatre event. He takes his time with a production (almost always topical and relevant), works long and hard hours on it, and opens it without the obvious fanfare, letting the content speak for itself. As was the case with So Many Socks. What was different this time was that I missed the opening run, the next one, and almos
t missed the last season of it too. In the meantime it had traveled up North, won praise and awards, and built itself a formidable reputation. But for me, it remained elusive, somewhat like the poetic content of the play. And I mean this in the best possible way. I caught its very last show, at Cama Hall, which is fast emerging as an interesting alternate space. Perhaps Quasar’s best designed work, with obvious messages, that were interestingly not made obvious. A play that pushes the audience to work with it and to make what they can of it. Strong imagery, inventive choreography, with a lyrical quality that almost seems like it retained the flavor of the poems that it has been adapted from. An intriguing experience.

A play directed by Mohit Takalkar also always seems like an important theatre event. Then you find out that his source material is a Girish Karnad text, adapted by the multi talented Pradeep Vaiddya, and featuring an ensemble of 20 odd actors, including Marathi stalwarts and explosive young guns like Radhika Apte, Sagar Deshmukh, Umesh Jagtap and Siddharth Menon, and expectations go sky high. Uney Poorey Shehar Ek, relocated from Bangalore to Pune, is an episodic ode to Mohit’s hometown, depicted through the behavior of the various characters that inhabit the play. These characters are from different social strata, but their paths cross in more ways than one. A synopsis would be impossible to write, but it is a sensitively handled showcase of the dynamics between people – strangers, friends, domestic help, the nouveau riche (and a delightful grandmother with a penchant for betting on horses) – that add up to an exciting larger picture and theme of the city we (or they) live in.

So that’s what I watched this month. I also rehearsed for a new play for children, and continue to do so. Directing for kids after three years, and everyone – kids (that make up a majority of the audience), actors, me – seems to have evolved since the last outing. Working with a large cast, including some first timers. Also working with live singing after five years. Plus there are six successful plays for children by Akvarious to live up to. So it feels like a challenging (and hopefully rewarding) homecoming. Hope to see you there.



April, 2013

MARCH PAST

I did not see any play this last month (except the ones I was lighting, of course). A play I once saw got made into a movie. That movie released this month. That movie has my friends from the theatre in it. I have not seen that movie yet. As such, I had a hard time deciding what to write about. Meeting friends from the theatre for a couple of drinks (sometimes more) didn’t seem to be apt. Struggling to co-ordinate dates of actors for shows would make for a good rant, but I don’t want to revisit it. I’ve always found The Economic Times dull, and as such don’t think that details of the financial crises faced by theatre groups would make for interesting reading.

Guess I’ll just have to faff. 

Before I begin faffing, I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate everyone involved with Gasha and So Many Socks for coming back from the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards, with said awards. Gasha, in particular, won some big ones – Best Play, Best Script and Best Ensemble. (Trivia: Adhir Bhat has been a part of winning ensembles for two consecutive years now.) The directors of both plays seemed happy just to get another show when they qualified. By the looks of it, there’s now going to be lots more shows of both these plays in the near future.
Akvarious returned to Ranga Shankara, Bangalore in March. The Interview played, again, in what seems to be the production’s favorite city. And it seems like the feeling is mutual, because people turned up in large numbers to watch it turn 30 on a weekday. Baghdad Wedding played in Bangalore for the first time since the Metro Plus festival last August. The first day was trying, to say the least, because the tempo that carried the set of the play, and was also supposed to carry the costumes of the play (naturally), inexplicably carried the costumes of Our Town. Our able Production Manager (also my wife) opened the bags expecting to see the familiar US Army uniforms and Arab gowns, but was greeted by cowboy hats and dungarees. So she spent Day One visiting costume hire places in an attempt to salvage an otherwise doomed show. We improvised, and got by, just about. Our Production Assistant, a somewhat talented lad from Orissa, spent most of Day Two flying to and back from Mumbai with the authentic, expected costumes. So all’s well that ends well, and all I can say is, thank God Girish Karnad didn’t see the first show. 



Wait a minute. I did see a play. Sure, it wasn’t a professional production. But it was a play all the same. It was called Bisaat (Chessboard) and was staged as a cumulative effort by four of the hostels at IIT Powai. And it was about the hijacking of a plane by some Kashmiris back in the 1970s. A smartly researched script about a conspiracy theory, coupled with symbolic Bollywood style dance numbers, live action stunts involving actual fire, a twenty foot long paper-mache plane with twinkling lights which landed (yes, landed) on a lit-up runway, and a three (maybe four) storey set. It was a production by engineers after all. Mad props to them. Literally. I was pleasantly surprised by the play, and then pretty shocked when twenty minutes after the end, at someone’s signal, the hostelites picked up sticks, formed a screaming mob and gleefully demolished the set. Seemed to be like a very violent, almost Tarantino (or in this case, Prakash Jha) version of the Buddhist ritual of destroying those intricately made sand mandalas. Man, if we could do that, storage of sets wouldn’t be such an issue at all. Sigh. 



