Point of View

Gajab Kahani
by Kalpak Bhave



7:15 pm
I am at the G5A Foundation for Contemporary Culture. G5A is a quaint place, almost hidden away in the desolate compounds of Laxmi Mills. The flexible black box has witnessed a lot of good plays happening here since it opened and is already one of my favorite theatre haunts in the city. Usually, the G5A cafe conceals the beautiful performance space behind it, but with Aadyam deciding to open two of its new plays here, the place has transformed. Suddenly it bathes in light and excited chatter. I wait outside the door.

7:20 pm
I find myself a bench outside. The doors haven’t opened yet. I browse through the fancy 35 page brochure. Gajab Kahani: A Journey of Wit, Warmth & Wonder. Directed by Mohit Takalkar. The story of an elephant and his mahout travelling to Vienna is already exciting. It is loosely based in Jose Saramago’s The Elephant’s Journey. Funny enough, the last play I saw in G5A was Gaspare Dori’s The Elephant Journey. Last month, I reviewed a play called Elephant In The Room. Why is everybody making plays about elephants. The doors open and I realise I shouldn’t have left my spot by the door. Now I’m not going to get my preferred first row seat.

7:25 pm
I find an empty front row seat. But is it even the best one? Is it even the front row? There is none. Wooden platforms adorn all four walls of the room. The play is going to happen around me.

7:26 pm
Swivelling chairs! Damn cool!

7:30 pm
Okay, the chairs are a little squeaky. But wait, the play is about to start.

7:45 pm
10 minutes into the play. I’m not very sure what to think. It’s fun, but is too much fun? The translator of the play is already apologetic about the language and the form. Very self-aware. Also a little silly. Did I expect too much from the play? What if the play is just like the prologue. The actors request you to believe you’re in 16th century Portugal. Okay.

8:00 pm
Is this the same play I was watching 15 minutes ago? It’s turned around completely. Suddenly I am super-involved. There’s so much happening all around me. If a random staircase is a bedchamber in Lisbon one minute, the platform below it is a stable somewhere far away. IS THAT AN ACTUAL ELEPHANT? Nope, that’s just Gitanjali Kulkarni delivering a fab performance. God bless that stage presence and her booming voice.

9:10 pm
What? Wasn’t this a one hour forty minute play? It’s been that much already? Did I move my chair around about a hundred times? Suddenly, that wasn’t a problem at all.  
If an enchanting scene was being played out in one corner, my senses were also desperate to see what was about to happen in another. Completely missed out on making mental notes for a review. Okay, let's see...
  1. There’s a fine balance between the hilarity and the heartwarming scenes. 
  2. The costumes have not stuck to boundaries of either suggestive or authentic and ended up in a jolly mix. The sound design was little cheesy in the beginning. But well, it did merge into the story effortlessly.
  3. The sets are quite simple. Just wooden structures. What an effective use of all these elements though! For the duration of the play, the house was no longer a black box, it was cities from a different era. Honestly, the way the set was used, it was no short of a magnum opus.
  4. How amazing was the chorus! Sincere in every scene, it was them who really brought the odyssey alive.
  5. Nakul Bhalla dabbles in the stereotypical Angrez Hindi (yes, there's a reference to Lagaan) and had some wonderful moments across the play.  For Ajeet Singh Palawat, there were times I saw glimpses of Yusuf (from Takalkar's last play, Main Hun Yusuf Aur Ye Hai Mera Bhai) but those were few. For most, he held everyone’s hand and took you on the rocky trip as the elephant's mahout, Shubhro. 
  6. Oh but the marvelous chorus!


9:15 pm
I am now walking out of G5A. It’s still rush hour, and I have to travel south on Dadar. On usual days, just the thought of that would’ve exhausted me. But not today. Today, I have been on a wondrous journey several continents and eras away. It’s not like I take a new learning home from this one. But what I hold close to my heart as I exit the ruins of Laxmi Mills, is sheerly the experience of the last two hours - the colours, the sounds, the joy and the grief - all because an elephant walked across a continent.

And what happens when the elephant reaches Vienna?
Shubhro, the mahout exclaims “There’ll be a lot of applause, a lot of people crowding the streets, and then they’ll forget all about him. That’s the law of life: Triumph and oblivion.”

For Mohit Takalkar and team, it is definitely Triumph Time.


Elephant In The Room
by Kalpak Bhave


When you walk in for a play that’s recently won awards for Light Design and Costumes, you’re secretly hoping to be blown over by the pre-set. But the first visual we see upon entering doesn’t look very exciting. There are two massive white sheets hanging from the ceiling and a beautiful metal basin downstage;and that’s about it. The opening monologue of The Elephant in the Room is verbose and angsty and you’re already worried about what the next hour is going to be like. And then Yuki Ellias turns into a spider. It is almost like you’re witnessing an actual metamorphosis take place right in front of you. Then there’s no turning back on the joyride you have embarked on.

The play tells the story of a young boy called Master Tusk whose head was cut off and replaced with one of an elephant’s by a father with anger issues (you guessed it right, it’s based on the fable of Lord Ganesh). Master Tusk, with a spider and a hunter for company, sets off to find his human head. At first, it’s a lot of silliness. There’re comic voices and farcical body movements, but ones you can thoroughly enjoy. As Master Tusk walks deeper and deeper into the woods, you’re introduced to the many lofty layers beneath the goofiness. The magic of Elephant In The Room, by first time writer Sneh Sapru is that one minute you’re chuckling, and the very next you’re thinking of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s ‘World Culture Festival’ and even the apocalypse. And while there are obvious references to Hindu Mythology, the script neither comments on, nor judges or ridicules any of it.

The award winning light design by Asmit Pathare amazes you in small but dynamic ways. When young Tusk sits by the metal basin, little mirrors below the water reflect the light on the boy’s face and bathe the ambience in the green of the forests. The stage that once felt dull transforms into marvelous forests and plantations. A warm backlight between scenes is a welcome change from the usual blue wash and offers a peek into the mortal behind the many faces. The sound design is also just right and adds to the ambience well. The cyclorama of the white sheets has it’s own roles to play.  It sometimes turns into trees, sometimes tusks, walls. The costume design by Sumaiya Merchant (which also grabbed a META) follows the same grammar and helps transform the lone performer into many different personalities. Although similar to the device used in The Mule’s Foal, here the costume becomes an effective (and aesthetically pleasing) handbook to the various characters.

But nothing matches the prowess of the goddess that is Yuki Ellias. Apart from the three main characters, Yuki also plays four to six other characters all completely different from each other. If one minute she shrinks into a spider, the very next she amplifies into a vast night that encompasses the stage. There’s also another character that is never actually seen or voiced, and yet its presence is felt as much as that of the other ones. Yuki’s face also seems to mold into different masks - as an old leopard, there are ancient wrinkles but as a young-blooded hunter, it emits a glow that seems astonishingly masculine. Throughout the play she also creates various shapes and forms that add to the visual treat. She rarely falls short of breath, which says  a lot, considering she has so much to say and she’s also performing about 40% of the piece on a single leg - literally.

Plays like Elephant In The Room are rare to come by. It delights all age-groups and fits into every category from ‘thought-provoking’ to ‘paisa vasool’. Special points to producer Niloufer Sagar for backing this one-of-a-kind one-woman wonder! Keep a look out for the next run of shows, as will I. This one definitely deserves a repeat audience.  







The Mule's Foal
by Kalpak Bhave

The Mule’s Foal grabs your attention the minute you walk in. Otherwise a small rehearsal space in Girgaon, The Drama School, Mumbai has already transformed into a little Greek village and you can’t help but switch off your mobile phone immediately, before any sort of announcement. It’s the middle of the day outside, but inside it might as well be Saturday night with music that effortlessly flits between eerie and relaxing. As you try to make your way to the seats, a bunch of dark shadows try to reach at you, speaking in gibberish with an occasional compliment or snide comment thrown in. By the time you’re seated, the shadows have already turned industrious behind a white screen, walking around with huge (and intriguing) glass jars.

The Drama School, Mumbai (DSM) offers a year-long Certificate Course for budding theatre makers, which includes putting up a production that then tours to various venues and cities across the country. This year’s play ‘The Mule’s Foal’ has been directed by Puja Sarup and Sheena Khalid and is a devised piece based on a story of the same name by Fotini Epanomitis. It deals with three generations of a family in a fictional village. The narrative jumps time zones, the actors switch characters effortlessly and the production also doubles up as an excellent showcase of the training the students have received in the first half of their course.

As the play begins, the characters are just as clueless as you are which is a big help given that throughout the play, you have to remember an entire family tree, a lot of secondary characters as well as people in mob scenes. Also, this tends to get further confusing given that there are just eight actors, all identically dressed. But the play starts unravelling beautifully, and leads you by hand to the heart of the story. Great visuals and chuckle-worthy humour are Puja-Sheena’s strong suit and the actors seem to have picked up on it splendidly.



It’s in the second half, that the play begins to falter. With even more number of characters that pile up, you don’t get to see well-built graphs of the characters you have already invested in and the story begins to go astray. After the magnificent spectacle that you have witnessed in the first half, the second half seems rather underwhelming. The students however, hold their ground through and through. With the briskness of crackerjacks, they make you laugh, sigh and cheer with them. Abhishek Chauhan as the desperate Theodosios, Shruti Khandelwal as the mysterious Meta, Shruti Sunder as the poised mother and Vidyuth Ven, who essays almost every second role, deserve a special mention for their earnest and energetic performances. With a great accompaniment and stage design, it is the zealous work by the students, that helps the play stands tall and ultimately comes out a winner.



The Mule’s Foal has its problems, but it is definitely one of the best student productions around. And if you’re looking to have a good time, be amused by and appreciate young energy, The Mule’s Foal is the play for you.

07/07/07
by Priyanka Singh


There’s a moment in this play where for a split second you may feel exasperated because of the repeated narration of a life altering episode – an episode from the life of a young girl explaining why she had to injure a man who allegedly tried to rape her. Once that split second has passed, it dawns upon you almost like an epiphany the poignant point that the play is trying to make through these repeated narrations mouthed by the star-crossed, innocent protagonist. 
7/7/07, directed by Faezeh Jalali is a devised play based on Reyhaneh Jabbari, the Iranian woman hanged at 26 for killing Morteza Sarbandi, the man who had allegedly attempted to rape her. 7/7/07 was the date when this incident occurred. Awarded the winner of the best ensemble in 2016 by Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards, the production recently came back for a couple of shows in Mumbai at Prithvi Theatre and G5A Foundation of Contemporary Culture. We caught this play at G5A, which also debuted its new theatre space with 7/7/07. 

There are seven Reyhanehs in Jalali’s theatrical interpretation, who sometimes take swift turns playing in the same moment, and at others, uniting as one. This seamless amalgamation stands out right through in this collaborative undertaking; something that couldn’t have been accomplished without the actors willingly shedding their individual personas for this piece. While you see different temperaments of Reyhaneh – innocence, excitement, joy, anger, betrayal, hopelessness – the transition is never jagged. Jalali’s directorial techniques expertly navigate between the past and the present, the cheer and the despondency of the play, which mirrors the quick vicissitudes of Reyhaneh’s life as well. 

The three male actors showcase different sides of men who were involved in Reyhaneh’s life. As an outsider, you may assume that Iran’s densely patriarchal society would have all the men standing with their moral cudgels against Reyhaneh, but the play also shows the supportive side of those, like her father, her lawyer, and the former judge on this case who was willing to give Reyhaneh a benefit of the doubt. This anomaly in their characters brings forth a bleak ray of hope in the play – if you choose to see it as one. 
The play takes a lot of time to drive home what Reyhaneh went through during the seven years of imprisonment that also comprised solitary confinement. The repetitions of the ill-fated incident of 7/7/07 and the tribulations that women go through when incarcerated, sometimes seems misaimed and overdone. It makes you wonder if this reiteration is necessary for the audience that the play is being showcased to – whether it brings to light a side of the situation that’s already discernible to one. 
 It was refreshing to see a cast that worked like a tightly cohesive unit, especially in such a fluid directorial setup where the incongruity would have been sorely visible. Full points to Faezeh and the actors for that. The play is not an easy watch, but a necessary one – something that will fuel your worn-out fire against the omnipresent patriarchy. You can wield that fire towards Gurmehar Kaur’s trolls as a starting point, I’d say. 





Stand Up
by Kalpak Bhave


 I’m watching Stand Up at Prithvi Theatre. There’s something weird about that sentence. I mean, I can watch Stand Up at Canvas Laugh Factory. I can also watch plays at Canvas Laugh Factory. But Stand Up at Prithvi? With its age old legacy and the fact that I have almost always come to Prithvi to watch plays, I am a little confused the first time I see the poster on its wall. Until I realise, that this one is actually a play.

In India, the art of stand-up comedy has newly discovered demand and fame with the advent of platforms like YouTube, troupes like All India Bakchod, East India Comedy and performers like Vir Das and Abish Matthew. So I was pleasantly surprised to find AIB founders Ashish Shakya, Gursimran Khamba and Tanmay Bhat credited for 'featured material' amongst a dozen others including geniuses like Katy Brand, Marshall Mathers and Wendy Molyneux. The play also features Nipun Dharmadhikari and Sarang Sathaye, who are currently taking the regional webspace by storm with their sketches. This made me wonder, when the content by all these people is so easily available on my phone, why am I watching a play based on it?

The play opens with five stand up comedians practicing their bits about an hour before the show, and immediately solves my doubt. ‘A serious play about comedy’ is the tagline. The play isn't about what happens on stage, it's about what it takes to be there and make the listener laugh. The minimalist set includes a small platform, some seats and a coffee dispenser and some wonderfully placed red fairy lights, that catch your eye before the play even begins. The five artists are quickly established - there's 'a guy who raps', 'the one who cribs', 'the vernacular performer', 'the bra-burning feminist' and 'the part-time comedian’. They are easy to connect with and you start thinking of actual comedians you’ve watched before. The group is mentored by a former comedian. The other characters we meet are a girl who's wandered into the rehearsals and a hotshot talent manager. The conflict starts with the last guy - he will be offering a big project to only one of the five performers that day.

While the show has an ensemble cast, a few performances stand out. Sarang Sathaye and Nipun Dharmadhikari deliver marvelously on their own but they really make your jaw drop in the scenes where they are pitted against each other. Chaitanya Sharma is effortless and charmingly funny. Zayn Marie Khan, in her stage debut, manages to portray the various shades of a complex character with equal ease. But the play belongs to AKVarious regular Kashin Shetty who makes you not want to miss a single reaction of his, even when he's passively standing in the audience.

It's when the characters are actually performing their ‘acts’, that the play starts feeling a little loose. The lines between what is supposed to be 'good comedy' and 'bad comedy' blur and some of the laughter you hear from the audience seems confused and almost half-hearted. It's difficult to judge if that's exactly what the director was going for, but for a while you no longer feel hooked to the play. A few times that you do get involved, juvenile antics of the other characters in the ‘wings’ distract you again and you’re left feeling annoyed and frustrated.

However, the play quickly manages to pick up from there. Kudos to the writers and director Akarsh Khurana for that. What starts with a fun squabble between friends, goes on to talk about plagiarism, censorship, politics and loss. By the time the play ends, you've been on a long trip of emotions, ranging from ROFL to heartbreak. I for one, left the auditorium feeling overwhelmed, restless and floored, all at the same time.

Stand Up! is not a play you should miss, if you're a fan of either stand up comedy or theatre. Go have a good time, laugh out loud and maybe, have some food for thought!


27.02.02 Zaheen Shah
by Priti Bakalkar

   Directed by Kalyani Hiwale and produced by Actor‘s Cult, “ 27.02.02 Zaheen Shah” claims to be a psychological thriller in the backdrop of 2002 Godhra Riots and 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots. The play, though does not give credit, seems to be inspired by Death and a Maiden by Ariel Dorfman.

   This three character play takes place in a house on the outskirts of city of Vadodara in Gujarat. On one dark stormy night, a stranger’s visit brings back the memories of a crimes against humanity committed 11 years back. Is the stranger the real perpetrator of the crime or it is just the paranoia of the victim? Then starts a mock trial where the accused is being defended by the best lawyer in town who is also the husband of the victim. Will the victim get her justice? 
   The play attempts to pose a few pertinent questions around social and political situation in the country. However, the attempt to connect Godhra and Muzaffarnagar riots to the story is weak and superficial. I feel when an artist takes up issues of such magnitude and social relevance, it is their responsibility to tell the story with full conviction and not make it frivolous. Unfortunately, the way the play deals with these issues they appear to be just a gimmick. 

   The treatment to the play is confused between style and form. The excessive detailing, be it the set or actions or even the dialogues, came across as ways of feeding the audience with information which the actors could not convey through their performance. The visual presentation of paintings and pictures of various riots that has affected our country over time, ending with a quote of Mahatma Gandhi towards the end of the play dilutes the gravity of the questions that the play wants raise. 

   On the performance side, the relationship between the characters was not explored to the fullest. How the incident that happened 11 years back has affected this couple and their marriage, the conflict and emotional turmoil one would go through when they have to face a painful past, what would be the psyche of a person living a normal life for years when is suddenly reminded of their criminal past? There was a tremendous scope for the the director and the actors to dig deeper into the journeys and emotional graph of each of these characters over 11 years from the time of the crime to date. 


   Having said that all the three actors- Dilnaz Irani, Joy Sengupta and Harsh Khurana tried their best to salvage the situation. The comic touch to Joy’s character keeps the energy of the play afloat. In the mock trial scene, the helplessness of both the men makes us laugh at the irony of the situation.

   27.02.02 Zaheen Shah was a wasted opportunity. The team needs to leave their comfort zone and be bolder if they really want us to care about why “Zaheen Shah” had to become “Komal Bhat”.





Loretta
by Manju Sampat

The Aditya Birla group supported Aadyam initiative, is indeed a shot in the arm for all theatre groups, actors and theatre lovers. In it's second year, it continues to support theatre groups in their endeavor to produce lavish and often original plays. "Loretta" is one such play that was especially created for this year's Aadyam festival.  It was originally written by Pundalik Naik, and adapted for this English version by Milind Dhaimade.