April is upon us. I must try and watch some shows. I’ve been invited to see a performance on the first day of the month. Considering it. Or maybe they’re just pulling a fast one.


 
March, 2013

THE UGLY AND THE GOOD


As you all know, February has less days than other months. As such, I managed to see only two plays, and opened just the one. Let’s start with that ‘one’.

The Ugly One, which we opened in February, is the 40th Akvarious production and has a lot of firsts attached to it. Some of which are:

It is the first play we have premiered outside Bombay. There’s something special about that. We opened at Jagriti, Bangalore, where we had the luxury of three days of stage rehearsal, including one tech. Over the last few years, we have made many trips to Bangalore, and have managed to cultivate some sort of following. The Interview is completing 31 shows in Bangalore alone this March. Also, it is a challenging play, and getting the complete attention of the cast for a few days before opening night was priceless. To add to this, getting four shows in front of an unbiased audience really helped the play find its feet.

It has young Chaitnya Sharma in the lead role for the first time. After scantily clad bit parts in Jumpstart, some physical interaction with Karan Pandit in Baghdad Wedding, a couple of walk-ons (literally) in Spunk, and two memorable supporting roles in Some Times (his coming-of-age project), we thought it was time he was shoved into the limelight. And considering he has to deal with some serious challenges, like being called ‘ugly’ (and treated thus) repeatedly, he’s done a commendable job.

It is the first play which we have licensed through Rosica Colin Ltd and thus is the first time our royalty per show costs more than the running of the production itself. It is also the first play in which we have used grapes creatively. And the first time we have exploited… you know what? I think its best you come see it. We had shows at NCPA and Prithvi in February, and are back at Prithvi in April.

The two plays I watched were The Bureaucrat, written by Anuvab Pal and directed by Rahul DaCunha, and A Behanding in Spokane, written by Martin McDonagh and directed by Kung Fu Panda. Both comedies, though the latter is considerably more morbid and bizarre.

For me, both plays had two standout performances each. In the former, Jaswinder Singh as the smarmy Home Minister, and Neil Bhoopalam, as the VJ-rapper with daddy issues. In the latter, Adhaar Khurana, as the monkey-loving hotel clerk, and Abhishek Saha, as a mostly terrified black man called Toby.


A special mention here for Kashin Shetty, for being ballsy enough to keep staging McDonagh texts. I love the bugger, his writing blows me away and cracks me up in turns, but while I love the scripts of The Pillowman (which Shetty staged successfully as Confessions) and A Behanding in Spokane, I would be somewhat wary of putting them up as productions. Not because they’re risqué but because they are set in a world I have considered a little less relatable for Indian audiences. But Kashin has proved me wrong. Twice. And that makes me quite happy.

To wrap up, the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards are just around the corner. It is the first time in 5 years that Akvarious hasn’t made the cut, and I’m going to miss being a part of all the fun, but I’m super happy with the nominations of Gasha (featuring my buddy Adhir Bhat, whose performance I gushed about in the last issue), Shillak (directed by my buddy Pradeep Vaiddya, which I called “one of my personal favourites” of 2012 in the December issue) and So Many Socks (directed by yet another buddy, Quasar, and the only one I haven’t seen yet, which for me is an issue). Here’s wishing all of them the very best. Hope they have knockout performances and bring back lots of awards.



February, 2013
 

SIX PACK THEATRE


Two months have gone by since my last article. Akvarious did 20 odd shows in this period, which include 2 of a new production. And I watched at least 6 plays by other groups. Here they are, in alphabetical order.

ALL IN THE TIMING: Faezeh Jalali finally staged this collection of short plays by David Ives at NCPA’s Centrestage festival. It also marked the debut of FAT Productions (apt name for me / my work too), run by Faezeh Jalali and Anand Tiwari. The show has flair, oodles of style, witty writing, an excellent ensemble and hence, very good performances, including some particularly noteworthy ones by Asif Ali Beg, Siddharth Menon and Malaika Shenoy Chaudhury (in crackling form). Vir Das is on board as co-producer, which has led to the show doing quite a few shows in quick succession at some interesting venues.

APARADHI SUGANDHA: Natak Company landed up in the finals of Thespo yet again. And with the talented triumvirate of Nipun Dharmadhikari, Siddharth Menon and Amey Wagh, there was no way this could be missed. While it did run on for nearly 2 hours without an intermission, and I watched a lot of people lose the battle with their bladders (no, they did not pee in their seats), I had a very good time. I thoroughly enjoyed my evening, and watched in awe as yet another brilliantly assembled ensemble brought middle class existence in Pune to life with such accuracy. Packed with funny moments and built on an unusual premise, this was yet another example of Natak Company’s aptitude for skillfully entertaining its audiences.



BEING SARTHAK MAJUMDAR: In the very first edition of Short+Sweet, one of the pieces I liked was written by a young fellow called Karan Shetty. He wrote another interesting piece for the next round of S+S and it was clear that this was a strong voice. I got the chance to interact with him and discovered a madly passionate young theatre lover, who was trying desperately to break into the theatre scene. I suggested Thespo, and discovered that he had been trying that route for years. Unfazed by rejection, he was planning to apply with 4 plays for Thespo 2013, hopeful that at least one would make it. And he was right. Being Sarthak Majumdar, his take on how media has taken over our lives and affected our minds, was one of the finalists. Unfortunately not his strongest piece of writing, the play still had the audience in splits at every discernible potshot taken at the media, especially television. Here’s hoping he manages to build on this opportunity in 2013.   



FIRST LOVE: What does one say about a one man show that has Naseeruddin Shah spouting the words of Samuel Beckett? Nothing, because the performance will probably have rendered you rather speechless. Not the easiest piece of text, and certainly not the easiest piece to perform, the Shah took on the challenge and managed to make it quite an evening. Yes, some people thought it wasn’t the easiest peace to watch, and thus became somewhat restless (not everyone has a taste for the absurdly dark imagery of Beckett), but didn’t take away from how overwhelming the experience eventually was. Apparently that show was the first and last, so NCPA managed to snag a rather rare privilege for Centrestage.



GASHA: I have known Adhir Bhat almost 15 years now, during which I have seen him play a wide range of characters including Mr. Bean, a lecherous cop, a young boy, a cross dresser, an Urdu writer, a psychotic corporate employee and a journalist in Iraq. I have also seen him evolve into a gifted comic writer, and watched him overcome the traumas of a childhood spent in strife-torn Kashmir while always being proud of his roots. Gasha, in some ways, is a combination of all these facets of Adhir Bhat. Based largely on the years spent in Kashmir by Adhir and his family, the play is written by Irawati Karnik and skillfully directed by Abhishek Majumdar. But its biggest strengths are the performances by Adhir Bhat and Sandeep Shikhar, who play multiple characters with apparent ease. A sufficient amount of humour keeps the serious goings on from becoming too heavy, but never takes away from the effectiveness. Another play that tests the audience bladders a little, but creates a forgotten world so well that you’re too engrossed to let that bother you.



SIR SIR SARLA: One of the talking points of the revived Prithvi Festival was the revival of this play by Makrand Deshpande. I never saw the original but it seems to be part of theatre lore. Shows that lasted all day, audience members who came back every time it played, and other such urban legends surround it. Now I have watched a lot of Makrand’s work, and while I was always warned about the eccentricity of his writing, I’ve found most of what I’ve seen accessible and thoroughly enjoyable. There’s no denying a trademark style and some characteristic traits, but those are plus points that add to the man’s aura. SSS is characteristically flamboyant, complex, filled with poetry, long, and entertaining. Makrand is charismatic as ever (reprising his original role), Aahana Kumra takes on the title role with enthusiasm (earlier played by Sonali Kulkarni), Faisal Rashid plays a character brought in for the revival with expected sincerity, but the scene stealer (also quite characteristic now) is Sanjay Dadhich (an urban legend himself) as the pissed off Phanidhar who loves Sarla but can’t have her.




So that’s what I saw in recent times. The new production we opened was Our Town, the American classic by Thornton Wilder. Directed by Akash Khurana, the original AK of Akvarious, and featuring a cast of 20 odd people, it was no little feat pulling it off, especially since half the cast had never been on stage before. But it all came together rather beautifully, and we had two pretty solid opening shows. Now for the even tougher task of bringing all those people back together for more shows! Not enough is said about the biggest struggle in the Mumbai theatre scene – co-ordinating rehearsals. Maybe I’ll do that next time.

 

December, 2012
 
POLL DANCING

Yes, it is that time of the year again. One month early though. Usually this list appears in the January edition, but I’ve pulled it up to December to avoid the onslaught of the many new productions at NCPA Centrestage, which will have only one show and could take away from how representative of 2012 the list is. Also, one expects / hopes that the good ones that premiere in December will stick it out and make a mark in 2013, thus fetching more votes.

So, I have assembled the information from all the emails and messages I have received and without further ado, we’ll go straight into the list. Here are the 5 plays with the maximum votes in alphabetical order.