Arpana Theatre's Sunil Shanbag has directed this production that was recently staged at NCPA and St. Andrews in Bandra. 

For an evening of sheer entertainment and laughter, you need to see "Loretta"! Shanbag has chosen to direct it in the true Goan "Tiatr" style of theatre. Though this style was thought to be "basic and amateurish by the Goan elite", Shanbag has worked wonders with "Loretta" and used this charming format to direct it. 

The play opens with Rafael (Saatvic) and his girlfriend Loretta (Rozzlin Pereira) coming to visit his childhood home on St. Bartholomew, a small island in Goa. The play is set in the seventies, but Rafael's father Antonio Moraes (Abhijit Bhor), who still lives on the island, is stuck in a time warp.  He is obsessively proud of his Goan culture and language and wants to preserve them at all cost. Because he fears outsiders will corrupt his peaceful island if it becomes easily accessible, he refuses to have a bridge built to connect it to the mainland. So he surrounds himself with his old cook cum "boy" Caitu, brilliantly enacted by Danish Husain, the endearing fishwali Audu (Shilpa Sane), Pedro the bread man and Miguel the toddywala. Moraes wants everyone to be proud of  being Goan and speak in Konkani. So when Loretta wants to stay on on the scenic island, he insists she learn Konkani.

There is a lot going on in the play.....music, dance, humor, there is all this and more. Asif Ali Beg as the local minister Shirodker, who wants the bridge built and Danish Hussain as his secretary, are both perfect for their roles. In fact a very big plus point for this production is that each actor looks and plays his part to great perfection and delivers a spirited performance.

A couple of other factors also really work for this production. One is the inclusion of a live band and the other is the use of "sutradhar" based characters to provide a clever commentary on our socio-politic and cultural set up. This is done in a very satirical way through various skits accompanied by song and dance. There are many tongue in cheek lines in the main play also.  For eg, there is a scene in which the protagonist, Loretta is to be examined for her Konkani speaking skills by a group of "learned" men. However the three that do turn up to examine her are just the bread man, the fishwali and the toddywala in disguise. "learned people don't like to be told anything and don't talk much" we are told! Then again, when the so called censor board guy (Sunil Shanbag himself!)  comes, he admits that he cannot speak English and only knows a few words, so if there is any reference to these words ..kissing, sexy moves etc, then the show is to be banned! A clear reference to the ruling on our dance bars.

Asif Ali Beg and Danish Husain provide great entertainment with their singing, dancing and humorous commentary as the 'sutradhars'. They ensure that in the true spirit of Tiatr, "Loretta" is a veritable carnival!  The sets  are authentic and beautifully designed and Hidayat Sami on lights does an excellent job. Ronnie Monorante and Asif Ali Beg's musical arrangements provide some wonderful original melodies and greatly enhance the play. This Aadyam production included a live band in the foyer as well  and also nariyal pani and choriso pao(Goan version of kheema pao) for all!  Total VFM!





May, 2016


Outer Dilli
by Gitanjali Kalro

The unique workshop initiative - ‘Writers' Bloc’ encourages Indian playwrights to tell the audiences exciting stories through a year-long training process. The fourth edition culminated into a three week long festival in Bombay in the month of April 2016. Theatre audiences saw productions from seven different playwrights, from across the country along with straight talks, discussions, readings and workshops.
Poster for 'Outer Dilli'

The first Sunday of the festival featured playwright Rahul Rai’s ‘Outer Dilli’. Rai must be applauded for choosing to tell the story of the migrant population of developing India. The narrative is based on a teenaged boy who moves from his home in the village to a hutment on the outskirts of New Delhi. The story unravels as a power struggle between the boy, Ravi (Naved Mehdi) and the bullies in his school. Rai gave voice to a lot of struggles that migrant families face, like not having a roof to live under when they arrive in the city and when they are finally able to afford a small hutment, to be under the constant stress of being bulldozed by realty developers. 

The director Shivani Tanksale manages to keep us hooked through the first half of the play as Ravi learns the ways of living in the city. She creates lovely moments of adolescent friendship between Ravi and his neighbour Seema, warm conversations between Ravi’s mother and Seema, and some fun moments between the two sidekicks of the Jakad - the bully. Unfortunately, the direction of the play falters in the second half. It is not clear whether the narrative is about a power struggle or survival in the big bad world or about mardangi (manliness). 

The same problem carries into the performance of the actors. The entire cast was extremely committed to their characters through the first act, but as soon as the lights went up on the second act the actors were simply going through the motions of the play mechanically. They had lost the charm and honesty that had shone in their eyes and kept the audience hooked until the break. 

The actors also revealed to us two stylised pieces of set design, which were awe-inspiring. One piece was on stage-left and other on stage-right. On stage-left is Ravi’s house which in some scenes the same piece serves as a balcony but at points it is turned around to become a tiny house complete with small kitchen utensils, shelves and small frames on the wall. On stage-right is a small window (about two feet by two feet in height) to denote the classroom space. This window is broken at first but as Ravi speaks to his friend in school, they put the broken pieces together to create a black board and in some scenes, it also becomes the door of the classroom. The set-designer Shawn Lewis creates wonderful images for us to take back home. 
A still from the play 'Outer Dilli' 

‘Outer Dilli’ is poised to do many more shows in the coming months and it will be great to see if they have overcome these initial obstacles of story-telling and made it a narrative of the millions of lost voices.  

(Outer Dilli is playing at Prithvi Theatre on the 19th May)


April, 2016
Main Huun Yusuf Aur Ye Hai Mera Bhai
by Priti Bakalkar


Is it a coincidence that, for two consecutive years, Prithvi Theatre is celebrating the week of International Theatre Day with Aasakta, Pune’s plays? Last year they brought us “Uney Purey Shahar Ek” and “F-1/105” and this year they got us “Mukaam Dehru, Jilaa Nagaur” and “Main Huun Yusuf Aur Ye Hai Mera Bhai”. 


In the beginning of March, ‘Main Huun Yusuf…’ won four META awards for Best Production, Best Director, Best Light Design, Best Sound Design and a fifth one for Best Actor in a leading role (Male)- Special Jury Mention. With these bagful of awards and word of mouth about the play, it was no surprise that the shows saw packed houses. 

Main Huun Yusuf Aur Ye Hai Mera Bhai directed by Mohit Takalkar; is a play written by Amir Nizar Zuabi. The play is set in the volatile political situations in Palestine in the year 1948. In January 1948, a UN resolution severed the Palestinian land creating independent Arab and Jewish States and the Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem; also resulting in the end of the British Mandate and the British withdrawing their forces from Mandatory Palestine. The division though accepted by the Zionist group, was rejected by the Arabs. This fanned the already burning war between the Arabs and Jews. The war, the incident of Deir Yassin Massacre, along with attacks on Tiberias, Haifa, and Jaffa lead to an exodus of Arabs from Palestine, forcing the Arab governments to invade Palestine. 

In a small village in Palestine lived Yusuf (Ajit Singh Palawat/ Ashish Mehta) and his brother Ali (Jitendra Joshi). Yusuf is differently abled, as a result Ali is facing opposition from father of Nada (Mrinmayee Godbole/ Ipshita Chakraborty), who he wants to get married to. While Ali is trying to find ways to convince Nada’s father to accept the union; various political upheavals are taking place, due to which Nada’s father is killed and Nada believes Ali is responsible for her father’s murder. Her family also leaves their village to escape the war. Nagi (Sandeep Shikhar), the only educated man in the village tries to hold back the villagers to stay and defend their land, before the Arabs try to take it by force. Ali goes in search of Nada leaving Yusuf behind on his own. Unfortunately for Ali, Yusuf and Nada nothing will ever be the same again. 

It is a very powerful script, which has been well translated by Salima Raza in Hindi-Urdu, without making it sound odd or losing the original flavour. In this huge cast, the performances which stood out for me were that of young Yusuf, old Nada and Nagi.  

Ajit has picked the nerve of his character. He was absolutely at ease in portraying the innocence of Yusuf’s character. He created quite a few laughs with his foolish innocence and naughtiness, in the backdrop of this grim story. His endearing demeanor draws the audiences' sympathy for Yusuf.

Ipshita, along with the character of old Nada, played a few other characters and each character portrayal was distinct from the other. Her journey from a young girl to a woman who has witnessed atrocities of war to someone who has taken upon herself to look after her dead lover’s “odd” brother is beautiful to watch. And she sings beautifully. 
Sandeep as Nagi was very convincing in his portrayal of a passionate teacher and guide for the villagers who are unable to understand the far reaching and long term effect of the war and politics of the Land. He had a fair share of very heavy urdu dialogues which he managed very well.
I did not find the rest of the cast convincing in their roles. It felt as if they have not realised the gravity of the situation and how that is going to affect the lives of their characters. 

There were a few scenes that narrated details of the devastation of the land and the people in various parts of the country because of the partition. But, I could not feel the urge of the actors to tell those stories. Therefore, despite the high emotional quotient those scenes came across as gory war tales. 

The play has received Best Light Design award at META, but the show I watched seemed to have some issues with the lights. In quite a few scenes where two lead characters were under a spotlight and narrating the story, their faces were not visible. 

Despite all this, the design of the play balanced the experience of the play. Mohit Takalkar’s minimalist stage design with an intelligent use of innovative sound and music added to the story and space creation. My most favorite scene was of “the exodus”. Just simple usage of various props to show families are leaving their villages gathering whatever they could, be it household items or a child’s rocking horse, created a world of refugees.

The efforts put in by the whole team to put this play together are apparent. Hence, I will not form any opinion about the play based on my experience of this particular show. Possibly, it was one of those shows when things did not come together the way they should have had. I hope the theatre gods shower extra blessings on the team for better performances in future.




March, 2016
Juliet Aur Uska Romeo
by Asmit Pathare

  The Drama School, Mumbai's
Juliet Aur Uska Romeo
Directed by Aniruddha Khutwad

Students of The Drama School, Mumbai performed ‘Juliet Aur Uska Romeo’, a Hindi adaptation of the Shakespearean classic Romeo & Juliet as their final year production. The play opened at the Mumbai Marathi Sahitya Sangh (MMSS) and has subsequently been performed at NCPA Experimental with more shows lined up at Ranga Shankara (Bangalore), Ninasam (Heggodu, Karnataka), Pune and Wada (Maharashtra). I had the opportunity of watching this play at MMSS as well as NCPA and my experience as an audience member was drastically different at both the venues. 

The title of the play itself suggests that this is more Juliet’s story than Romeo’s. The Shakespearean classic is being looked at from the point of view of Juliet, daughter of the Capulet family. It is also set in contemporary urban India with the names of characters and locations being kept the same as in the original. One can’t possibly miss that the city of Verona in the play is today’s Bombay, even though no such direct reference is made in the play. The frequent scenes by the seaside with people exercising and the obvious class chemistry between the maaliks and the naukars there is enough of an indication. The lyrical dialogue adds possibilities of more interpretations in terms of identifying the setting of the action, thus attempting to keep the story as universal as one can. These conscious choices lent a fertile ground for a new experience to emerge. One hoped to see how this teenager on the verge of adulthood negotiates her other relationships with respect to her relationship with Romeo – the love of her life. And it is here that the play neither opens any new areas of interpretation nor provides a closure of any kind. 
Juliet eventually remains a pawn in the hands of the translator-adapt(er) as he somehow joins the dots of her character curve from being the obedient daughter that she is through her falling in love with Romeo (that too because he ‘chooses’ her in a party, not the other way around) to her father wanting her to marry a boy of his choice and eventually her committing suicide because Romeo died out of a stupid misunderstanding. In the end, the play remains a ‘Romeo Aur Uski Juliet’ apart from the fact that we don’t see much of the Montagues except for the loyal Benvolio. While presenting an adaptation from the point of view of one character it seems a little ‘too smart and easy’ to present it by removing the other character’s extended relationships completely barring that of Benvolio. 

One would not really expect a magical performance to emerge out of this. Having said that, director Aniruddha Khutwad proves you wrong on not just that but many accounts. The rehearsals and the opening shows of the play happened in a make-shift black-box performance space created at the MMSS especially for this production. And in that, Khutwad’s minimalist approach drew one into the world of Verona quite effectively.  Right from the opening where a group of band-wallahs appear as the narrators and promise to take you through the story in their carefree Bambaiya style to the party scene where Romeo sees Juliet for the first time and they fall in love, one could sense a focussed approach from the director where everything apart from the main action only works to compliment it. Pandu Ranga’s light design beautifully aligns itself with Khutwad’s scenes thus visually accentuating the drama. One is reminded of the party scene here again, where the space transforms drastically into a club at one moment and immediately contracts after to make way for Juliet’s soliloquy. The sound design though only suggestive speaks a lot through its timing of operation. Kalpak Bhave does a good job of it.

When it comes to a student production, casting becomes the most challenging part. One has to find way to fit certain actors in certain roles and then make those characters believable with those actors. Khutwad’s keen eye made no mistake as none of the actors are a misfit for their characters. Niharika Lyra Dutt as Juliet is constantly seen negotiating with newer circumstances that she finds herself in. She confronts them all with a force that seems inherent to the actor. Even as she realises that Romeo has left the world and prepares to take her own life, she doesn’t forget to let us know that she is not fine with the ways of this world. Rushabh Kamdar as Romeo brings a lot of vulnerability to the character in the beginning. One would have loved to see this vulnerability translate into a madness that is unconquerable. Shubhankar Tawde towers as Mr. Capulet and one rightfully hates him as the patriarch. Dheer Hira counters Shubhankar's aggression with a rock-solid calmness as Doctor Lawrence almost didactically. Nitika Arora plays an endearing Daayi to Juliet while Sanket Kadam makes you laugh with him, at him. Trinetra’s deep eyes translate Benvolio’s loyalty towards Romeo quite beautifully and Vaishnavi’s Mercutia (the female counterpart of Mercutio, again
an excellent casting call) plays the perfect companion. Sriram, Sagar and the apparent rockstar Kaustabh play the troupe of bandwallahs with immense delight. Their regular interjections as narrators and observers of the story are a treat to watch. In one such interjection they swiftly switch into a meta-narrative and that in turn is used to enter the next scene. The play is interspersed with quite a few such magical moments that also makes one admire the beauty of theatre and the power of story-telling.

‘Juliet Aur Uska Romeo’ travels to a variety of venues after this. Each venue shall present its own challenges and the actors and technicians will have to improvise and fit their design within the available resources. That they have been training and rehearsing in the same space as the final performance at MMSS and were quite at home there became more evident from their urgency to cover space at the NCPA. The lighting design failed to evoke any drama in that space and felt like the MMSS design was superimposed on the NCPA rig. The background score in a couple of scenes was too loud for the dialogues to be heard. As a show, it did not hold up to what one saw at MMSS. As students of theatre however, hope the team looks at it as a learning experience. By the time they return to Bombay they shall have a bunch of experience under their belts and the play shall have settled too. It would be really interesting to see how the story unfolds then.


October, 2015


Peele Scooter Waala Aadmi
by Gitanjali Kalro

  D for Drama’s
Peele Scooter Waala Aadmi
Written and Directed by Manav Kaul

The moment I first heard the name ‘Peele Scooter Wala Aadmi’ (written and directed by Manav Kaul), my brain conjured up an image of a man riding a Bajaj scooter on the roads of Delhi, passing the India Gate. The said ‘Aadmi’ didn’t have a care in the world but had his own principals in life that he lived by. This is what I assumed the play was about. Even the many posters by the D for Drama team didn’t give away the plotline that I was about to encounter in the play.

The minimal set designed by Vivek Jadhav and Manav Kaul was only a little more than bare boned. The two screens behind which there were two typewriters, on down stage left and right, were the most beautiful aspects of the play. They were my hook to stay and watch the play

The play started subtly as if one had stepped into a person’s life and immediately questioned the existence of the ‘Peela Scooter’, the existence of the protagonist, and the existence of all the Questions and Answers of his life. The ‘Peela Scooter’ from the Father’s perspective (Shubrojothi Barat) is a lucky charm. The ‘Peela Scooter’ from the protagonist, the son’s (Kumud Mishra) perspective, is now a curse in his life. To me too, it seemed like a burden passed on from the parent to the child. It was one line in the play that finally provided me the reason for its existence. It was a juncture in the play where one had heard the reasons why it had become a burden to the son, and reasons why the father had treated the scooter like his son’s lifeline. It was at this point that the ‘Buddha’ (Abhay Joshi) says ‘…maanna toh padta hai’. The Scooter had remained in the son’s life even though he wanted to sell it off. Somewhere in his heart, he too understood and believed his father’s reasons.
While I liked the layer of the son’s struggle as a writer, I enjoyed the clash of belief systems more; the struggle to try and understand what part of the belief system belongs to one as an individual and what belongs to one as way of inheritance.


I must mention Abhay Joshi’s performance. Every time he stepped on stage, one wanted to watch him. He would run in and out of the son’s consciousness, crouched. Some times he had lines, some times he simply typed on the typewriter or just stood. In one scene he stood on a chair and even danced. His presence on stage was like that of a child discovering something new at every turn.

The direction of the play was simple with some very beautiful images created through the show. Although in the middle of the play I felt it was very dry; it kept requiring a lot of patience from the audience without any discovery or movement in sight. The strength of the play lies in its writing. My most favourite line came at the end “Neend ka aana raat ke saath aapke sambandh par nirbhar karta hai. Agar yeh sambandh achha hai to aapko neend aa jaati hai. Aur agar yeh sambandh kharab hai toh aapke chhote chhote andhere raat ke andhere main ghus jaate hain aur voh aapko sone nahi date aur aap doosro ko” (One can only fall asleep based on one’s relationship with the night. If this relationship is good one can fall asleep. If this relationship is bad then the teeny-tiny dark times of your life slip into the darkness of the night and they refuse to let you sleep and you don’t let others sleep.) This line made my evening worthwhile. All in all ‘Peele Scooter Wala Aadmi’ is a play of slow and quiet discoveries of a man’s life, like the seemingly abstract pieces of a jigsaw slowly coming together. Only the end makes the journey worthwhile.