A WALK IN THE WOODS (Motley)
Directed by Ratna Pathak Shah
This is not just a play, but something of a theatre event. Naseeruddin Shah and Rajit Kapur directed by Ratna Pathak Shah. For theatre aficionados, this comes pretty close to porn. Two of the most talented and uber-watchable actors of the Mumbai stage, directed by a veteran in her own right, with a very topical yet accessible script, adapted entertainingly by Randeep Hooda and Faisal Rashid from the original by Lee Blessing. Mr. Shah plays a Pakistani diplomat with a sense of humour, while Mr. Kapur plays his Indian counterpart who badly needs one. It starts off as The Odd Couple of cross border politics, and goes on to cover some fairly sensitive issues without getting too heavy handed. 

BAGHDAD WEDDING (Akvarious)
Directed by Akarsh Khurana
This shoots up from the ‘Bubbling Under’ section of last year’s list, straight to the top five. One can’t deny that winning 3 Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards (Best Play, Ensemble and Supporting Actress) helped its growth immensely. As did getting selected for the Hindu Metro Plus Theatre Fest. This sprawling saga of love, loss and friendship in troubled times, written by Hassan Abdulrazzak, has found favor across the country and won unanimous praise for its performances and execution. What is pleasantly surprising is that despite the fact that the culture, the politics and the milieu of the play (Iraq during the American invasion, primarily) are somewhat alien to Indian audiences, this has not come in the way of its meteoric rise to popularity.

OK TATA BYE BYE (Aarambh)
Directed by Rabijita Gogoi
Playwright Purva Naresh moved away from the musical mould of her earlier work to serve up this contemporary tale about a documentary film-maker couple venturing into the heart of India to meet and study a settlement of sex workers. This leads to some intriguingly complex new relationships and puts some pressure on existing ones. The novel idea and premise, an interesting blend of humour and social commentary, colourful characters (my personal favourite being a Sikh truck driver played by Gagan Riar) and a handful of bravura performances made this play fetch a large number of votes, despite a not so large number of shows. Here’s hoping this production has a busy 2013.



PIYA BEHRUPIYA (The Company Theatre)
Directed by Atul Kumar
By far the most relentlessly energetic production of recent times, this adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night leaps off the stage and drags the audience into its pervading sense of revelry. A fantastic adaptation by Amitosh Nagpal (who is also in it, and is outstanding, as he was in Aao Saathi Sapna Dekhe, one of my favourite Indian musicals), and featuring a delightful ensemble, including Sagar Deshmukh, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Gagan Riar and Neha Saraf (who is outstanding, as she was in Aao Saathi Sapna Dekhe, one of my favourite Indian musicals), this has been one of 2012’s genuine crowd pleasers, and has done a huge amount of shows, all over, and deservedly so.

SOME TIMES (Akvarious)
Directed by Adhaar Khurana
This play was conceived on a train ride from Dehradun to Delhi, written in the three weeks that followed, a month after which it opened at the Comedy Festival at the NCPA. Essentially the play is three days in a young man’s life, each drastically different from the previous one owing to circumstances. Written humorously (and largely autobiographically by Adhir Bhat and Bobby Nagra), the best thing about it for me is that it is a play about young people staged by young people, thus doing away with any pretentiousness. Without ever taking itself too seriously, it also actually manages to cover a lot of ground. The slice-of-life approach and inherent humour has made this play extremely relatable, and hence popular, evidence of which is the fact that it has done 20 shows across 5 cities in 4 months. And the massive amount of votes it got here, of course.

So that’s the big five. As usual, there are five more I’d like to mention, because they firmly found their way into the top ten.

DJINNS OF EIDGAH (Rage)
A poetic and haunting tale of siblings, soldiers and a troubled doctor in strife-torn Kashmir. Written by Abhishek Majumdar. Very aesthetically directed by Richard Twyman. Some knockout design elements.

HAYAVADANA (Black Boxers & The Industrial Theatre Co.)
Neo Karnad. In the top 5 last year. Down but definitely not out. Still finding appreciation everywhere. Now that both directors are happily married, they may benevolently do more shows of this baby.

JAAL (Rage)
An engaging small town mystery. Written by Annie Zaidi. Confidently directed by Faezeh Jalali. Great ensemble, lovely tableaus, nice silences. And Debtosh Darjee makes a startlingly good dog.

SHILLAK (Aasakta)
One of my personal favourites of the year. Deceptively simple tale of an ordinary family man’s breakdown. Written with feeling by Sagar Deshmukh. Directed with feeling by Pradeep Vaiddya. Outstanding lead performance. Very fulfilling theatre, in spite of language barrier.


STORIES IN A SONG (Arpana)
The big daddy of 2012. The quintessential musical. Down from top 5 but holding real strong. Some soulful new stories / songs added, while the old ones just keep getting better. Landmark production in many ways.

And last but not least, the ‘BUBBLING UNDER’ section.