June, 2015


The Hound of the Baskervilles
by Priti Bakalkar



The fourth chapter of Aadyam, an Aditya Birla Group initiative- The Hound of the Baskervilles, produced by AKVarious Productions premiered on 9th May.



As most of you would know The Hound of the Baskervilles is one of the crime novels written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle featuring the famous detective Sherlock Holmes and his trusted companion Dr. Watson. It tells the story of an attempted murder inspired by the legend of a fearsome, diabolical hound of supernatural origin. Sherlock Holmes is approached to investigate the case.



Since AKVarious Production has previously produced Rebecca, the famous suspense thriller, I had every reason to believe that the present production is also another suspense thriller coming from the same production house. I had not even had a proper look at the creatives. All I knew was Arghya Lahiri (who we all know as awesome Light Designer) and Vivek Madan are part of it and so I have to watch it. I attended the opening show of THoTB.



I was curious to watch how they have shown the moor, the Baskerville Hall, streets of London, and the Hound; especially Aadyam’s  backing I was expecting a grand set and the works. I was all prepared for the drama to unfold.  



As we were waiting for the play to begin, these two lovely musicians from True School of Music were playing music and singing and the play began…



Sir Charles Baskervilles (Vivek Madan) is walking from the moor to the Baskervilles Hall. Suddenly he hears something and he is on high alert, he starts running, he is running fast.. faster…. and we hear the deadly howling and see a giant shadow and just as I am thinking to myself “not bad”, I suddenly see an ugly, badly made head of a stuffed dog, it is just so tacky, and I go in my mind “with all that money going in is this what these guys have come up with”, parallelly Sir Charles Baskervilles sees that tacky stuffed Hound and dies most melodramatic death. While I am thinking of ways to escape this ordeal, enter the stage our dear Arghya and Karan Pandit. They scold Vivek for starting the play without making announcements about the fear factor of the play etc etc. and I realise, there is more to the play than meets the eye.



What followed thereafter was a total laugh riot. This perfect comic adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s THoTB by the British authors Steven Canny and John Nicholson is directed by Akash Khurana. Of course the fans of Sherlock Holmes depending on their sense of humor loved it or hated it (going by the reactions of the audience around me). 


The highly dramatic elements of classic Sherlock Holmes mystery are rendered in a similarly fluent and farcical manner- the family curse, the dubious characters popping up every now and then at Baskerville Hall or upon the treacherous moor, and above all, the great Sherlock Holmes solving the crime!



Arghya Lahiri’s wide eyed, awestruck Dr. Watson was absolutely adorable. His innocent and foolish act while investigating the crime on his own makes us feel sympathetic towards him but you cannot help laughing your guts out at his expense, especially his encounter with Holmes in his disguise as Hermit and post box or him playing air violin while Sir Henry and Miss Stapleton were doing tango!



Vivek  Madan plays multiple characters. His Sir Henry Baskervilles who apologises for lack of his Canadian accent and the Taxi driver during the interrogation were the most notably hilarious characters. His encounter with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in sauna is too funny as also the train journey to Dartmoor with Dr. Watson.



Karan Pandit as Sherlock Holmes lends the charisma and a suave demeanor to Holmes that contrasts amusingly with his feverish appearances as a mysterious Miss Stapleton in a garish pink dress and a spanish accent.



Other two actors who need to be mentioned are Rytasha Rathore, as Mr. & Mrs. Barrymore, she adds to this madcap comedy and Himanshu Sitlani who plays the escaped murderer, Selden. It was fun to watch him run around the auditorium every now and then.  



But the highlight of the entire play was the recap of the first act at the beginning of the second act post interval. It had the entire auditorium in splits. Impeccable timing and teamwork of all the actors.


The technical team complements the fast and furious action on the stage well enough. I think everyone must see this classic thriller with comic twist. Entertainment guaranteed.



May, 2015
ILA
by Priti Bakalkar


Ila, is a devised play, co-directed by Puja Sarup and Sheena Khalid, under the production of The Patchwork Ensemble. It premiered at Centrestage festival of NCPA in December last year. Since then it was on my “to watch” list and I got to watch it at NCPA this month.


The play is inspired by “Pregnant King” by Devdutt Pattanaik which is a story inspired by one the mythical tales of Mahabharata and another story from Mahabharata of Ila (or King Sudyumna).


Before I go ahead, I cannot resist the temptation of giving a quick summary of both these stories. 

In Pregnant King, the King Yuvanshu, accidentally drinks a potion which was meant for impregnation of his three wives and in stead he himself gets pregnant and bears a Son. Later he also impregnates his other wife and begets a son from her as well. The story revolves around the dilemma of the King if he is a father or a mother and other bigger gender questions around it.


Whereas, in the story of Ila who is female form of King Sudyumna; he turns into a female when he enters an enchanted forest under spell of Lord Shiva at behest of Shakti. Sudyumna, horrified at the realisation of his male soul is trapped in female body, prays to Shakti to free him from the spell. Unable to counter the spell of Shiva, Shakti, however, modifies the spell in a way that Sudyumna would experience both masculinity and femininity in sync with the waxing and waning of the moon. Later in his female form he marries Budh (another very interesting myth) and produces kids and also in his male form from his wives.
Puja and Sheena, pick some of the gender bender elements from both these stories for their debutant co-directorial venture. It is interesting to see how they have used these mythical stories to develop their piece and have them weaved in the present context.
The ensemble of five females and two males, create a wonderful world of Mumbai local trains, especially the ladies compartment on western railway- specifically Churchgate to Virar late night train. The group passengers in this story is of varied social dynamics (even though cliché). This group consists of a young wannabe actress, an airhostess under training, an elderly “aunty”, a young working mother, a heavily pregnant woman and the male vendor who sells knick-knacks.
They travel regularly in a fixed train late in the night - before the ladies compartment becomes a general compartment. On one day, there enters an intruder- a male passenger who enters the compartment accidently before it turns into a general compartment. Then begins the storytelling session- the story of Ila who was a man turned in a woman. The initial reactions to the story are of dismissal by the women - “aisa kabhi hota hai kya?” but slowly they start getting involved and identifying themselves with the questions around the grey areas of masculinity and femininity”.
In this devised piece the transformation of King into a woman or back to man is not sudden, s/he experiences the change gradually over every lunar cycle and is a complete woman or man only once a month. This of course leads to a lot of personal conflict and confusion but also allows Ila to understand the other side better, making her/him more human.
I enjoyed the way the director duo has handled this question of “transient and transitional spaces of him and her”
The chorus is dynamic, ever shifting and fluid. It transforms from train passengers to mythical characters seamlessly. Keeping up with the theme the female members become male characters and vice versa. I loved the choreography of movement pieces used for transitions, which are effortless and do not break the rhythm or flow of the story.
There are quite a few overly dramatic moments and cliché but they go with the flow of the story and the characterisation of chorus - individually and collectively. The performers complement each other making it a well balanced ensemble.
Overall, Ila is well thought of, well made, entertaining and yet a piece that picks your brain as to “what it means to be a woman/man and everything in between”.


April, 2015


The Siddhus of Upper Juhu
by Priti Bakalkar

 

Rage Production’s The Siddhus of Upper Juhu is the second of the five new plays being produced under Aadyam, an Aditya Birla Group initiative.



This ninety minute play in English is a story of a middle aged couple Balvinder Siddhu aka Bubbles (Rajit Kapur) and his wife Behroze (Shernaz Patel). They live on the 14th floor of Sea View Towers in Upper Juhu (read that Andheri) in their 2.5 BHK flat. They have put in their life savings in purchase of this supposedly sea view flat but there is neither a view nor the sea. On one side of the home there is some drilling work happening and on the other side their Air Hostess neighbours party in loud blazing music; to top all these noises there is an orchestra of dogs playing all through the night. As if these noises were not enough there is a malfunctioning AC and a flush which doesn’t work unless jiggled and the stink in the air because of rotting garbage on the road. While Behroze is unfazed by all this, Balvinder is steadily going paranoid.   


Just like the first Aadyam presentation, this play too, has high production values. There is a beautiful and elaborate set designed by Xheight Design which distinctly demarcates the bedroom, kitchen, living room, main entrance and balcony. The light design by Arghya Lahiri sets the mood of this bittersweet comedy. There is a brilliant use of projections to give an effect of the city around the whole auditorium which become a character in the play. And then there is the soundscape of the city: the traffic, the sound of drilling, howling dogs etc etc. It is so beautifully blended that unless one really pays a close attention we do not even realise its existence in the background. Just as we all are now immune to the noise pollution around us.



Rahul daCunha, the director of this play calls Bombay his muse and from the way he has engaged with this city in most his works shows how deeply and madly he is in love with her. He has developed this very simple story about this couple and most mundane things in their day to day life and then the bigger changes in their lives so effectively that the audience gets drawn in their world almost instantaneously. Nowhere the play is preachy about the deteriorating state of the city or melodramatic about the situations the family goes through, but it drives the point home, effortlessly.



The chemistry between Rajit Kapur and Shernaz Patel makes this play a delight to watch. They make the audience fall in love with them. Shernaz’s transformation from a dull housewife to a strong woman who shoulders the responsibility of household when Balvinder loses his job and is going through mental depression is very believable. Rajit’s transformation from his always anxious personality to agitated and depressed unemployed person to someone who is once again trying to bounce back is very subtle but palpable. The only dip comes in this high energy play is with entry of Balvinder’s family in the second half. I found their presence extraneous. Then there are two invisible kids of the couple who sometimes are mentioned to be gainfully employed and then at times they are said to be still studying, leaving the audience confused about the couple’s parental status.


Having said that, the play is thoroughly entertaining. It has been a while since I have laughed so much in a play without feeling ridiculous. It was pure and simple situational humour played with impeccable timing. If you have missed it this time, you cannot afford to miss it when it comes back in September. Long wait, but it would be worth the wait.



March, 2015


Merchant of Venice
by Priti Bakalkar


As its first foray Aadyam, an initiative of Aditya Birla Group has ventured into theatre with five brand new productions which will be showcased in Mumbai and Delhi over coming eight months. Aadyam aspires to build a platform for the artists to exercise their full creative independence at a scale which may not have been feasible earlier. First of these productions that showcased in Mumbai was William Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice”.

This classic tale of Shakespeare is presented by Masque Theatre with a contemporary twist to it. While the characters speak the language of the Bard, they are placed in the modern world, there are socialites and paparazzi, the characters deal in stocks and commodities, they use mobile phones and tablets, go to pubs and casinos; but the core events are still the same.  
The support of Aadyam has truly allowed the production to be at a grand scale. There are huge sets by Fali Unwalla, fine costumes by Gavin Miguel, exquisite Light Design by Argya Lahiri, Sound Design by Dennis Taraporewala. The moment you enter the auditorium the huge set in shape of a ship and long flowing sheer drapes catch your attention. There is also very intelligent use of audio-visuals to establish spaces or for introduction of certain characters. All this make watching this production a visual treat.  

However, when we come to performance section, the things start falling apart. Vickram Kapadia plays Shylock, traditionally considered to be the most villainous character of Shakespeare. He plays it with a great panache but, the crudeness of Shylock or his angst & frustration at his own daughter failing him or his anger against the Christians and his loss in the end was missing. As a result Shylock’s famous monologue in the market place turns into just fancy words.  Luke Kenny’s Antonio again does nothing to gather any sympathy for his character at his misfortune or when Shylock insists on taking a pound his flesh. His Antonio does not come across as someone who should be shown mercy upon. The chemistry between Antonio and Bassanio (Rajeev Siddhartha) leaves something to desire for. The strong bond of friendship and love between the two because of which Antonio is ready to pledge himself to repay Bassanio’s loan does not come across. There were quite a few times when Bassanio and Antonio were not audible. Another issue for me was lack of clarity in speech for most of the characters.

The characters I really enjoyed for their performances were Portia by Ira Dubey, Nerissa by Pravishi Das, Gratiano by Jim Sarabh and Prince of Morocco and Aragon by Neil Bhoopalam. 

I especially enjoyed Ira’s performance as the young doctor in court room scene who appeals to the conscience of Shylock to show mercy on Antonio but shows no mercy to Shylock in meting out “justice”.  However, when in the middle of high drama court room scene the young doctor handed over a book which bears a title written in hand with a sketch pen -“The Law”, the lawyer in me let out a loudest possible silent scream of disapproval.

While watching the play I was thinking to myself how the passage of time has changed the perspective of people vis-à-vis religion and politics. The anti-Semitic references in the play are disturbing to many of us. I may dare say today many of us might not consider Shylock as a villain. The events at the court room scene could be considered as miscarriage of justice, turning the so called villain into a victim. What else could one expect of a person who has been oppressed and humiliated for all of his life for his faith or practice of trade! As I am writing this, the bill on abolition of cow slaughter in Maharashtra is has been given assent by the President of India. While I really do not care about the implications of this decision gastronomically; I cannot help thinking about the Qureshi sect which predominantly practices this trade. At just one stroke of signature a section of citizens are going to lose their traditional livelihood. I cannot help but to compare their fate to the fate of “the Jew” and quote him:

Coming back to Masque Theatre’s Merchant of Venice, I think as more performances will take place, the show will grow and will be more enjoyable. I am looking forward to watch rest of the four productions soon.
 

February, 2015


Normal
by Aishwarya Mahesh



Now group’s Normal that premiered at Thespo 2014 chronicles the life of notorious German serial killer Peter Kurten; from childhood up unto his sentencing and execution. Adapted from Anthony Neilson's 1991 work, Normal: The Düsseldorf Ripper the play is entirely in Hindustani with a few bits of English thrown in. When I read in the synopsis that the play was in Hindustani, I was wondering whom I’d take along as a translator. But to the uninformed like me, Hindustani is just “shuddh Hindi” and perfectly understandable. In fact, it makes the dialogues even more hard-hitting.



Peter Kurten is infamous for a series of ghastly rape-murders committed in Germany in the late 1920s. In 1931, he surrendered to the authorities voluntarily, and pleaded guilty for his crimes. His trial was ground-breaking in the sense that his defense attorney, Justus Wehner, had only to prove his insanity, not his innocence; Kurten had already confessed to his crimes. The trial ended with Kurten’s decapitation by guillotine in July 1931.



Comprising of a 3 member cast; Peter Kurten, his wife and Wehner, the play is a combination of interactions between the 3 characters and monologues by Kurten and Wehner. Given that the play is about a serial killer who murders primarily to satisfy his sexual urges, the script is brutal and extremely disturbing. But at no point does the play attempt to justify or understand the motivations behind Kurten’s killing spree. It merely narrates to the audience, almost in a clinical fashion, incidents from his childhood, teenage and adult years. These incidents also include reenactments of his killings. It is to be noted that though Kurten was a real-life killer, the play itself is part-fictional.


While Kurten is the central subject of the play, the sub-plot deals with the conflicted Wehner who struggles to prepare a defense for his client. What seems like an open and shut case draws him in so deep that he struggles to distinguish between right and wrong. The play gets its title from Wehner deliberating as to what indeed is “normal” in the course of his interactions with Kurten.



Yogendra Vikram Singh in the titular role delivers a haunting performance, extremely deserving of his win in the “Best Actor” category at the Thespo awards. His dark humour is well timed and his Peter Kurten is intensely frightful and repulsive (as a monstrous murderer should be). The play, to a large extent, is movement based and has a lot of physicality. And the cast displays a remarkable command over their body language and movement.



The set design is dark and the lights somber, complementing the dark mood of the play. Writer-director Khushboo Upadhyay has put together a tight piece, unapologetic and brave. When I had finishing watching the play, the dialogues, which have expletives to non-expletives in the ratio of about 8:1, played on my mind, evoking disturbing images, for days after. So be warned, this is not a drama meant for an evening of light entertainment. But do watch, because it is a powerful piece of theatre.
  January, 2015

ICELAND
by Priti Bakalkar


Why Not Theatre’s Iceland featured in 2014 edition of Tata Literature Live, The Mumbai LitFest. It was performed in NCPA as well as at Prithvi Theatre. I missed the NCPA performance but I did manage to watch it at Prithvi and then again at The Drama School, Mumbai when the team did a special performance there- post this show the audience had a chance to interact with the director Ravi Jain and the actors about the process and the background of the play.


This Canadian play written by Nicolas Billon is the winner of “Governor General’s Award for Drama 2013” and “The Summerworks NOW Audience Choice Award” amongst many others. The play, set against backdrop of the worldwide banking crisis depicts how a  confrontation between a real estate agent and a tenant takes an unexpected turn.
In 2008, Iceland’s three privately-owned commercial banks collapsed, sending shock waves around the world. That’s the metaphor for this play. But the play is not about the financial crisis or the economic upheaval; it makes an indirect commentary on the effects of this crisis on the society and the human impulse.
It is a brilliant piece of story told through three monologues. The first monologue features Cassandra (Shannon Currie) - an Estonian woman who has come to Canada to study history and find a man to marry. Upon realising that her small odd jobs are not going to be enough to support herself in the foreign land and help pay off her twin brother’s gambling debt back home; she ends up being an escort.
The second monologue features Halim (Ali Momen), a Pakistani origin-Canadian real estate agent, who carries a wad of cash in a money clip because he thinks people can’t see what is inside a wallet. He takes a pride in introducing himself to the audience as a Capitalist.
The third monologue features Anna (Claire Calnan), a God- fearing woman who literally washes her mouth with soap whenever she uses profanity. She was evicted from her apartment by a new owner despite her lease period not being over which has upset her to a great extent.
The three stories clash when, while Cassandra is servicing her client- Halim, Anna visits Halim’s apartment which once was occupied by her. Earlier, on the same day Anna had an interaction with Halim at the apartment which she visits just out of curiosity to see an advertisement in a newspaper for availability of the apartment for lease / sale. She goes back to the apartment to follow up on her interaction with Halim which had not ended well; without realising that Halim, now has a company. While Cassandra is hiding in the bathroom, the interaction between Anna and Halim takes an ugly turn and Halim suffers a fatal injury. What happens thereafter and the responses of the characters to this new turn of events, is a comment on the primal human instinct of survival or protecting self from perishing.
All the three actors despite the length of each monologue were able to have the audience hooked on to their story. I loved the performance of Shannon Currie, though her character is always in over excited state - at no point Shannon’s performance was jarring or irritating. Ali Momen, as Halim was a delight to watch. He makes us hate his character so much that at the end we do not feel sympathy for his tragic fate.  But the best one was Claire Calnan who portrayed this self-righteous woman, who strongly believes that she has been victimised by this rich person who evicted her from “her home”. She shocks our sensibilities with her responses to the situation. She makes her character absolutely believable.
Ravi Jain’s direction is tight. The set design is simple with just three chairs under tightly focused lights - which was adapted to a more simplistic design for the performance at The Drama School, Mumbai.
I thoroughly enjoyed both the adaptations of this superbly crafted, well directed and performed piece of story.