While the votes were not enough, plenty of good things were said about Nothing Like Lear where Atul Kumar and Vinay Pathak take turns to play the clown in this version of Shakespeare’s classic, and Pereira Bakery on 76 Chapel Road, which is Zafar Karachiwala’s directorial debut, about a ragtag bunch of Bandra based Christians trying desperately to hold on to their home in the face of commercial redevelopment.

Siddharth Kumar, whose first play, The Interview, was in the top five last year and the top ten the year before that (and got a damn decent number of votes this year too), wrote two plays that premiered in 2012, and both garnered enough praise to sneak into this section. First there was Spunk, a dark comedy about a ‘boy with magic sperm’ and then there was In The Cat House, a charming little play for children about ‘a boy with a magical cat’. I think it’s clear what this boy’s fantasies consist of. But on a serious note, this bodes rather well for this talented young playwright.

So that’s that. A good year for theatre, by the look of it. A strong representation from Writers Bloc (Djinns, Jaal, OK, Pereira, Shillak, Spunk). A clear dominance of original writing. Great success for Indian adaptations. And the performance bar raised pretty damn high for actors. The stage, quite literally, is set for an epic 2013. 

 

November, 2012

Returing and Watching

My memory isn't what it used to be. I forgot the deadline for last month's article. And now, since I would like to cover two months in this article, I can't seem to remember as far back as September. Or early October for that matter. Fortunately, emails, messages and bank account statements have shed some light of my whereabouts in the said period, so instead of drawing a blank, I now have some fragmented memories, which I will share.

I
know I started September by watching A Walk in the Woods, featuring theatre stalwarts Rajit Kapur and Naseeruddin Shah. Just their combined presence is worth the price of so many tickets. A lovely little play, it now opens the Prithvi Festival in November, and deservedly so. The Prithvi Festival, which returns after 2 years, features a comprehensive selection of recent productions in the city (plus an interesting revival or two). For me, its a super opportunity to catch up on some good plays I've missed out on - Tichee 17 Prakarne and Cock, to name a few. We also have two of our plays showing at the festival, and I'm already worried about managing to co-ordinate rehearsals. Gone are the days when theatre actors had a lot of free time on their hands.

Back to September. The rest of my theatre watching that month was in London. I love the smug sound of that. I was there for a couple of nights as a guest of Tahira Nath, who left the country just as she had established herself as one of the most formidable actresses on the Mumbai theatre scene. Together we first watched The 39 Steps - which was an outstanding display of stagecraft, and not only because 3 actors played around 100 characters with astonishing efficiency. Next, we saw Singin' in the Rain, which was a little ho-hum, considering the most entertaining part was having water splashed on us in the front rows of the audience. Nonetheless, there's always so much to watch and learn from. And there was the added bonus of getting to see Jude Law walk past me while I sipped an overpriced coffee outside the theatre.

Soon October was upon us. I watched Stories in a Song again, with a couple of new pieces this time around, particularly one featuring my father in a singing, dancing and face-painted avtar. This has been an active year for him in terms of acting on stage. With some shows of Waiting for Godot, a collaboration with Astad Deboo, this, a hilarious turn as Hitler in Super 8, the title role (played to perfection) in Tuesdays with Morrie (produced by the NCPA) which opened on the last weekend of October, and in December, a significant part in Our Town by Thornton Wilder, which he is also directing. More on that later.

October also gave us a three day run in Kochi and a four day run at Prithvi before it closed for pre-festival renovations. Plus the 70th show of The Interview (with Amrita Puri and Tariq Vasudeva returning to the cast after a long hiatus) which still managed to bring in the crowds. There was also the stray show at The Comedy Store which didn't fetch much of a crowd, because, quite frankly, the tickets were priced too bloody high. Fortunately, better sense has since prevailed and some reductions are in order for our forthcoming shows. We shall be ending this month with a show at IIT Powai, to be performed in front of 1500 students. Or a couple hundred more.

That's about it for now. Loads of theatre happening in November. Plenty to choose from, so choose well. I'll be back in a month with my end of the year theatre polling, to find out which plays got the maximum love in 2012.
 

September, 2012 

BLURRY TIMES



The last couple of months have been a bit of a blur. There's been so much travel that I seriously regret not having any frequent flyer cards. And most of it has been for theatre.

We were fortunate enough to get selected for The Hindu Metro Plus Theatre Fest for the second consecutive year. It is arguably one of the finest theatre festival experiences in the country. And not just because theatre groups are treated bloody well there. In terms of promotion and organization, they rank pretty damn high. So within a month we played to mostly wonderful audiences in Kochi, Coimbatore, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad (where audiences seem to have an aversion to turning their phones off though).


August started with a bang of sorts. After a long period of fairly successful replacements, A Guy Thing played at Prithvi with its original cast, or its A Team, namely Neil Bhoopalam and Ali Fazal, ably supported by two short pieces by the same playwright. I haven't seen crowds laugh so hard in a show for a very long time. Not even at The Comedy Store. I think all of us went through a brief phase of bewilderment before we soaked it in and began to enjoy it. Sometimes an experience like this also helps reinstate your faith in a production. Naturally more shows have now been scheduled.