October, 2014

EMOTIONAL CREATURE
by Aishwarya Mahesh


Last month I finally managed to catch Poor Box’s adaptation of Eve Ensler’s best-selling book I Am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World,on stage. Through music, movement and monologue,Emotional Creature gives its audience a peek into the lives of teenage girls around the world. Song and dance are employed as part of the individual pieces as well as interspersed between them, providing a palliative effect to the intensely hard hitting stories.



The first monologue was about a girl whose parents force her into plastic surgery to “repair” her abnormally large nose. Probably because I was bracing myself for something far worse (and partly because the actor’s comic timing just didn’t work for me) this piece didn’t strike a chord with me. But everything that followed was spectacular.  

There was the story of an African girl whose father wants to sell her to buy cows. And in "Guide to Surviving Sex Slavery" , another African girl tells us how her holiday in Congo ended with her being captured and kept as a sex slave (for 2 years) by a soldier there. A sixteen year old from Bulgaria told us how her attempt to escape sexual abuse by her father’s friend led to her being sold into prostitution. While abuse; sexual, verbal and emotional was a theme that permeated across, the play dealt with all sorts of adolescent struggles. An anorexic high school girl in America talks about her obsession with being skinny. A Muslim girl in Bombay spoke of an issue that all Indian women face, the perpetual persecution of the girl child, right from birth, through matrimony and until death.

The evening was not all sombre and serious however. The tale of a Chinese girl working in a factory producing Barbie dolls was funny and endearing. And "My short skirt" was an adorable take on how not to interpret the length of a skirt. One girl shared her experience on how she got her boyfriend to start using a condom. Every story had a hopeful, if not an happy ending.



The play was technically impeccable. The projector, sounds and lights were used extensively, but the cues came on like clockwork. There were no sets or props. The music comprised of popular English songs and Bollywood numbers, and while most of them played in the background or between pieces, a few were sung by the cast. A word on the dance performances; while the choreography was able and the dancers were in sync; their energy levels were very different. As a result, the dances didn’t look cohesive.

The all women cast comprised of actors spanning a wide age group, yet, when they began their performance, all you could see were teenage girls on stage. A word of appreciation for Swati Das,who delivered perhaps the most powerful performances of the evening. The narrative spanned across geographies and ethnicities to showcase problems that teenage girls face on a daily basis. The beauty of this play is that Eve Ensler apportions equal gravitas to the troubles of her protagonists, be it an eating disorder or an unexpected pregnancy. The result is an ensemble of stories that are gripping, heartwarming, disturbing and edifying.


September, 2014


    AAYDAAN 
by Priti Bakalkar


This year NCPA’s Pratibimb Marathi Natya Utsav opened with Awishkar’s production of Aaydaan. Just a few days before the play opened I had an opportunity to meet Sushama Deshpande who is the director of the play and Ramu Ramanathan who has conceptualised the play. When they mentioned about Aaydaan, I knew I had to watch this production.


This 180 minutes long play in Marathi is based on the autobiography of noted Dalit activist writer and feminist Urmila Pawar. The play unveils the journey of Urmila Pawar from a young girl from Konkan to the Urmila Pawar that she is today.


Aaydaan means articles made from bamboo eg. trays, baskets, hand fan etc. Urmila Pawar’s mother used to weave bamboo handicrafts for earning livelihood, like many other dalit women in that time. These artifacts appear as dominant theme throughout the play.
 
Born in a Dalit family, Urmila grew up in Konkan with her siblings. She was made aware of being born a Dalit throughout her childhood. Her mother would weave bamboo artifacts constantly to support the family income; later after her father’s death, the mother became the sole earner. As Urmila grew up her realisation of being a woman and that too a Dalit woman shapes her journey to a different level. The play successfully attempts to take us on that journey. It’s a ride full of ups and downs, moments of sorrow as well as elation; all laced with a dash of humor and without any bitterness.
The play is divided in two phases; one, Urmila’s childhood & her growing years and two, post her marriage, her growth as a woman and activist. The first act shows us the event that form the base for the mental makeup of Urmila. Through these events we see how the constant reminder of being a Dalit transforms her from a shy girl, minding her own business to young adolescent who would not be scared to stand up for herself, turning her so called drawbacks into her plus points. In the second act of the play, we see her journey as a young woman who marries to the person of her choice but  slow crumbling of the marriage as she chooses to go for her aspirations. She unsuccessfully struggles to make her family understand her need to find her own identity beyond her family. Incidents like her daughter’s wedding, her son’s untimely death, her husband’s opposition to her higher education make her stronger in her resolve or rather propel her to her greater calling and make her what she is today.


The three young actors, Nandita Dhuri, Shubhangi Sawarkar, Shilpa Mane take us on this journey with ease. They play multiple characters who touched Urmila’s life. It was  pleasure to watch them playing each characters mannerism and dialect effortlessly with just change of a dupatta or a prop. The set is minimalistic with just a few bamboos, a few bamboo artifacts and boxes which were put to multiple usage.


One of the things that really intrigued me was the presentation of certain key events at three levels : one, as the event happened or as we see it plainly; two, as it was perceived by her internally and three: what effect that event had on her. Directorial genius, I must say.   


Even though the play shows us Urmila’s journey from an underprivileged girl from Konkan to activist for Dalit women’s rights, I felt that Urmila’s contribution to the Dalit movement vis-a-vis her efforts to highlight problems of Dalit women and her work towards that which sets her apart from the regular Dalit movement does not get accentuated in the play. A person who is unaware of her work does not get sense of why it is important to tell Urmila’s story to the world. I wish this gets addressed somehow.


The play is a tribute not just to Urmila’s life-story but also to all those women who are struggling to find their identity and create their own space in this world.


August, 2014


UNDER THE CHESTNUT TREE
by Aishwarya Mahesh

In the month of June, I got to watch playwright Akash Mohimen’s “Under the Chestnut tree” (shortlisted for the Hindu Metro Plus Playwright award in 2013). Co-written by Siddharth Kumar, the play features Prashant Prakash and Shweta Tripathi as the leads, along with Kumar. The small write-up on a booking website gave me the impression that the play was about the rivalry (and possibly romance?) between two artists Eve and Osman. Hopeful that I would be treated to an evening of love and passion, I booked my tickets. The play was anything but. 




Right in the beginning, the play set the grim and severe tone in which the evening would advance. An absent radio broadcasted to the audience that times were dark and dismal in the fictitious country where the two painters Eve and Osman practiced their art. A fascist dictatorship came down heavily on the public, censoring extensively (if not banning) whatever they deemed evil, be it art or expression. Torture, imprisonment and death (not in that order) awaited anyone who dared to thwart these draconian laws. And one of these rulings known as the Spectra law banned the use of colour in painting.



It is in this context that Eve, a former student of Osman and the blue-eyed girl of the government, is awarded the highest honour given to an artist in the country. Osman, a renowned artist and a previous recipient of this title, is now an inebriated, disillusioned rebel. How is he not imprisoned or dead? You may ask. Enter, Captain L, his step-brother and a high-ranking government official, who shields him from the wrath of the state. Thankfully L does not suffer from cruel step-sibling syndrome. On the contrary, he has great regard and respect for Osman’s talent and work. Perhaps a small degree of mild jealousy on account of his own dull existence and lack of talent, but nothing malicious. Alongside protecting his brother, L is hot on pursuit of a mystery artist who goes by the name Robin. Openly flouting the diktat issued by the government, Robin uses colour in his/her work, pushing his/her paintings in the black market.

  

It is evident that little love is lost between Eve and Osman. Apart from accusing her of copying his style of painting, Osman also accuses her of distorting her art to toe the line of the government. Eve, a master manipulator, is scarce affected by his allegations. She makes full use of the privileges bestowed upon her by the state, lives lavishly on her ex-husband’s alimony and even starts an affair with Captain L. The pace of the play is slow, but not tedious. Through the intermittent radio broadcasts, the audience get a blow-by-blow account of the atrocities perpetrated the state. Criminalizing same sex relationships, threatening freedom of expression, censoring forms of art and inevitably killing the spirit of the people. It hits you soon enough that the incidents on stage are mirror of what’s happening in our lives, in India, today (and most other countries as well). The decision on Section 377 by the Supreme court, misinterpretation of archaic sedition laws to harass a caricature artist, arresting people on the grounds of inappropriate facebook status updates, the list goes on. But back to Chestnut. 



The title itself comes from a song in George Orwell’s legendary work of fiction, “1984”. “Under the chestnut tree I sold you and you sold me…” goes the song, referring to how its own rebel protagonists succumbed to the might of the totalitarian regime. But the similarity stops at the Orwellian world, in which both the plays are set. The plot of Under The Chestnut Tree is thick with intrigue; did Osman have an affair with Eve in the past? When the time comes, will L choose his brother or lover? And most importantly, will L find out who Robin is? 



Uncovering the identity of Robin was not just the obsession of the good captain, but mine too. By interval I had worked out numerous permutations, none of which were right. And I must say that I was more pleased than let down. The reveal was nothing like what I had imagined, a splendid job by the writers. Abhishek Saha’s direction was smooth and efficient. As for the actors, Prashant Prakash looked the part of Osman as much as he played it, his intensity (in his defiance of the state) shone through in equal measure as his subtlety (in his despair and helplessness). It was an absolute delight watching him spar with Captain L (played by Siddharth Kumar). Another lovely actor; Kumar was steady, sublime and responsible for most of the lighter moments in the play. Shweta Tripathi however was not a very impressive Eve. Here was a woman on top, who had singlehandedly, bested the men in her life, and the powers that be, to carve out a life of luxury. She is sly, wanton and not above selling her soul to the devil. But she goes about her back-stabbing with a sweet sugar coated knife. I felt perhaps that these nuances could have been brought out better by Tripathi. 



A curious aspect of the play was that there was no dominant religion dictating the fascist regime. Freedoms of expression was curbed not in the name of Allah, nor were the teachings of The Bible misconstrued to justify the actions of the state.  I kept cudgeling my memory to figure out what country and what time period this play was alluding to and the names Eve and Osman did not help; the state was neither racist, nor anti-Semitic. An extreme form of communism perhaps? 



Irrational as it may sound, we look for reasonable cause to comprehend, if not justify, the callousness of a person/group of people. Perhaps a past tragedy, wrong conditioning in the name of religion etc… And when you eventually realize that suppression is almost always about just power, it is as unsettling as it is disheartening.



As I write this review, one of the tabs on my browser has a video of a man in Delhi inviting passers-by to comment on the health minister’s despicable comments on culture and sex education. I am glad that this video is streaming and there is no message informing me that it has been removed. But is this one of the ones “that got away”? Post independent India has not been spared of the absurd (and frightening) abuse of power that is an identifying feature of an autocratic rule.  Are we to console ourselves that we are better than countries that ban social media and free press? Are we now expected to feel thankful for being “allowed” to watch plays like Under the chestnut Tree?  It’s hard to be optimistic . Especially when I am still ruing the fact that I will never be able to have a copy of “The Hindus”. 



(Photographs Courtesy: Supraket Meshram)
 



July, 2014


THE PAD
by Aishwarya Mahesh 

In the month of June I had many an opportunity to watch plays in venues other than Prithvi. One of those plays was 'The Pad'. Written and directed by Saatvic, the play was staged at the lovely Sitara studio. One of the very practical advantages of a non-Prithvi theatre space is that there are no stringent time limits or strictly shut doors. But what I do miss is the efficiency with which the pre-show parts are organised. This play for example did not even have a ticketing booth set up. The result; pandemonium among all three sets of audiences, the ones who had blocked tickets, the book my show patrons and the walk-ins. Miraculously we were all seated and the play started after a good half an hour delay. But once it started, you forgave them for all the earlier mismanagement. Heart warming, funny, romantic, with some suspense thrown in, "The Pad" had all the elements for a good evening of theatre.



The play deals with events happening in a house in Bandra (the eponymous "pad") during two different time periods. In the present day, two boys Pulkit and Sahil meet at the pad, rented out by the former, to carry on a clandestine affair. In a previous time, an Anglo-Indian couple, Fabian and Jenny lived in the same house. Fabian, a retired army officer is devoted to Jenny, his wife of 30 years. The house is decorated with memorabilia celebrating their love, much of which is left intact, when Pulkit and Sahil move in. Fascinated with the paraphernalia, Sahil, who is doing his Phd on interior design, decides to include it in his research. The sub plot with these two charts how their relationship evolves from casual sex to something more serious. In the course of discovering the lives of Fabian and Jenny through the objects in the house, they discover and duel their own demons. The sub plot with Jenny and Fabian is not so simple. Beleaguered with nightmares about a wrong call he took during the Kargil war, Fabian struggles to clear his name in the Anglo-Indian community. To add to this, Nita their daughter in law has gone missing. Why Nita left, abandoning her two children, forms a crucial piece in this plot. But I found this bit in the script rather weak and not very convincing.

The rest of the script was tight though. The dialogues keep the play very real almost giving you a voyeuristic view to two intimate relationships. Speaking of intimacy, the chemistry between Sahil and Pulkit is electric. The same can't be said for the other couple in the play.

Saatvic as the investment banker Pulkit, played the role of an angry young man with élan. And listening to him sing was delightful. But Daniel as Sahil was the show stealer for me. With his abundant energy and effortless comic timing, he was undoubtedly the most endearing of the cast. Kitu Gidwani as Jenny does justice to the devoted housewife crossing over to the dark side when betrayed.

The stage was divided to reflect two different spaces within the house. A multitude of objects hung up on ropes, recreated a quaint and charming Bandra house. While there were not many set movements, the actors brought the space alive, clearly demarcating two different points in time. The lighting was simple and well done. The sound on the other hand left much to be desired. What I found particularly unforgivable was that, most of the initial sound cues, such as a phone ring, was accompanied by the amplified sound of the mouse click. But thankfully the technician managed to get rid of this sound as the play progressed.

In all, a very interesting watch. Some fine tuning required.



June, 2014


IMAGINATION AND BEYOND

by Saatvika Kantamneni
 


“There are certain half-dreaming moods of mind… where we may indulge our reveries and build our air castles undisturbed”

        Washington Irving



I believe that imagination is the start of creativity, of possibility. If one does not imagine in the arts, it would cease to exist. In my limited experience with theatre, what has given me most joy is the amount of imagination, creativity and possibility. Interestingly, two plays that I happened to catch consecutively, Eat! and Rang Rangila Gittu Girgit, used their imagination to shepherd their work in very different ways. Eat!, the debut play by Habijabi Productions, calls upon the audience to imagine a universe in which their story exists, while Rang Rangila… by Swangvale imaginatively creates the universe on stage for the audience.




Rang Rangila… is the story of a young chameleon, Gittu, and his quest for more colour. Writer/Director/Designer Dhanendra Kawade creates a personified universe where the sun, trees and clouds are friends with the animals in the forest. But an integral part of this relationship is that everyone needs to pay his or her dues. When the animals forget to do so, the world starts to lose its colour and reaches the brink of extinction, before Gittu comes in, to save the day!




Eat!, on the other hand, is the much loved urban tale of a bullied kid who rescues his school and planet from aliens and… saves the day! Well, not so regular… and neither is the staging. With just three stools, hula hoops, a briefcase and a newspaper, the three actors set out to tell a story about nothing and everything – a story about a boy who befriends a banana peel and an apple core that he comes across in a dustbin.



The primary function of a stage design, of course, is to provide the audience with some context for the narrative, but it can also be a chance to create something stunning through the visual composition. Eat! creates this through simplicity. With their bare stage (except some platforms upstage) and minimal props, they leave most of their universe up to the imagination of the audience. They create a world out of nothing – the dustbin is simply a hoopla that you step into. On the other hand, Rang Rangila… is elaborate and detailed. Dhanendra and his talented team have created the entire set and many of the costumes from recycled material. Their imagination has manifest itself physically in the design - there are trees and flowers made from plastic bottles, clouds made of umbrellas, buildings made out of standees. Although this makes the staging slightly cumbersome, they deliver a complete message with the design speaking for the content as well.




Both plays make use of live sound, which comes as no surprise. One has now come to expect Suhaas Ahuja’s guitar to make an appearance alongside him in plays. Similarly, Dhanendra’s musical talents are no mystery. Eat! employs a sparse sound design that is effective, but perhaps there is an opportunity waiting to be explored. Rang Rangila…, however, dances very close to the edge of excess, only crossing over some times. 



Even their costumes follow the same stream of imagination as the stage design. The three actors in Eat! (Jim Sarbh, Ratnabali Bhattacharjee and Suhaas Ahuja) wear uniform black t-shirts and leggings, with cutoff trousers and suspenders. With only three of them to play multiple characters, it seems a smart choice to have something generic, on which the layers of personality can be added. Rang Rangila’s characters have elaborate and specific. The Sun does look like a leader, with his majestic and detailed headdress. Gittu and his family have scales created with the tops of plastic bottles. But, at the same time, it is distracting when less thought is given to a character in the same play, and a butterfly just has butterflies stuck on it.