Neil Bhoopalam was also my partner in crime at a film shoot in Ooty this month. It was heartening to see lots of theatre wallahs on set - other than Neil (a Rage and Akvarious regular) and me, Adhir Bhat (Akvarious), Bharat Jha (Ekjute then Rangbaaz), Anjum Sharma (seen of late in Ansh productions), and Sanjiv Sharma (Chingaari, Delhi) among others.

The only play I managed to watch this month was a production of August Strindberg's 'Miss Julie', directed by Sohaila Kapoor for Katyayani, New Delhi. I went in expecting a staid and predictable period piece, but was treated to a phenomenal piece of writing. Through an illicit affair and its consequences, a lot was said about differences in class and character. Strindberg's script shone brightly through and above everything else. And some of the dialogue was simply sparkling and could stand up to some of the best contemporary work.

I am now off to watch two stalwarts chat on stage in A Walk in the Woods, which I have been missing each time, most unfortunately. More about that later.
 

 July, 2012
CATS, AFRICA AND SOMETIMES

Early in June I managed to catch Siddharth Kumar's play for children, In The Cat House, which I had been eagerly looking forward to. I had chosen to skip opening shows and watch the second run since the wife was playing a part then. It was a domestic decision I suppose. The play also marked the return of Le Chayim Productions, with whom I have collaborated on Damages and The Interview. Starring Le Chayim members Kashin Shetty and Divyesh Vijayakar among others, the play is a sweet and simple tale of a boy (Abhishek Saha) and an erratically visiting magical cat (earlier seen as an alcoholic dog, Prerna Chawla). Add to this Shweta Tripathi playing an ideal school friend and Dilshad Edibam playing a surprisingly nice teacher, and you have a taut and entertaining little play that pleased children, adults and cat lovers.

More theatre viewing was in store for me, but before that we shot off to Gurgaon to perform Baghdad Wedding, first privately for a very well behaved country club audience, and then for the public at Epicentre. We had exceptionally hot weather, lovely breakfasts, malfunctioning ACs, power failures mid performance, an actor sliding off stage repeatedly (and then compensating by treating us to private enactments of his imagined adventures in Africa), a very efficient replacement cast, and a very good run of shows followed by a very acrobatic pack up.

We rushed back to Mumbai so that the junior most AK of Akvarious could premiere his second directorial venture, Some Times, as the opening night of NCPA's comedy festival. Written by the politically incorrect playwrights who wrote his first play, it opened to a very favorable response, and managed an effective marriage of humor and depth.

Back to play watching. I saw Atul Kumar's Piya Behroopiya (a play by William Shakespeare adapted skillfully by Amitosh Nagpal) and Hidayat Sami's The Magic Pill (the English adaptation of Satyadev Dubey's delightful comedy of the sexes - Sambhog se Sanyaas Tak).

The former had an outstanding ensemble that sang and danced with boundless energy. I haven't had that much fun in a Hindi play for a long while.

The latter was an extremely energetic performance too, but being early days, the cast was still finding its feet with the text. A few more shows and they'll be in a very happy space.

Lots more catching up to do. Looking forward to A Walk in the Woods (featuring thespians Naseeruddin Shah and Rajit Kapur). I also missed Pyaar pe Waar, Quixotic Wonderland (both by Bijon Mondal), Ram Sajeevan ki Prem Katha (which people are apparently raving about), Maro Piyu Gayo Rangoon (Sunil Shanbag) and The Price (Shubrajyoti Barat). Hopefully July will cough up some opportunities.


June, 2012

  THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY
 
“The theatre is my drug, and my illness is so far advanced that my physic must be of the highest quality.” – John Wilmot, a.k.a. The Earl of Rochester

I’m willing to believe what has been said here. That is, I totally understand that theatre can qualify as a pretty addictive drug, especially because I’m going through a state that is referred to as ‘cold turkey’. When I mentioned that to an actress of repute, she asked if I was planning a trip to Istanbul in the winter. However what I meant was ‘the state or actions of a person who abruptly gives up a habit or addiction rather than gradually easing the process through gradual reduction’.

What has happened is this. After over 60 shows in the first 4 months of 2012, we did 7 shows in May. Yes, only 7. And spread apart. As a result, there was some non-theatre time on my hands, which I must admit, has been hard to deal with. And while August is looking super busy again, June and July are going to be relatively slow months. Now my well wishers are saying things like “you need a rest” and “blessing in disguise” and “now you can clean up the house”, and my head is saying, “finish all your writing backlog”, but only my production assistant, whose self assigned nickname is DVD (I kid you not), understands my anguish and sadly says, “karte hai na”. He is obviously referring to more shows.