Rang Rangila makes a concerted effort to not be a didactic play on how to save the planet and that shows. It does not treat the target audience, the children, as students in a classroom. What is interesting is that Eat! also does not talk down to the children. It is a witty play that acknowledges how smart children are, and plays jokes that even adults appreciate. I still find myself sniggering at “banana nose” and “I’ll pummel you”. However, the storytelling does get repetitive as each of the actors gets their turn to play each character, but the play picks up speed in the second half and you get past this cycle fairly quickly.



Eat! and Rang Rangila Gittu Girgit are two plays that use their imagination to tell very different stories about saving the world. One is a devised piece that uses imagination to create something out of nothing, and asks the audience to do the same. The other is a musical wonderland that creates an experience for the audience akin to walking into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Both are a must watch, for these very reasons.


May, 2014

Kaumudi
by Gitanjali Kalro




On a beautiful friday evening in Bangalore, I watched 'Kaumudi' in Hindi at Ranga Shankara, written and directed by Abhishek Majumdar of Indian Ensemble. I had read some  good reviews of the play on facebook and so I went into the auditorium knowing that I would have a good evening.




As I walked in, I was surprised to see the lovely wooden stage covered with a grey carpet surrounded by nine poles on three sides. The poles were connected on the top with yellow and red border-like frills (the kind one used to see at Indian weddings). On stage right, behind the poles, were tables and on stage left was a mirror and few other props. The set was supposed to reflect the company theatre era of 1960's Allahabad. The frills, the table and the mirror looked new and freshly made and they clashed with the grey of the carpet which was supposed denote an old theatre, that had been running for many decades.



'Kaumudi' is a play within a play. The narrative is about a father and son who are also actors. They portray Ekalavya and Abhimanyu's ghost respectively. The father, Satyasheel has been an acclaimed actor at the Neelima Theatre, but now he is losing his sight and is close to blindness. On hearing this, the son, comes to take his fathers place as Ekalavya instead he is asked to play Abhimanyu's ghost. What unfolds is a story of how a father had abandoned his son many years ago, the memories of them as a family, the constant bickering between the two interspersed with the scenes at the Kurukshetra. The script is beautifully woven as it shifts back and forth in time. Neither the father nor the son seem to want to reconcile which is well contrasted with Abhimanyu's death at the Kurukshetra. Even though it was filled with heavy hindi words the language did not over power the script. 



One of the most delightful aspects of the production was the lighting design by Anmol Vellani. In the first few scenes Satyasheel swims into the Ganga, he is lying on stage facing a footlight. It is the blue light that covers Satyasheel's face that convinces one that he is in the river. I  also remember the crisp white light that on Satyasheel's face that depicted moonlight.



The acting, I felt, was a huge disappointment despite having a well-known actor like Kumud Mishra to play Satyasheel.  It was as if Mishra had to constantly remind himself of being visually-impaired at every entry. He also seemed to be going through the performance one action after another as opposed moving through it as a character. As for Sandeep Shikar, who played the son, Paritosh, he was always angry, which made his acting very monotonous. In one section, Mishra plays both father and mother. If only, Majumdar had chosen to have a female actor to portray the role, it would've helped the audience understand the dynamics of the father-son duo.



Having seen 'Gasha', also directed by Majumdar, I felt the devices used were similar in 'Kaumudi', in terms of direction. It was like a template that Majumdar was reusing, for example in Gasha there was a black board that became the central prop on stage to which the actors kept coming back to at different points in the story, in 'Kaumudi' it was a mirror on wheels, which moved between Satyasheel and Paritosh.



The production still has a long way to go until it can become a strong one. I hope the acting and direction get better because the script holds so much promise. 

 

April, 2014

Nirbhaya
by Aishwarya Mahesh


To call it a play does not do justice to the powerful piece of performance that it is. While its form is theatrical, Yael Farber’s Nirbhaya is an unflinching and unapologetic presentation of sexual violence against women and children. Starting with the story of Nirbhaya, the victim of the brutal gang rape that happened in Delhi in December last year, five true stories of  women who have been victims of heinous sex crimes, are presented to the audience through part narration and part enactment. 





The experience of watching Nirbhaya was unique.  I had not read any reviews or previews before going for it. All I knew was that it was an award winning play that had opened at the Fringe festival.  From the title, I assumed that it would be about the events leading up to, and the aftermath of, the incident in Delhi. I did not expect to get full-blown narratives of the violence suffered by five other women. And more importantly, I did not know that these deeply disturbing stories were real and the actors were well, not actors, but victims. The revelation by the cast that the stories enacted by them were their own was therefore exceptionally hard-hitting.



The play has already won critical acclaim for setting a precedent in portraying such a sensitive topic. Director Yael Farber makes no attempt to dilute or downplay the gruesome aspects of an abuse encounter be it a gang rape, or the burning of a bride for dowry. But there is certain finesse in the way she deals with them. As one of the audience members pointed out in the interaction with the cast post-play, it was an extremely discerning representation of a delicate issue.





Normally, when I write a review for the script, I try and break into sections on the story, the script, the actors and, the lights, sets and props. And when I watch a play, I normally make mental notes to come back and fill in these sections. With Nirbhaya, it was impossible. The intensity of the piece was such that it ceased to be a performance for me at some point. I will try nevertheless to talk about its theatrical aspects.



The cast includes 6 women and a man who plays all the male characters, positive and negative. He was both Nirbhaya’s male companion on the bus and her rapist. I found this interesting and wonderful because it kept the language of the play from veering in a feminist direction.  It cemented the objective of the play; to bring to the forefront crimes against women. The objective is not to vilify men. While 5 of the female cast doubled up as supporting characters in each other’s’ stories, the actor playing Nirbhaya was constant. Her presence through the play was as haunting as the melody she hummed through it. She comes in at the beginning of each of their chronicles, apart from being in her own ghastly ordeal at the beginning of the play.



The stage was bare, save a backdrop comprising entirely of suspended boards and a row of chairs resembling (remarkably well) the interior of a bus on one end. The props used were many, each of which were astutely symbolic and put to adept use. A frock became a child; ropes became body parts; and Nirbhaya’s dupatta, many many things.


A word of mention for the body language and physicality of the actors, the play was heavily movement based; and enacting rape and violence is no mean feat. So real was the performance, that on more than one occasion, I feared that one or more of them may have sustained injuries on stage.



The best of plays leave you deep in thought much after you have left the auditorium. Nirbhaya doesn’t make you think; the play ends with a clear call to action. To act against injustice. To transfer shame guilt and shame to the perpetrator from the victim. To not live in fear. To be silent no more.



March, 2014

HeLa
by Priti Bakalkar


HeLa, winner of the Scottish Arts Club “Best Scottish Show on the Fringe” Award 2013, is inspired by 'The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks’ by Rebecca Skloot. The play is produced by Iron Oxide, a Scottish Theatre Company and performed by Adura Onashile. The play is presented in India by QTP in association with British Council.


HeLa is about science versus ethics and morality; larger good versus personal rights. The show leaves you with questions of right and wrong, equality, right to privacy, ownership of your own body and many more. I consider it to be one of the most sensitively done pieces of theatre.



This solo show is about the story of Henrietta Lacks, a coloured woman from Baltimore, who died from cervical cancer in the year 1951. During her treatment at Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, a cell sample of her tumor and normal cells was taken without her permission. The cell sample which was cultivated to produce what is popularly known as HeLa cell line in the world of science, lead to many important medical discoveries over last fifty years all over the world. However, Henrietta, completely unaware of the fact that her cells were responsible for discoveries that changed the history of medical research, died of cancer soon after she was admitted to Hopkins hospital. Ironically, some of the discoveries and research was directed towards finding cure for cancer.


Adura has tried in all her honesty to present the story of Henrietta as sensitively, delicately and truthfully as possible. She tries to portray the story of the person behind the magical HeLa cell line and her family. Through this play, Adura’s attempt is to show that Henrietta was just as a human figure as we all are and that she needs to be acknowledged for her contribution to the medical science.



It is a very well told story using audio visuals to interweave Henrietta’s life story with commentary on the scientific breakthroughs using HeLa cell line. I found initial transitions between narration and audio visual presentations abrupt; however the transitions became smooth once the play progressed. Adura plays multiple characters effortlessly. However, there were a couple of times when I felt Adura was slipping out of her character. But I feel this was mainly because how passionately Adura feels about Henrietta’s story. One can sense Adura’s determination to give justice to Henrietta and set the things right that went wrong through her play. As a result even though the play which is supposedly unbiased and claims to present both the sides i.e. Henrietta and her family and the Scientists objectively, it appears to be one sided.



I really enjoyed the thought provoking interactive session post the show with Adura and Graham Eatough, the Dramaturge and Director of the play. There were many Doctors, Pathologists and Scientists present in the audience. It was very interesting to hear their views on this issue. When I left Sitara studio after the show, I had many questions in my mind about what could have been and what should have been and where do we draw the line.


I have started reading “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”. May be I will find answers there, may be the debate will continue. But what is more important is that pieces like HeLa are creating awareness and provoking us to question the set up and that is what a good piece of art is supposed to do.



February, 2014


786
by Gitanjali Kalro



On the day of the show, ‘786’, which was running at Thespo, the annual youth theatre festival, my uncle, who was visiting Mumbai, wanted to meet me. On most occasions, I avoid inviting family to watch a play (unless I am onstage). Coming from a business family, that has little or no patience for the arts, I feel it is best to spare them the discomfort of saying ‘No’. This time, though, I had no option - the only way I could meet my uncle was to ask him to come watch the show with me. Surprisingly, he agreed readily because he had seen the advertisement in the newspaper and in Bangalore, we rarely ever see newspaper advertisements for theatre. 



The packed Prithvi theatre was buzzing with energy that earlier festival performances had created. My Uncle brought a friend along and it was their very first play in Mumbai.


 786 immediately draws you in with its opening. The three main characters talk about superstition and how numbers play a large role in altering their lives; neatly sketched scene where each protagonist describes which number they are obsessed with. It promised an enticing concept that could talk about the role superstition plays. Unfortunately, it failed to do so. The play simply became a description of the importance of the numbers in the lives of these characters and nothing more. None the less Abhishek Pattnaik’s script and witty lines kept the audience engaged. The three mains characters represent three different stories connected through a bus stop. In the first story, for instance, Sunita has an obsession with the number ‘7’ and believes it brings her immense luck. The repartee between Sunita and her clumsy boyfriend was enjoyable especially since he was desperately trying to impress her and kept messing it up. 


In second story of the Bus stop, the bus stop hates bus number eight. While the bus stop rambled on for far too much stage time about its history, we never know exactly why he we must listen to it, since its already established in the beginning why he hates the particular bus number. As I drifted, I couldn’t help think of my uncle and his friend. And cringed a little. 


The whole evening would have been more interesting if only the director, Murtuza Kutianawala had been more creative in his staging and visuals rather than relying so heavily on the text. The sets remained unimaginative throughout the performance. I can’t remember a single prop that deserves mention. The stage remained bare for most post parts with a basic set of a bedroom and dinner table in the first story, three wooden benches with the best bus stop sign and for the last story, an absolutely bare stage.  


Even the sound design used was merely functional - simply patching one segment to another. For instance when the Bus Stop 1947 describes his story in several flash backs his two friends,  Bus Stop 2006 and Bus Stop 2008 move their respective flats to the sound of traffic.  Neither did the sound change nor did the style of moving the ‘bench’ change, with each resetting. 



The light design was non-descript, and occasionally defined areas, like when at the climax of the first playlet, two areas of bus stop (representing boyfriend) and home (representing mother) were defined, and a spot on Sunita, who is torn between the two.


Perhaps the only surprise in the entire play was the character of the Eunuch in the third piece about a playwright attempting to write his sixth play. Abhishek Pattnaik, himself, plays the Eunuch or rather a savvy cross-dresser.  The banter was enjoyable and the cross-dresser was refreshing, the section tended to become tedious because of the constant justifying and exposition that they felt the audience needed to know.


As performers, both Abhishek Pattanaik and Sunita’s boyfriend (played by Sujay Mirchandani) were sincere and their effort shone through as was proved by the way the audience connected with them. Abhishek’s Eunuch, keeps the energy and drama right until the end, while Sujay’s Vishesh was consistent throughout. 


For me, the saving grace of the evening was the comedy brought by Abhishek Pattnaik, but on the whole there was a lack of interesting ideas and insight. Some attention to staging would have perhaps helped dilute the ‘verbocity’ of the text. 


As we filed out of the theatre, I met my seemingly sleepy uncle in the foyer. However he did say that he and his friend enjoyed the play. So at least the evening, wasn’t a total write off. 



January, 2014


THE E.Q.
by Gitanjali Kalro


Thespo, the annual youth theatre festival, often throws up interesting work just as the year comes to a close. But it was it was with a feeling of trepidation that I took my seat at Thespo 15’s first performance – The E.Q. As part of the selection panel last year, I had watched writer-director Amatya Goradia’s previous attempt, the overly dramatic Woh Chaar Panneh, therefore my I wasn’t expecting much from The E.Q.




That feeling great as I entered Prithvi Theatre, and greeted with an unimpressive set - a bare stage with, except for a raised platform up stage centre, with a chair and table. Behind is hanging from the flies, a rather mediocre backdrop with black and white pictures of Einstein.



The play began, and remained relatively slow paced for the first ten minutes, as we were introduced to Harvey Thomas, a man so obsessed with Einstein that he has stolen is brain in order to dissect it and determine where the great physicists ‘genius’ lay. We were subjected to a long monologue, which had vast amounts of information about the owner of the brain.



But the moment the three Albert Einstein’s came on stage I suddenly I felt drawn into the production. The story deals with the three phases of Einstein’s life, which are portrayed by three characters; Older Albert (Karan Bhanushali), Middle Albert (Omkar Kulkarni), and Younger Albert  (Smit Ganatra) with learning difficulties.




Suddenly the script and direction came alive. Even though the narrative is non linear, each scenes ties in very neatly with the next one. The narrative unfolds as three parallel phases of Eintein’s life and the trials and tribulations he suffered. For example while talking about the creation of the atomic bomb; the play is still moving in and out of the other two phases of Einstein’s life.



Although the play is in Hindi, we were effortlessly transported to the world which Einstein inhabited. The words created a very real world and the interesting staging kept us engaged throughout. There were wonderful visual touches that added to the story-telling, like the showing of the passage of time, where two actors created a clock (one as the minute hand, and the other as the hour hand). The hands of the clock moved swiftly when days moved quickly and slowed down when time was dragging in Younger Albert’s life.



It’s a pity that the production design lacked a strong attention to detail. The use of plastic stools covered with black chart paper was incredibly tacky and took away from the sincere performances. Einstein’s brain was a easily distinguishable pink cauliflower. And although they used a violin on stage, it was a shame that no one could play it, and all the sections were mimed.




The sound-scape too jarred. There were instantly recognizable tunes like Adele's 'Someone Like You' when trying to depict Albert’s sense of happiness. Unfortunately the song is actually about woman singing about how her ex-lover has moved on and how she still misses him.



I felt lighting design was a missed opportunity. There was plenty of scope to create an interesting world due to the non-linear timeline and with its fair share of emotional scenes. But the lighting failed to support or contribute to the drama.



The strength of the play was the way the ensemble worked together. However some performances stood out like Older Albert (Karan Bhanushali) who captured the eccentric scientists mannerisms very convincingly; Mileva (Arushi Saxena) who was rewarded with a Thespo Award for her performance; and Revati Deshpande, who in spite of a tiny role, was very convincing and moving as Albert Einstein's Mother.



It was heartening to see the growth young Amatya He seemed more sensitive to staying true to the story, rather than trying to illicit reactions from the audience (one of the cringe worthy elements of Woh Chaar Panneh).



Despite the minor shortcomings of the play, The E.Q is a light-hearted play about a very heavy subject. All in all, the play is an exciting, emotional and a swift story, well told.
 


December, 2013


THE GLASS MENAGERIE
by Priti Bakalkar


One of the biggest attractions for me at Prithvi Festival this year was Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie (GM) presented by The Rage Foundation.

GM is a four character memory play. It is said to be an autobiographical account of Tennessee Williams’s early life. It is also one the first successful plays of the playwright.

The story is set in the great depression era. It revolves around Amanda Wingfield, the mother (Shernaz Patel), Tom Wingfield, the son (Jim Sarbh), Laura Wingfield, the crippled daughter (Amrita Puri) and Jim O’Connor, the Gentleman caller (Cabir Maira).  There is also a fifth character, Mr. Wingfield, the absentee husband/ father (Benjamin Gilani in a life size photograph).

Mr. Wingfield has left the family long years back for another woman leaving his wife Amanda with two children, Tom and Laura. Laura has a “slight defect” in her leg and is very shy in nature; to the extent that she has a problem in communication with outer world. Tom works at a warehouse so that he can support the family but he is a poet at heart and yearns for adventure in life. Amanda is worried about future of Laura and is keen to settle her down with a suitable “Gentleman” which has become mission of her life. What happens in that pursuit is what we witness through this play presented in flashback narrative style.

As the play starts Tom introduces himself to be the protagonist of the play and Anar Desai as the musician (violinist) who would support his narration with musical interludes. It being memory play music has to be inserted at appropriate places is what is told to us. A nice, light start to this emotionally heavy play!

Shernaz plays Amanda to be a high pitched, overly emotional, hysterical, disillusioned and delusional woman. She is charming in her scenes with the “Gentleman Caller”. One cannot help but to laugh at her quirkiness. Jim is very impressive as young Tom who seeks adventure in life but is trapped in mundane life with hysteric mother and a physically challenged sister, so is Amrita as a meek young Laura with many complexes about herself. Cabir, however, seemed a bit ill at ease as “the Gentleman”. I was really impressed by the performances of younger generation compared to veteran Shernaz. Both Jim and Amrita played their characters with utmost sincerity and sensitivity. They portrayed the tender bond between the siblings with strong conviction. However, none of the actors were able to make me connect with their character’s story.

I could rationalise each character’s behavior in my head, but I could not feel their angst, fears, anxieties, frustrations or their struggle with the circumstances they were in. I could not relate to Laura’s connection with the Glass Menagerie or Tom’s struggle to break free from his dysfunctional family or Amanda’s accusations against Tom out of her so called concern for Laura. As a result Tom’s inevitable decision to get away from the family became unbelievable and came across as selfish. The play did not evoke helplessness of loneliness and lost love as it was meant to be.


November, 2013


CLUB DESIRE
by Priti Bakalkar



I had great expectations when I booked my ticket for Club Desire. Firstly, because it’s directed by Sunil Shanbag, secondly it is supposed to be an adaptation of French Opera Carmen and thirdly it was a NCPA production. I was expecting a grand show- good performances and high production values. But at the end of the show there was a lot to be desired.




This adaption of Carmen has a poet Jayam who knows about 8 different languages, Chahat, a free spirited singer at Club Desire, Abeer, a DJ who newly joins Club Desire and the owner of the Club Desire. 



Jayam falls for Chahat who also responds to him. While their affair is going strong, there’s entry of a third person, DJ Abeer, whom the club owner brings in to attract more customers. Chahat, though initially has altercations with Abeer, ultimately gets along with him (read that gets attracted to him). Jayam starts getting possessive as he watches Chahat and Abeer tuning well with each other which finally leads to him killing Chahat.



The story in itself has a lot of conflict and drama which unfortunately has not been tapped in by the script writer. As a result all the characters appear frivolous. The audience neither can connect with their stories nor can empathize with the situations the characters are in.



Club Desire being a musical, the least one could expect is good music and the club singer to be a good singer! But, I was disappointed on this front too. The songs were forgettable. Manasi Parekh as the lead singer was unable to leave a mark. For some reason, throughout the play her presence was forced and rigid. Faisal Rashid and Karan Pandit (who otherwise are fine actors) also seemed to have taken a cue from her and they too just glided in and out of the stage. Karan tried to bring in some energy on the stage with his effervescent character, but he could not maintain it for very long. The so called conflict was so pretentious and fake that the audience instead of sympathizing with the characters was actually laughing at them. The only two characters who had grounding in this play were club owner played by Gagan Dev Riar and the aspiring writer played by Ankur Ratan. But their roles were too small to salvage the situation. Before I forget, I must mention the band, which played at the club- they were quite good.



As I said earlier, this being a production of NCPA, I expected high productions values. The set had much to be desired. The biggest eye sore on the stage was the empty alcohol bottles lined up on the bar. Even if the club is going in losses, it cannot have all the bottles at the bar empty! While all the male characters were aptly dressed, Chahat could have had better costumes. Her costumes did not complement her fire brand persona.



I wonder why Sunil Shanbag who has earlier given us fantastic plays like Cotton 56, Polyester 84, S*x M*rality & Cens*rship, Walking to the Sun; decided to do this half-baked product.  I really hope after the run of initial shows, the performance will get tighter and better as when I watched, I thought there was a lot be desired at this club.
 


October, 2013
A PEASANT OF EL SALVADOR
by Aishwarya Mahesh



Why do we go to the theatre to watch a play?
      a)    Because the idea and experience of a live performance is enthralling
      b)    For a few laughs
      c)    To be moved

QTP’s adaptation of A Peasant of El Salvador does all of the above. Originally a two-man piece by playwrights Peter Gould and Stephen Stearns, the version that premiered at Prithvi last month comprises of a three member cast. The play traces the events that led to the Salvadoran civil war of the 80s, from the eyes of a peasant Jesus (pronounced “Haysoos”). The three actors take turns as storytellers; at any given point one of them is playing Jesus while the other two narrate his story. They exchange roles in quick succession, a visual delight that they create seamlessly by passing around a fedora among themselves; the one wearing the hat is Jesus.

Jesus is a farmer living in the town of San Pedro El Pacifico with his wife and four children. He is a pious man who leads a simple life growing corn on his plot of land and providing for his family. However, as the government begins to substitute the staple crops of corn and bean with cash crops such as coffee and sugarcane to cater to the capitalists back in the States, Jesus’s family is forced into dire straits. He loses his youngest son, and later his pregnant wife and unborn child, to starvation. His daughter who sets out to join the nuns is raped and murdered. His eldest son who goes in search of his daughter is brutalized by the police. His other son who volunteers to lead the village, is tortured, so as to set an example for anyone daring to participate in the election process.

You’d think that all of this would test the faith of a man, or at least unleash the rebel in him. But no, not Jesus; it only makes him pray more fervently to his namesake. The actors describe one gruesome episode after another without meandering into histrionics and over dramatizing the injustice of the situation. The grimness of their delivery produces a powerful impact. The play concludes with the funeral procession of Archbishop Oscaro Romero, one among the many historical events that marked the onset of the civil war. It is also the catalyst that gives Jesus the strength to fight back against the system that has put him through a life of unrelenting suffering.

A recurring feature of director Quasar’s plays is the symbolism that he brings in with his sets and props. It was the scarves, shawls and knickknacks in So Many Socks, depicting aspects of the Tibetan way of life and the struggle of a refugee. In this play, he uses a set of wooden crates to produce the set and create some of the sound effects as well. Swift transitions transform the crates to a coffin, a prison cell, corpses of the nuns, guns and so much more. A carpet spread on the floor becomes the piece of land tilled by Jesus. The confiscation of the land is shown simply by rolling up the carpet and putting it away - a memorable scene.



While the play begins with a disclaimer that any resemblance to India is purely coincidental, there are many scenes that resonate with situations from our post-independence era. The scene at the airport where the politicos welcome the North Americans, brought to mind our own politicians wooing Dow Chemicals before the Bhopal gas tragedy.  We have had many a political rally akin to the press conference scene in the U.S where facts are distorted and anybody who is not from the government is branded a terrorist. And lastly, one could not help thinking about the economics behind our rocketing petrol prices when the actors explained how black bean prices were hiked up by 200% in Central America.

Watching A Peasant was like sitting through a history-cum-economics class in school, but not the kind that lulls you into a stupor. This class had three animated teachers who teleported you back in time with their energy and body language. This is why, even if they faltered for a split second, it shattered the adobe brick buildings and stucco mansions that they had built solely on the conviction of their dialogues. While they may have recomposed quickly, it took a little longer for me as an audience to come back to San Pedro.

Having a female member in the cast to portray a male lead brought in an interesting dynamic; Meher Acharia Dar was so convincing in her portrayal of Jesus that her gender faded into the background of her performance.  All three characters spoke fluent Spanish (validated by a Spanish teacher friend who saw the play with me) and switched adeptly between Spanish, English and colloquial Hindi, while throwing in bits of singing and guitar playing. Who would have thought that emotions would resonate so much more when conveyed in a language close to the heart! Music of course, is a language, through which sentiments are best understood, and A Peasant of El Salvador uses it in good measure to achieve this; Suhaas Ahuja’s voice was particularly haunting.

Movies get rated out of 5 stars. Plays I think should be scored out of a hundred; fifty percent weightage to the direction and fifty percent weightage to the cast. And a bonus twenty points when it comes alive by way of exemplary lighting. A Peasant is one of those plays that get those bonus twenty points for sure. The beauty of its light design and execution lies in the fact that it renders itself as a tool, much like a piece of set or prop, aiding the actors in making a scene complete.

Three actors, three languages, one riveting story; A Peasant of El Salvador is a theatrical experience that combines effectively the forms of lecture, demonstration and storytelling. A little care from the cast to ensure that the illusion remains unbroken however is imperative.



September, 2013


AN INCIDENT AT THE BORDER
by Aishwarya Mahesh


The director of this play, Himanshu Sitlani often makes fun of the fact that I like EVERY play that I watch. That’s not true. I can think of at least two plays that I thoroughly disliked. But fortunately for him, An Incident At The Border is not one of them.


Set in a fictional country that has just been partitioned, the play is a satire on the government, romance, relationships, careers, well, pretty much everything that makes up our world.
Arthur likes ducks and Olivia wants to be involved. The play opens with the pair romancing in a park, seemingly quotidian, but out comes a policeman with a cordon, drawing a border right in between them. The lovers are now in different countries and a crossover would mean an international incident. As the play unfolds, the candy-floss romance between the lead pair falls apart revealing a plethora of issues that were brushed under the carpet. Olivia’s domineering control-freak temperament reaches full throttle, as does Arthur’s commitment phobic evasiveness. Crossing the border would mean relinquishing power, and predictably, the two reach an impasse.

While the lovers quarrel on one side, there is a sub-plot which involves the policeman Reiver and his equation with his boss George (with whom he communicates through a walkie-talkie). Reiver portrays the role of a “conventional” employee; he follows instructions mindlessly, approaches his work mechanically and is not emotionally evolved enough to desire a greater purpose of life. He feels no need to question the system and is content where he is. His single minded goal is to ensure that neither lover crosses the border.


Against this backdrop, the cordon serves beautifully as a metaphor, standing for many things including societal shackles, bureaucracy and archaic rules that define how a relationship should work.

Kieran Lynn’s writing however is unexciting for the most part, relying on hackneyed humour to provide relief; a guard contacting his superior to take permission for eating fudge, does not a joke make. Nor do Olivia’s erroneous takes of well-known proverbs. The play’s triumph lies in its universality, audiences across borders should be able to relate to it, the characters as well as the conflicts. But in order to achieve this, the writer has diluted the essence of the play, with the result that it has no single striking feature, save the metaphoric border line.

The entire play is set in a park, which was recreated effectively by a lone bench. And the lighting and sound were simplistic and complemented the action well. But I had a peculiar experience with this play. I am sure I have seen at least 20 plays in Prithvi, both on weekends and weekdays, but for the first time, the sound of the flute from the café could be distinctively heard inside the auditorium. It ruined the experience for me slightly; loud incessant Indian music interfering with the dialogues.


Divyang Thakkar as the traumatized boyfriend is adorable and endearing, while Dhruv Lohumi as the border policeman manages successfully to keep the conversations with his unseen boss George from becoming irksome (though I wasn’t entirely convinced about the working of the walkie-talkie). The three protagonists play stereotypes that we all know and probably have been at some point in our lives, but Olivia as the overbearing control freak girlfriend failed to impress. Stereotypes can be convincing and enjoyable. A fine example is Shikha Talsania who played multiple stereotypes in Internal Affairs with such flair and panache that the names of each of her characters are permanently etched in my memory. Divya Unni’s Olivia however struck me as laidback and not credible.

Coming back to An Incident at the border, the play was engrossing to the extent that I was keen to know how it would end; who would cross over, the girl or the boy? Was someone going to die? Would Olivia hook up with Reiver? Each of these endings had a larger moral implication, and I was personally rooting for them to part ways so that we’d have a non-clichéd, non-bizarre, non-tragic and progressive conclusion. I cannot reveal if I was disappointed or pleased, without giving out spoilers, will let you watch the play and figure out.
 

August, 2013


BOMBAY TALKIES
by Abhishek Purohit


Do you read the name of a play, and form expectations in your mind about what it might reveal to you? If, by reading the Bombay in Bombay Talkies, you expected deep insights about the megacity, you will be somewhat disappointed. For, at least three of the seven monologues that make up Vikram Kapadia’s play have absolutely no connection to Bombay. They are stories of commonplace people that could just as easily happen in any other city. The professionally prosperous but lonely, divorced mother, the cynical television reporter who rediscovers the meaning of life, the creative housewife stifled by a rich, overbearing husband. The remaining four have the characters speaking about their experiences that can be said to contain some Bombay flavor. The Bollywood child star struggling to accept lack of success as an adult, the corporate executive from Versova who talks about his bittersweet childhood in Bandra, the Gujarati young man on his way to USA remembering his Navratri escapades and the connected middleman who ironically labours through the bureaucracy to get his passport renewed the honest way.




The middleman is the loudest and the most vibrant of the seven acts. Just before the interval, Darshan Zariwala brings the agent alive in a performance that has the audience in splits with its situational humour and one-liners. Here’s a man who has arranged so many deals for so many clients with so many politicians and officials, but to make peace with his mistress, agrees to take the normal route for once. Without paying a bribe. And then begin multiple rounds of multiple government offices. And Zariwala rails and rails against the establishment, climaxing into a passionate appeal to anti-corruption crusaders to approach him when the system does not work. The act is rather too long, though, and it is only Zariwala’s overpowering energy that carries it through.



Not only Rasika Duggal’s words, but her entire being conveys the veiled frustration of the once-famous child star, who is too haughty to go begging for roles. She recalls a proud past, scoffs at those who compromise for roles in the present and peers at an uncertain future, which could have her giving in to the casting couch as well. Her increasingly feeble attempts at hiding her pain and her wavering sense of importance portray a touching vulnerability. Duggal sets high standards in the play’s opening act, and you have to wait till Zariwala strides in for the bar to be raised again.



Dilnaz Irani makes a valiant effort of trying to depict the artistically suffocated wife, taunted and ridiculed by her husband at every opportunity. She’s still not lost hope, some fire still burns within, but hesitation has enveloped her. But you are never moved enough to feel for her the way you do for the actress; the character flattens out and becomes repetitive.



Viraf Patel takes us through a boy’s years in Bandra. He slowly discovers and learns the truth about sex, playfully from friends, painfully from a neighbor who abuses him. While you empathise with the boy, you do start to wonder at times how his story relates specifically to Bombay – a result of the play’s name again, absolutely nothing against the character – when Zariwala arrives next and delivers an inescapable connection.



Anahita Uberoi pulls off the part of the successful, sensuous, divorced mother, who scares off prospective suitors with the mere mention of two kids, with lots of elegance. The character retains the elegant confidence throughout, though, and as a result, the emotion of loneliness seldom manages to break through.



Namit Das, with the half-innocent look of youth, regales with tales of dalliances with girls during Navratri but the sudden serious turn towards the end appears clichéd. Devika Shahani-Punjabi’s character is the most hackneyed, her quick conversion from the breaking-news-chasing journalist to an optimist valuing the small joys of life highlighting the limitations of the short monologue.



The set is minimalistic, a painted view of Bombay’s landmarks behind scaffolding, an apt metaphor perhaps for a city that is perennially under construction and still retains its character. Expect minimal connection with the city from some of the characters of Bombay Talkies, and the play won’t disappoint you.
 


July, 2013


THE BIG FAT CITY
by Priti Bakalkar



The city of Mumbai is like a bewitching lady. It attracts anybody and everybody. For some it is mayanagari, for others it city that never sleeps, for Mahesh Dattani, it is The Big Fat City, may be his comment on the materialism of the city, as he presents it in his latest play. Apparently, the play is inspired by experiences of his days in Mumbai suburbs.


The Big Fat City, is a story of a couple who has acquired a flat in Mumbai taking a loan from some Bank. They are lagging behind in their repayment schedule and to add to the misery the husband has been sacked from his job. They are now looking to the Banker friend of the husband, and hoping that using his influence they will transfer the loan to his Bank and get rid of the present Bank’s demands for loan installments. The play revolves around the events that happen on that evening and what follows from those events.



The playwright (who also is the Director of the play) has touched upon plethora of serious issues in the play Eg. lifestyle related problems of the urban couples,  problems faced by single women in getting accommodation in the city, drugs, alcoholism, shortlived stardom of TV actors and Khap Panchayats!!! Despite that the play is not emotion heavy. In fact most of the time it tickles the funny bone of the audiences, making it a black comedy. But each issue is handled so superficially that it takes away its seriousness almost to the border of mockery.


None of the performances were impressive. The only two characters I enjoyed were the wannabe starlet and her boyfriend played by Sonal Joshi & Aadar Malik. I quite liked the set design. It gave a sense of different parts of the house which complemented the action in this play. 


The play is funny (despite the cliché jokes), has a pace but I feel it could be snipped at a number of places to make it tighter and give the edge to it.


 

June, 2013


SARASWATI'S WAY
by Priti Bakalkar

Saraswati’s Way, which is Akvarious' latest play for children deals with a bunch of very important issues relating to children. Right to education for children, child labour, crime involvement of children to name a few.

It is a simple story of a young intelligent boy named Akash from Rajasthan. He is expert in crunching numbers. He is looked upon as abnormal by his classmates as he loves Maths, and I quite relate to that sentiment. Who says "I love maths!”. However, he is from a very poor family and despite his father’s strong will to give him the best education, he has to ultimately leave school and start working in a stone quarry to repay the loans that his father had taken during his lifetime for Akash’s education etc. In a few days of working in the quarry, Akash realizes that the owner of the quarry is cheating on the accounts and never intends to clear the debts of anyone and so he runs away and reaches Delhi. Here he meets a gang of urchins on Delhi station and starts staying with them. Despite all the twists and turns he manages to achieve his goal of getting into a school and continue with his education. During this journey he meets various people. His simplicity leaves a mark on others lives, so much so that the leader of the station gang realizes the futility of his way of life and decides to go back to his village to help his family.

Like all previous children’s plays of Akvarious, in this play too adults play the part of children. All of them play multiple characters except Akash. There is a lot of song and dance and a happy ending, essentially a successful mix for a children’s play. The children were giggling whenever there was any physical humor.


Basically, nothing to complain for the director/ producer of the play. But as a viewer (read that an adult viewer) I had a lot to complain about. The whole approach was too simplistic. There are lot of twists and turns in the script but they are not seen in the execution on the stage. As also, the target age group as I remember was children of 4yrs -7 yrs. I wonder how much of the plot they understood and what moral of the story they took home besides the song and dance.

I failed to understand use of old Bollywood movie songs or dialogues. It was difficult even for me to relate to some of these movie references, wonder how much these kids understood. Yes, they laughed through the action scenes but at the end whether they comprehended the essence of Akash’s story, is a question that haunts me. Second grouse is that I have is that all the characters were too much at ease. There was no conflict at all. But all these questions are posed by an adult mind.

All said and done, it is a play for children and if the children enjoyed the action on the stage and went back with a smile on their face, the objective is achieved.   


May, 2013


NOSTALGIA BRAND CHEWING GUM
                                                                                                                     - Akash Mohimen

Nostalgia Brand Chewing Gum, as absurd as the name sounds, is a very urban play, dealing with modern relationships, ex lovers' rivalry and jealousy among friends.