So under these dire circumstances, what does a certified theatrophile do? (The internet claims that ‘theatrophile’ is a commonly used word, but is not allowed in Scrabble) Well, reads plays, for one. Has meetings and conversations about potential plays, often with no consequence. And yes, most critically, watches plays, and feels worse about own predicament.

I saw four plays this month. The first was The Dreams of Tipu Sultan which I mentioned in my article last month. The next was Laal Pencil by Manav Kaul, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

It’s now that time of year (formerly known as Summertime), when plays for children take centre stage. To add to my woes, it was the first time in six years that we did not do a new play for kids. Next year, I promise myself. I was also gutted about missing Kyun Kyun Ladki (which I’ve heard lovely things about) and Zinga Zinga Roses (Trishla Patel’s far out fantasy featuring my friend Neil Bhoopalam as a super villain).

But I braved the elements and made it for Laal Pencil. And it was worth it. A modern fable, delightfully told and inventively staged, featuring some really endearing performances. I later found out that some of the performers had never been on a professional stage before. Hats off.

Next up was Jungle Book, from the producers of Bade Miyan Deewane, and the directors of The Shehenshah of Azeemo. Lethal combination to begin with. Throw in a magical set by Sunil Pandit, and stunning props, costumes and masks by Shawn Lewis and Pavitra Sarkar, and the result is a visual delight, packed with laughs, particularly credited to Umesh Jagtap, Abhay Mahajan and Sarang Sathaye as a trio of manic monkeys and poetic vultures.

Lastly, I caught Time Boy, written by Nivedita Pohankar, directed by Makrand Deshpande, and featuring Hidayat Sami as a 7 year old lad called Murli, who is unusually eager to grow up. A sweet, simple plot with some nice insights on growing up. Amruta Sant had loads of fun playing a Punjabi socialite, Romi Jaspal as the 7 year old Rohan had the kids eating out of his hands, Hidayat pulled off a tough role with much needed restraint and managed to maintain an emotional connect between the audience and his character, but the breakout performance of the evening for me was that of the writer herself, in her startling stage debut as Murli’s Bengali mother. In my head she has joined the league of Adhir Bhat and the likes of Siddharth Kumar, both young, talented writers with tremendous acting skills.

Speaking of Siddharth Kumar, I intend to catch his latest, In the Cat House, next week. The play opened last week to unanimously positive feedback, and here’s hoping for a really long run.

Right then, I’ll get back to my moping. Here’s wishing everyone a good June and an early monsoon. Oh, and a reduction in petrol prices and theatre rents while we’re at it.


May, 2012 

MANY TRIPS and MUCH MISSING

April began and ended in Bangalore. I think the city is fast emerging as a substantial centre for theatre. An audience exists, which is key. We've been there thrice this year, and our fourth and fifth trips are already chalked out. Speaking of Bangalore, we also have, for two months, our very first intern, from the garden city, who owns a coffee estate, but has a keen interest in theatre. Let's hope she learns something other than Hindi cuss words from us.

The month saw two week long runs for us. One at Prithvi, where we did 8 plays over 6 days, and the other at Ranga Shankara, where we did 3. Signs of fatigue had begun to show on the unit, so we've given them a week off before we push them off to Goa and Nagpur for more shows, in the May heat no less. I almost sound like a sadist.


Amidst all this, we have suffered a major setback. One of the pillars of Akvarious - a wonderful actress (and explosive person), Tahira Nath - is leaving the country and heading off to London. It is a crippling blow to me, personally and professionally. I am consoling myself with the hope that she uses her famous charm on the United Kingdom (and the queen) and manages to open the gates for Indian theatre at West End. And with Atul Kumar and Sunil Shanbag performing at The Globe, perhaps this isn't just wishful thinking.

The only play I managed to see was The Dreams of Tipu Sultan, by Girish Karnad, directed by Arundhati Raja. I managed to attend opening night at Jagriti and saw it in the presence of the esteemed playwright. Helped immensely by Arghya Lahiri's light design, the play tells a nice tale about the Tiger of Mysore and his last days. The actor playing Tipu had a strong presence, which is much required. And two of my favourite men in Bangalore shared the stage with him - Jagdish Raja, who I enjoyed on stage almost as much as I enjoy off stage, and Vivel Madan, in a fluffy white wig - an image that will stay with me for a while.


That's about all I can type on my Blackberry as I go around Hyderabad looking for furniture (in a BMW). Ah, the joy of sold out shows.


April, 2012

CATCHING UP AT META 2012

March began with a trip to the capital for the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards. Being our fourth time, I have realized that besides putting up a good show and trying to remain sober at the wonderful awards function, one must also take advantage of the opportunity to watch the other plays that have made it to the top ten.