Adil, played by Tariq Vasudeva, a highly skeptical and analytical man, is still recovering from a break up with Natasha, played by Freishia B. She is cold and dominating, and has moved on since the break up and is now in a relationship with Adil's ex roommate, Bob, played by Siddhant Karnick. Bob is the quintessential hunk, all muscles and no brain. And thrown into the midst of this weird triangle Pythagoras would have been ashamed of is Kara, by Kallirroi Tziafeta, the owner of a Greek restaurant, and more importantly, Adil's boss. 


The play takes place over an evening when Natasha, invites Adil over for dinner, where she hopes to break the news to him that she is dating Bob. But Adil has his own plans to make Natasha jealous and brings along Kara. What follows is an evening of misunderstandings, interspersed with monologues by Natasha and Adil, and some of those typical awkward moments of silences which if pulled off convincingly, can be hilarious. Needless to say, the cast does pull it off.

Nostalgia Brand Chewing Gum is originally a play by American playwright, Eric Gordon. The text has very typical jokes and one liners we have come to associate with urban relationship comedies. Director Vivek Madan does a decent job and manages keeps the text quite relatable to the Indian audience, and for most parts you are definitely invested in the play.

In the cast, Tariq Vasudeva is his usual brilliant self, and pulls off the insecure and jealous ex-boyfriend with effortless ease. Freishia's portrayal of the dominating Natasha is convincing and one can see she does wears the pants in the relationship. Siddhant Karnick pops out as a surprise package, with the slightly low on IQ Bob. He displays a great sense of comic timing, some of it which even Matt Le Blanc would have been proud of. Kallirroi however seemed the weakest link in the cast, as she was a bit lost and seemed to be having an off day.

Overall, Nostalgia Brand Chewing Gum is surely an enjoyable watch. It definitely provides you with a good share of laughs and if you have had your share of relationships, you might even relate to some of the conflicts of the characters. 




April, 2013


UNSELFED
- Priti Bakalkar
How would I know if you were made for the size of my body? 

That is the underlying theme of ShapeShift’s devised performance Unselfed. 



A lot of buzz had been created by ShapeShift and the Company Theatre for this devised performance “Unselfed” over last few months. So, a curious me had to brave all the way to Prithvi Theatre on a Sunday morning. What I did not consider but would like anyone who wants to watch Unselfed, is to consider that it is not a “play”. It is a devised “performance” with no specific story line. It has a theme/ concept/ idea which is the backbone of this performance but there is no storyline to follow. 

Unselfed explores subjective ideas and propositions of multiple selves and experiences of being trapped in a body which one cannot identify with; dissatisfaction about self and the endless search of better body, better mind and a better life. But the quest does not end despite finding what one has been looking for. In fact, finding answers puts one in further dilemma. 

As the performance began, I was intrigued by the set design. It was minimalistic set up but use of props such as a door frame was very interesting and effective to convey the divide between self and unself. The whole premise caught my interest and I looked forward to performance to move forward. But, once the idea of self/ unself, the dissatisfaction with one’s self and quest for finding something or someone to identify with was conveyed, the performance became repetitive without injecting any new idea or energy. It made the performance stagnant; contrary to the vision of the director “to take the audience on a journey to explore the non-stories that were being told through visual- physical segments”.



What I liked most in the 80 minutes long performance was use of Russian dolls and layers of clothing to convey multiple layers of human personality and shedding of one’s inhibitions. Once you shed all your inhibitions / masks what you are exposed to is your true self but the question is whether you are strong enough to face your true self? The search is endless but does the performance have to be? To me, it took away the strength and poignancy of the theme.

The light and sound design created a hallucinating effect which complemented the theme; but at times the dark setting did not give access to emotional expression of the performers to the audience rendering the experience incomplete.

As a result the performance failed to have full attention of the audience. I dozed off a number of times but just out of respect to the efforts put in by the performers I kept myself awake.

Personally I did not enjoy the performance, but I really admire the enormous efforts put in by all the performers and the entire team involved in this experimental performance. I truly feel that if the length of the performance is shortened it might be a very effective performance.



March, 2013

GASHA

                                                                                 By - Akash Mohimen


The moment one hears that there is a play on Kashmir, the first imagery that runs into our heads is that of violence and militancy. And while Gasha does touch upon these topics, it remains a very personal tale of friendship and innocence. 


Gasha is Abhishek Majumdar's third part of what has now become a 'Kashmir Trilogy'. But unlike Rizwan and Djinns of Eidgah, this is a tale of the almost forgotten adversities faced by Kashmiri Pandits, who had to flee the valley during the rise of militancy during the late 80's. But having said that, Gasha remains quite similar to its predecessors, as it tells the tale through the innocent eyes of children.


During the 80’s two friends, a Pandit and a Muslim, use their imaginations to play and build their own world. They dream of travelling to Africa in flying balloons and build tents where no adults would be allowed inside. But their world is hit by a jarring reality when extremism starts seeping into the social mindset of the Muslim community. What follows is the loss of innocence, rise of fear and the situation which tests the friendship of two 12 year olds.


Irawati tells most of the story in the non linear format with a now grown up Gasha visiting his homeland after 20 years of having stayed away from the conflict, and the events come back to him as he visits the places of his childhood. Her language is brilliantly witty, comfortably simple and gives each character a sense of individuality and history. 


Majumdar devised major parts of the play, and it works brilliantly. One can see that he has given a lot of room for improvisation. Payal Wadhwa’s design of using suitcases gives you an idea of a life constantly shifting. 


But the icing, the chocolate sauce, the sprinkling of nuts and the cherry on this entire presentation, are the performances of the 2 actors. One would think that a play which covers such an important part of Indian history, it would be difficult to keep the audiences engaged with just cast members. But Adhir Bhat and Sandeep Shikhar put up one of the finest performances to be seen on stage.


They effortlessly slip into the multiple characters, be it 12 year old boys, 80 year old grandmother or even the middle aged caretaker of a temple. They feed off each other’s energy and talent and create some amazing intimate moments. Neither outshines the other, and it is their chemistry which holds the play together. Adhir, a Kashmiri Pandit himself, brings in the odd Kashmiri couplet and song, and with it pulling the audience into that world. 


In the end, Gasha is a truly enjoyable piece of drama. It will make you laugh out loud, it will make you gasp in shock, it will pull at your heart strings, but most importantly, without you knowing, it will ask you questions, about our politics, about our society and about our very humanity. 

February, 2013



                                    Death of a Salesman 
- Priti Bakalkar
    
I have strict allergy to the Republic Day weekends due to these so called mega sales all around the city. As far as possible, as a rule I stay home bound. But this year I had two strong temptations. One, on the republic day itself- Bhamasha, a Hindi play and other on the Sunday -Death of a Salesman!My allergies to crowds won over the temptation of Bhamasha. But Death of a Salesman was too tempting to resist. I somehow managed to push myself to step out of home to reach Andrews Auditorium on the Sunday.    
Death of a Salesman is a winner of Pulitzer Prize and 12 Tony Awards among many others. It is one of the greatest modern plays ever written, by Arthur Miller. This particular production is directed by Alyque Padamsee.
For those who are not aware of story, Death of a Salesman is the story of Willy Loman (Alyque Padamsee) who is in his late sixties. He is a salesman and has been doing road trips between New York and Boston all his life to get some business to earn his commission. His family consists of wife Linda (Sabira Merchant) and two sons Biff (Neel Tolani) and Happy (Jim Sarbh). He has been working hard all his life to pay off his home loan. Willy has unrealistic expectations from his sons, especially his elder son Biff, who he feels has a great potential to make it big. However, Biff has his own plans and as a result though both these men admire each other, there is a great tension between them. Biff is back in town from Texas and the whole family is expecting him stay there and start a new life with rest of the family. The story revolves around these characters and their present and past relationships with each other. It is a gripping love and hate story of this family. A sad commentary on the deteriorating family values of American society back then.         
The story goes through a lot of twists and turns and leaves us introspecting on perspective of each of the character. One would like to take sides but each of the character is so human and right in his/her own way that one cannot blame any particular character for the way things turn out for the family.
It was a treat to watch these two veterans playing the central characters of Willy and Linda. Alyque and Sabira were so much at ease with each other and they have a fantastic tuning. Their conversations are so real. The play shows their journey from younger days to the old age. It is delightful to watch the change in their body language as we see their journey.
The audience is captivated right from Willy’s entry with two heavy bags under flashing neon lights as if to mark his road journey. Willy’s body language projects his weariness and frustration out of driving down the same roads all his life. Alyque wonderfully portrays all shades of Willy’s character, be it proud father of young Beef, his frustration out of Beef’s failure to meet his expectations, a tired family head, a guilty father or a caring husband. Sabira complements his performance in portraying a dutiful wife, a loving mother and a strong home maker with an authority. She admonishes her children when they fail to understand their father’s point of view and reasons with her husband to make him see the views of their children. Neel and Jim support the performance of these two strong performers very well. They bring out the warmth in the relationship of two brothers, though their first scene appeared a bit fake to me.But slowly they warmed up and it was great to watch all the four as a family going through a bad patch but still holding on or trying to hold on. That is why we feel the blow when Willy kills himself. I felt a lump in my throat when Linda reveals that she made the last payment on their house that day and they really owned it now and breaks down as she says "we’re free".
It was a wonderfully crafted production presented by Raëll Padamsee of ACE Productions. The unique special effects were designed by Alyque Padamsee (the man wears too many hats and so effectively at that).
It was a fantastic evening and I am glad that I made exception to my rule to witness this amazing performance.   



January, 2013


Diary of a Word 
- Priti Bakalkar


D'uwnt 2 ctch dry o' wrd @ ncpa dis sat

All those of you who could decipher this coded message must watch "Diary of a Word", especially if you are somewhere in your early twenties and are not aware of existence of vowels and punctuation marks!

Diary of a Word or How I proposed my Second Husband on the 321st Floor has two simultaneous stories taking place in the play. One about the possible love story between two not so young people who have had their share of failed relationships and the other story is about the strange and mysteriousbehavior of the words all over the world and sudden, inexplicable disappearance of ancient language scholars.

The play uses story in a story format. These stories are narrated at two levels: one at conscious level of reality and other one at their subconscious level of thought process or their distant memories. The story takes place on the 321st floor of a building which is supposed to be a super special, highly protected place for guarding written text.

It is a bizarre idea that the words need security and first of all how do you protect words. They do not have physical presence so that they can be protected.

This80 minutes odd long play tells ushow andwhy the words need to be protected.

Today with the help of various scientific inventions human race has progressed from being a caveman to the man of today. There are various means and methods of communication available but there is very little communication between people. The older ways of society when the entire village used to come together in the evening to share affairs of the day; when they used have communal dinners and cultural programs. From joint families we became nuclear families and from nuclear families now we are becoming solitary families. As a result of which the exchange or handing over traditions and cultural heritage is a thing of past. The worst is we do not even think there is something amiss. With more and more scientific inventions we are doing away with languages. Soon there will be a time when we will be back in the shoes of a caveman albeit a technically advanced caveman who has no words to communicate because the languages would have been dead due to non-usage.

Ramu Ramanathan has chosen humor as medium to deal with this seemingly trivial issue yetsomething that would have a far reaching effect on human civilisations in future. He has dealt with this unusual love story very delicately and sensitively.Yes, it is a love story but it is not a regular run of the mill love story. It is a love story of two adults who are passionately in love with words and how their affair with words/ languages brings them together. Despite the tender treatment, it hits us hard.

ZafarKarachiwala and Ahlam Khan Karachiwala play their characters with absolute ease. While Zafaris neurotic conservator/ protector of words, Ahlam is a playful yet mature and passionate language scholar. She is the last hope of Zafar and “them” to solve the mystery of strange behavior of word and avoid embarrassment that a prospective Indian delegate might face at a certain conference that is to take place in Stockholm. While Zafartries to convince her of the gravity of the situation they discuss how languages are dying and how in certain parts of the world, how death of an older member of a tribe means extinction of a language or a tradition because there is nobody to take it forward. How languages of more powerful overpower dialects or how world politics has played a great role in extinction of some of the languages and cultures. At no point this discussion became preachy or sounded like a lecture. It was as easy as a conversation between two friends sitting by a fireplace on a cold winter night. Every word, every moment of it was captivating and thought provoking and all with a dash of humor.After a long time I had satisfaction of watching a good, refreshing and yet intense performance.

Last but not the least, a special mention for the entire production team! Everything, be it set design or light design or sound or A/V projections; everything was just perfect. I loved the effects on insects running over glass wall on the 321st floor. It was a very beautiful effect in a very creepy way!

Diary of a word is a must watch for every person who can speak, read, write and comprehend.Others can start taking course in “gibberish”!


December, 2012


The 14th Tale
- Priti Bakalkar

This November has been an eventful month. The month started with a bang with the third edition of Tata Literature Live Mumbai LitFest 2012. The festival presented a few really wonderful performances. One such performance was one man show by extremely talented Nigerian Poet Inua Ellaham, now settled in London.
The 14thTale, is richly layered, fluid story with vivid imageryabout family, friendship and love life of a born prankster. It is about his journey from boyhood to adulthood from narrow lanes of Nigeria to the streets of London via the alleys of Dublin.It is funny. It is humorous. It is poignant. It is tender. It is lyrical. It is, as Inua says, “poetry in long form”.
When Inua dressed in a white T-shirt splattered with red paint (which looked like blood stains) told us “I’m from a long line of trouble makers, of ash-skinned Africans, born with clenched fists and a natural thirst for battle, only quenched by breast milk.”, we fastened our seat belts and got ready for a turbulent ride.
Inua took us through a series of his insane misdemeanors at various stages of his life. In his long list of trouble making stories he told us hilarious stories about the revenge on a school bully who was responsible for hurting his best friend, using toothpaste and when he and his friends were chased by outraged nuns for “doodling on the wall with his doodle”;and of course, the most ingenious idea of unscrewing the showerhead in ex-girlfriend’s bathroom and to fill it with red paint and getting caught in the act. And how can one forget the jubilation when he came to know that the teachers do not use a cane on students in Dublin! The expression on Inua’s face and change in the body language when he says, “teachers don’t have a cane!!”, it was simply priceless and absolutely endearing. But this prankster too had a tender side. We were all moved when he told us "Boys should never see their fathers fall, it upturns worlds and steals words...", while narrating the times when his father had suffered a serious attack of stroke. We all felt his pain and helplessness in watching his father lying limp in cold hospital bed. He brought the beautiful relationship between the father and son to life for us.
All these anecdotes were woven as memories while Inua was waiting impatiently in the hospital waiting room anxious about condition of his father who always ignored his pranks with a remark “It’s ok. His time will come”. In those anxious moments he recalledthe lifetime journey of prankster Inua who perished to be born as a mature young man in that waiting room.
For all its hilarity, The 14th Tale is a commentary on mortality and change, on the sudden transition from childhood into adulthood and when that happens, suddenly "trouble" means something different from being in danger of getting punished for childish mischief-making. It is something more grave and responsible. It was a beautifully crafted, simple, narrative performance.
Inua created his whole world for us by using just one chair as prop in the backdrop of graffiti mapping his journey from Nigeria to London. He was such a natural performer and had completely easy presence on the stage with an expressive physicality in recreating various characters that touched his life. The 55 minutes of his beautifully modulated performance, complemented by wonderful lighting were totally captivating. A real gem presented by the festival!

November, 2012


Unsettling Stones
- Priti Bakalkar        


It has been a while since I have watched a theatrical performance in a totally unknown language. The last play that I watched in a foreign language had a known storyline and was with subtitles. So when I came to know about the Grass Stage Production’s performance of Unsettling Stone which was in Mandarin, I was little sceptical about it. Then I thought to myself that I will read the monologues excerpt before the show and I will manage it. Eventually, I could not read up the excerpt before the performance!!

Unsettling Stone is a collection of five monologues, directed by Chinese Director Zhao Chuan and was performed by Wu Meng, Yu Kai, Fengzi. The monologues talk about what it means to a common man to be in a society under rule of law, the reference is particularly to the Chinese political scenario.     

The monologues touch upon very poignant issues in today’s society. One of the monologues dealt with how a common man feels about the security checks that are conducted at various places, how s/he feels about being frisked and having his bags checked by the guards at various points every day and how this makes him/ her feel humiliated about it. Other monologues dealt with freedom of expression, oppression of civil r
ights by authorities. The performance raises a very interesting question whether it is appropriate to turn to violence to retaliate against the feeling of unrest and/ or helplessness.

To be honest, for a better part of the performance, I could not completely understand what the monologue/ performance was about. There were times when I would feel I have got a grip on the storyline and suddenly very next moment I would lose it. The language did play a great barrier in understanding what was being conveyed, especially because these were monologues and also because there was no interaction between the performers in some of the monologues. 

However, towards the end as there were lesser spoken words and more interaction between the performers it was easier to understand what was being conveyed. As a result, the last monologue which had no words became very intense for me due to the powerful performance of the actors. Their portrayal of abuse of powers by the authorities against the citizens was very effective. This piece was followed by a monologue in English by Siddhant Karnic which summed up the Mandarin monologues and suddenly every previous action got connected and I could see a complete picture, which of course was not a pretty picture. It was nauseating and repulsive, an ugly picture showing violation of basic human rights.        

The performance was unsettling in many ways. The format and form of presentation was quite unusual. Eg. The first monologue was performed completely off stage in partial blackout with a completely bare stage. Then we had a naked man on the stage (well, almost naked as he wore just the bare essentials) speaking in Mandarin with a radio playing Hindi songs in the background. In another monologue a female performer was pleasuring herself to mechanical vibrations. To me some of the action was disturbing mainly because I did not get the relevance of the action at that point of time.  However, as I said earlier, the moment I could connect the dots, suddenly the whole performance lifted.

I would not say that it was a captivating performance but it definitely was unusual, unconventional, unsettling and far from uninteresting performance. 