The day we landed, Adhe Adhure was playing. And as is expected of a show featuring Lilette Dubey and Mohan Agashe, tickets had been over sold. So we didn't get to see it. However, another play was missed because I over ate at an authentic Kashmiri lunch, and then over slept. Shame on me, yes.

The only regional play I did manage to catch, as has been the case in the last two years, was from the North East. This time it was A Far Cry from Manipur. It had a simple but evocative stage design (which won) and a good plot about the after effects of insurgency and civil strife. Personally I found it a little shrieky and melodramatic. But again, lots to be learnt from the design. I had a bit of a 'duh' moment. Towards the end, when a critical plot point was to be revealed, the screen stopped showing subtitles. I was thrown off and on the verge of being upset when I realized that no one else seemed to be bothered by this. Then it dawned on me that the characters were actually saying their final speeches in English!

Amidst all this, our show happened. And it wasn't easy. The Kamani tech team was slow and unco-ordinated, due to which we didn't get a tech run. Some cast and crew members were seriously unwell, but fought illness to perform. People fell asleep on props that actors had laid out, so an entry or two had to be made without them. The usual. But survival instincts kicked in, and the Delhi audience was entertained and affected. We went on to win three big awards, and delivered strange wine-induced acceptance speeches.

Back here we had a rare easy schedule. Perhaps the calm before the April storm. I got the rare chance to watch a couple of plays. First up I saw Makrand Deshpande's latest, Sona Spa. With a concept worthy of a sci fi thriller, and two strong female leads (and some able support), the play kept me engrossed for close to three hours! Next I caught Working Title's Dirty Talk. I had missed all previous shows and had been compelled to change the title of one of our plays because of this one (A Guy Thing is originally The Dirty Talk. I prefer AGT). I finally saw it on Amol Parashar's say-so (the lead in this, and in Spunk), and loved his turn as an immoral tabloid editor in Delhi.

That's about it then. Need to brace myself for April. Seems to be starting well enough. After the 18 shows of The Interview at Jagriti in Bangalore, we're going back a month later for 3 more, "by public demand"! Now that's a first in my career :)


March, 2012
SINNING, WRITERS BLOC AND TOURING

Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. It has been two months since my last article…

Right. With that confession out of the way, time to dive right back into theatre talk. Here’s my lowdown on January and February.

In the second week of 2012, Writers Bloc 3 exploded onto the Mumbai theatre scene. Twelve original plays, each with a distinct voice and style. I was directing one of the twelve, so I couldn’t catch all, but I managed to see Djinns of Eidgah by Abhishek Majumdar (featuring some very attractive men and a lovely design), Jaal by Annie Zaidi (featuring Debtosh Darjee’s stunning turn as a dog), OK Tata Bye Bye by Purva Naresh (can there possible be a better Sardar than Gagan Riar?), Pereira’s Bakery at 76 Chapel Road by Ayeesha Menon Dryden (featuring many friends and one of my favourite sets of recent times), Satellite City by Irawati Karnik (featuring a bravura performance by my buddy Aseem Hattangady) and the exquisitely crafted Shillak by Sagar Deshmukh (directed by Pradeep Vaiddya, a king among men).

After the success of The Interview, Siddharth Robert Kumar penned Spunk for Writers Bloc, which I directed. I think it took some time to fall into place but has turned out rather well. A reviewer for The Script also thought so. And Bangalore audiences went completely gaga over it. 

We had some of our own shows in January too. All About Women ran to packed houses even after 4 years and 60 shows. Super 8, a collection of comic sketches strictly not for kids, ran to an almost full house at 11am on a Sunday!

We also went off to Ahmedabad to perform Classic Milds at MICA. Technically the show was an uphill task (apparently light suppliers had shut shop and gone off to fly kites), but the stay was lovely and the experimental food at the “Chota” canteen was memorable. Also, Tahira Nath, who is an ex student, is something of a legendary figure there, so watching her surrounded by young followers was vastly entertaining.

I spent all of February performing shows of The Interview. First in Kerala, and then for three weeks in Bangalore at Jagriti, which is one of the most wonderful performance venues that I have come across in the country. The place is run by Arundhati and Jagdish Raja, who are not only wonderful hosts, but also treasure troves of theatrical information. Doing an 18 show run is hardly ever possible here, though it is the norm in the West, and after I watched the play grow from show to show, I totally understand why.

We also managed to sneak in two shows of our new comedy, Jumpstart, the first of which was the opening show of the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival, and ran to an overcrowded house at the NGMA. The second show was at The Comedy Store, for which it was designed, and it managed a very good house despite a price hike at the venue. 500 bucks a ticket now. 100 bucks more than before, but seems like a quantum leap. How theatre is going to be affected by this inflation (all across venues in the city) is something that only time will tell.

Shudder.