October, 2012


So Many Socks
- MEHERNOSH BHARUCHA


In the strum and drang of of our prevalent nonsensical political world with an essentially dead-in-the-water foreign policy, an issue that has been silenced is that of political refugees, be they Kashmiri Pandits or Tibetans, banished from their homelands. Quasar Thakore Padamsee has bravely and mesmerisingly brought to the stage the physical and emotional plight of exiled Tibetans with "SO MANY SOCKS".
Inspired by "Kora", the book of poems by Tenzin Tsundue, Quasar has worked on a script brilliantly penned by Annie Zaidi in a non-linear narrative format, which, to Zaidi's great credit,never loses coherence and is tautly knit. The concerns of the script, viz the homelessnes of the exilees, how they are perceived in the world they make their alternate homes in, their socio-economic reality are evocatively brought to life by Amey Mehta's movement choreography that has been seamlessly incorporated into this production, aided by the wizard-at-lights, Arghya Lahiri.
The play centres around Tashi, his friends, his mother Ama and grandmother Momo. Tashi is the living embodiment of a fact stated in the program note, that he is an India-born third generation Tibetan-in-exile, who has never seen his homeland. Tashi and friends attempt organising protests/rallies and media coverage thereof to draw attention to their plight, and another couple gets introduced into the exilee world, who, along with fellow others, have no answer to the question "How long will you be here ?" Tashi's Momo gets rendered comatose by a bullet going thru her skull.
The fractured narrative searingly journeys between the present and the past, bringing to life Tashi's infancy, his closeness to Momo, the rift between Ama and Momo and the how and why of Momo getting bullet-ridden. Yet, the script allows for a light moment or two, as during the romantic interlude for Ama and the question "What should we eat ?''  "Chinese ?"
I have to single out Siddhant Karnick (horseman, pa) as the FIND of this production. He displayed amazing fluidity and precision in his movements. And the suicide scene enacted by him ? H-A-R-R-O-W-I-N-G !
Also turning in impressive performances are Abhishek Saha as Tashi and Padma Damodaran as Momo.
I shall conclude on a three-fold note :
(1) At a future show of SO MANY SOCKS, there ought to be a post-performance Q & A  with its cast, writer, movement director and Quasar. (yes ! I shall be in the audience for it.)
(2) This Quasar-Zaidi-Amey Mehta collaboration is worth going miles to experience, and, though just a few shows old as I key this in, should be counted as a landmark in the history of QTP. In fact, I rate "SO MANY SOCKS" as highly as I do Quasar's directorial work in Arthur Miller's "ALL MY SONS" and Diane Samuels' "KINDER-TRANSPORT".
(3) I hope and pray that "SO MANY SOCKS" is offered for nominations at the next edition of the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards .... and comes back with So Many WINS !
September, 2012



Pereira’s Bakery at 76 Chapel Road
- Priti Bakalkar

I had been missing watching this play since the time it opened at Writer’s Bloc festival early this year. Finally, when I watched it in July at St. Andrews (after just barely managing to reach just in time before the show started), I came to know why! It was a hint given by some supreme power to stay away. But the hints were too subtle to take and I did manage to catch the show.
As my friend Aishwarya and I we entered the auditorium of St. Andrews, the first thing I noticed was a scaffolding like structure and that there was some sweet, coconutty, chocolaty smell wafting through the air. I was impressed by the idea of using such strong flavors to create a typical bakery/ confectionery environment. I kept telling Aishwarya about it and she seemed to be completely oblivious to any such smell. We thought it might be because of her cold. But as soon as we sat on our respective seats the smell got stronger, and soon I realized that it was my dear friend’s hair spa treatment that was creating this exotic atmosphere!!
The plot is very simple. It is a story of Vincent Pereira (Hidayat Sami), a baker, in one of the villages of Bandra. Vincent runs a bakery on the ground floor of a chawl owned by one Mr. Desai. He stays on the first floor of the same chawl with his wife (Deepika Amin) and daughter (Ehlam Khan).There are other three tenants residing in the chawl. One fine day, the tenants of the chawl are informed by Mr. Desai’s son that he has decided to demolish the chawl and redevelop the property.As a result of which the tenants are asked to vacate the premises within three months. The story is about the efforts of the Pereira family alongwith their neighbors to save the chawl and Pereira’s Bakery!
There are various twists and turns in the story as the play progresses. The so called friends turn out to be traitors. There is a love story that goes sour and there is a sacrifice of potential career. Basically, all possible emotional drama associated with lives of middle class families. However, there is no exploitation of that emotional quotient by the cast though look wise they are the perfect cast for typical residents of a Bandra village.
Vincent being the central character, I expected a stronger performer playing the role. His character has multiple shades to it.  He is someone who grew up in those premises, spent his youth, saw the birth of his daughter, his bakery which is a pride of his existence is part of those premises. In other words that chawl is his whole world. However, I could not feel that sense of belonging though throughout the play he keeps saying how much that chawl and the bakery means to him.
For me, the relationship between those premises and the residents was not established and therefore I could not understand their insistence of saving the chawl rather than taking compensation from the landlord and get on with their respective lives. Because of that lacking sense of belonging, the efforts of Vincent and the gang looked as if a bunch of old retired people who have no better things to do are using this opportunity for some excitement in their usual boring routine life. Therefore, their slow withdrawal from the protest left me unmoved.
The script is quite loose and it could be tighter and lines could be crispier. Use of Sohrab’s convenient deafness to create humor is so cliché and the worse is that even the jokes are not fresh. Sohrab and Darius, are thoroughly and entertaining as cranky old men with their constant banters. But they do not fit the bill of what we call local Bandra “gaonwalas or pavwalas”. They are more like two cranky old Parsi men.  Nisha Lalvani as an aspiring contestant for a singing realityshow was like a breath of fresh air. She was boisterous, full of energy and style and youthfulness; as opposed to Ehlam’s listless characterization of a mature, responsible young woman. One can be responsible and mature and still be full of life. I could not feel her passion for the cause she was fighting for. As much I loved watching Nisha, I dreaded watching Ehlam’s character.
The only appealing thing about the play for me was the fantastic set by Vivek Jadhav and the lighting by Yael Crishna. It created the typical Bandra village feel and the look. The lighting supported various moods of the story, if only it was well complemented by the performance!
Henceforth, I am going to take the hints from the supreme powers seriously!

August, 2012



A Walk In the Woods
- Priti Bakalkar

“What is History? It is nothing but geography over a period of time.” Just think about it.I have not come across a better definition than this so far.
Lee Blessing’s “A walk in the woods” presented by Motley has many such places which make us ponder over our political views. It challenges our ideas and idealism and it compels us to introspect on our ideas on peace between the oldest rival countries viz. India and Pakistan; for that matter on the subject of World Peace.
 The original play (by the same name) is based on areal incident in the year 1982 towards the end of Cold War, when the two negotiators from USA and USSR went on an “unofficial” “walk in the woods” after their “official” Geneva session. The play is wonderfully adapted by Faisal Rashid and Randeep Hooda to the context of Indian Sub-continent situation without letting it become melodramatic at any place.
The plot is very simple. Two diplomats, Indian Diplomat Ram Chinappa (Rajit Kapur) and Pakistani Diplomat Jamaluddin Lutfullah (Nasiruddin Shah) in the middle of peace talks in Geneva take an unofficial walk in the woods trying to achieve a breakthrough in the numerous failed peace negotiations between India and Pakistan. Of course, that one walk is followed by few more walks in coming years!
Ram Chinappa,is a younger unseasoned, impatient, idealistic Diplomat whereas Jamaluddin is in the evening of his career and has been through many such negotiations. It was enjoyable to watch the banters between idealist Ram and cynical Jamaluddin. Ram’s eagerness to get and done with the job as opposed to Jamaluddin’s cynical views about the futility of the attempts at peace negotiation builds the tension and drama.
As the play progresses, the two Diplomats get familiar to each other and the initial hostility veers off. It was enjoyable to watch the journey of changing equations between these two political figures and also how their relationship with each other at a personal level would have impact on history of two countries. 
Jamaluddin, though portrays himself to be frivolous and cynical, behind that mask is hidden the rueful Jamaluddin who regrets the missed opportunities that could have changed the history of the two countries. His poignant remarks on history of the two rival countries and outlook of citizens towards weapons of mass destructions and peace talks rattle our brains. He dismisses Ram Chinappa for being naïve and believing that the discussions between them would bring peace agreement between the two rival countries but Ram persists with his steely determination.
It is a dramatic treat to watch two unlikely characters pitched against each other. The drama, in fact is more about the two very different and yet similar characters who evolve as individuals and help each other to find their self despite the circumstances they are thrown in.          

As such the play provides a wonderful opportunity to watch these wonderful two actors displaying their histrionics. I was completely in awe of Nasiruddin Shah. His performance, his mannerism, his body language and command on the space on stagewas just unbelievable. He was more than perfect, if I may say so. To watch his journey from cynical, seasoned Diplomat to caring, sentimental retiring, old man was an experience by itself. As opposed to Nasiruddin Shah’s portrayal of Jamaluddin’s character with levity and humor, Rajit Kapur’s Ram Chinappa was stiff upper lip, earnest and genuine and to an extent naïve. However, I found the portrayal of his character a bit superficial throughout the play barring at the end when he expresses his frustration to Jamaluddin. His outbursts were thoroughly enjoyable though his journey from the determined Diplomat who totally believes in his cause to someone who loses faith in his cause was not convincing.
On the technical side, I feel lighting could have played a valuable role to demonstrate changes in season and time transitions. But unfortunately the transitions were too jerky. Something had gone wrong with the gobo used for the effect of woods and in stead of giving deep woods effect, all we could see were some eerie, hideous green patches surrounding the bare tree tops painting in the background. Also, the ivory colored bench in the woods (which plays as pivotal part as the characters) could have been of a darker shade, it being subjected to elements for years.
Yet, it was a fulfilling theatrical experience on all counts. A perfect script, perfect direction and perfect performance. In other words, an perfect evening!

July, 2012


Satellite City
- Aishwarya Mahesh


Satellite City had premiered in the Writer’s Bloc festival this year and I had been kicking myself for not catching it then. So when it showed up on Prithvi’s schedule in the middle of June, I made sure I blocked my calendar; and I’m so glad I saw it. The play is as wonderfully abstract as it is real.  It follows the familiar “Crash/Love Actually” construct, giving the audience glimpses into the lives of seemingly unrelated individuals, and finally ties the knots that connect them. The characters are similar in the sense that they are all struggling – with themselves, with the industry they work in, with the city of Bombay and with each other. The pivotal characters include an actress, a content writer, a producer, a production controller, a creative head and a security guard. Shruti Vyas as the actress was par excellence as usual. What didn’t work for me though was the double up of the cast. The problem was not so much that of credibility (Shruti pulled off a very convincing Daadi) as it was of confusing the viewer. This was more so with Aseem Hattangady’s character; he plays the producer as well as the production controller’s dad. I spent most of the second half wondering why he was a jerk at the workplace and normal at home. Siddhant Karnick as the writer/Shruti’s fiancée was endearing and entertaining. His opening monologue is my favorite part of the play.
As I said before, the introductions of the various seemingly unrelated characters automatically set the stage for the audience to indulge in guesswork of how a connection might occur between them. It was possibly this intrigue that kept them engrossed through the deep and sometimes abstruse dialogues. I am fairly sure that people from the entertainment industry would have been able to relate a lot more to the trials and tribulations that the central characters experienced. To the rest of us, it was amusing and informative.
Moving on to the technical aspects of the play; creating a television viewing experience with just sound was just lovely and well executed. Oddly enough, it was these television programmes that we “saw”, the mindless saas-bahu serials that we can’t keep ourselves from watching, that make the play real. The set and lighting were minimal and adequate. And it was interesting that the characters did not change costumes throughout the course of the play, perhaps reflective of the clothes they have to don every day. Aside from a few dialogues/monologues that sort of go over your head, Irawati Karnik writes in the lingo that the regular Bombayite can relate to. This was best brought out in Tariq Vasudeva’s repartees and interactions with the security guard.
Watching Satellite City was like watching lot of little plays, some of which were completely disparate from the other. Is that a bad thing? No. But some of the audience did walk out saying “I didn’t get it”. So when you go to watch this play, don’t try to “figure” the play out, drama is not always designed for the audience to “get” something out of it.

June, 2012


Rah-e- Sabz’s Comedy of Errors
- Priti Bakalkar

In this scorching heat of May and with an excessive load at work, I needed something that did not tax my already tired brain. So when I read that The Afghan Theatre Company, Rah-e-Sabz is doing Comedy of Errors, I knew I had my antidote.
 The play was to be performed in Dari with English subtitles, and after their India tour they were heading to to the Globe Theatre, London for the “Globe to Globe Festival”, which our very own Company Theatre and Arpana are also a participating.
We all have grown up on some version of Comedy of Errors, this the story of identical twins and mistaken identity. So, I need not tell what the story is all about.
The theatre was packed to  capacity, people almost sitting in each other’s laps. A trio of musicians was playing wonderful catchy tunes of Afghani music.  A Totally Afghani mood was set and we all were excitedly waiting for the play to start. When the musicians were done they received a thunderous ovation from the audience. But then, some loud frantic, instructions exchanged between the backstage crew members from one end of the auditorium to the other end about certain entries and exits and there was a black out. And we had a taster for what was to follow
Once the play started, I found it very difficult to adjust to reading the subtitles while watching the action on the stage, particularly because the Dari dialogues were much longer than their English translation. Eventually I gave up reading the subtitles and decided to concentrate on the actors.
A few actors had doubled up the roles and it was quite interesting to watch the change. Especially, when the actor who played the Merchant (father of the twins) who was captured and to be killed returned to play the buxom wife of the servant from Kabul. S/he was very funny in that part. Her loud and crude manners, sexual overtures at her husband and the twin brother, and the resulting humor I was enjoyable. However, the rest of the actors could not live up to that mark.
The female characters in particular were disappointing. For some reason they thought it was a social drama and their performances grew heavier and heavier as the play went on. Even presence of servant’s wife could not salvage it. Among the men, both servant twins were funny, but the twin brothers were entertaining only sporadically. Then there was an “item number” by a courtesan (the actress doubled up as sister of the wife of a twin brother) which was neither funny nor entertaining. 
All this and maybe because of the difficulty to adjust to the Dari words and English subtitles, many audience members left during the show. Suddenly people had enough room to sit comfortably as against initial second class railway compartment sitting.
To their credit, none of this affected the actors. I mean it is incredibly disheartening for a live performer to watch the audience leaving in such a large number in the middle of the performance and in a structure like Prithvi it is hard to not notice such an exodus. Despite that, the actors carried on with same level of high energy and gusto. Kudos to them!
Although the story was about the identical twins, there were no identical pairs of twins in the play. But the conviction with which they played identical twins, it made us believe that they were identical. The set was minimalistic and bare essential props were used to distinguish between the numerous range of locations such as busy market, Khalifa’s office, police station, home etc. There were a few technical problems time and again but it could be overlooked.
I would not call it a brilliant performance but it definitely was a laudable attempt to perform for an audience who does not speak the same tongue,  particularly given the recent war torn nature of their own country. Sensing this, the Prithvi Theatre audience gave them a generous round of applause!

May, 2012


A Man For All Seasons
-  Aishwarya Mahesh


This piece is a review of Arjun Sajnani’s production of Robert Bolt’s play “A Man for all Seasons” performed at the Nehru Centre Auditorium in Bombay on the 21st and 22nd of April.
A Man for all Seasons is not one of those plays that grips you and keeps you at the edge of your seat. But it is one of those plays, at the end of which you feel like you have watched really good theatre. Set in 16th century England, the play chronicles the life of Sir Thomas More from the point where he refuses to bow to King Henry’s whims, unto his execution. The script is powerful and profound, and the slow pace of the play helps you absorb and appreciate it. The underlined P.G Wodehouse like humour, abundant in Sir Thomas’s repartees and “the common man’s” monologues is delightful.
King Henry the VIII is resolute in his demands of obtaining a divorce from his wife, Queen Catherine of Aragon, and validating his marriage to Anne Boleyn. And his expectations are basic. Either bless the marriage or be put to death. Sir Thomas More is a man who is torn between his loyalty to his king and his stance on the institution of marriage. He flatly refuses to acknowledge the divorce, incurring the king’s wrath and creating an opportunity for his arch rival Sir Thomas Cromwell to prosecute him on grounds of treason. The king, through Cromwell does everything in the book to coerce More into taking a stand, including appointing him as the Lord Chancellor. But this does little to break him. He resigns from his position and resorts to silence to shield himself and his family from the situation.  When push comes to shove in the form of court interrogations, More (who is an astute lawyer) breaks his silence but through skilful wordplay, avoids incriminating himself. It is finally the perjury of Richard Rich (a power hungry and rather spineless character) that leads to his execution.
More’s character is tricky in the sense of requiring the actor to express restraint and rage in equal measure, and Ashok Mandanna essays his role with aplomb. His sense of ethics is defined not so much by whether he believes the king’s divorce to be right or wrong, but by the fact he is mortally afraid to partake in something that would go against his conscience. He truly believes that he will be damned, were he to subscribe to a matter that goes against his beliefs. This is substantiated in the dialogue between More and the Duke of Norfolk where he explains why he refuses to sign the oath about the king’s marriage. Susan George as More’s daughter, Margaret and Veena Sajnani as his wife, Lady Alice More, have small but significant parts that stand out. Vivek Madan is a class act, playing a plethora of characters from the common man to the jury foreman (including boat man, publican, More’s servant, jailer, executioner, narrator and set organizer) with enviable ease.
The set deserves mention for its prudent design and for the fact that it was 16th century to boot. The costumes (particularly the ladies’) on the other hand were a tad disappointing, one expected more grandeur. Nevertheless, a small anomaly in an otherwise fabulous production. Watch this play to remind yourself how good it is to watch old-fashioned traditional theatre. You won’t be disappointed.

April, 2012



Nothing Like Lear
- Aishwarya Mahesh


 “What is wrong with taking what is convenient?” I asked. Even before I could complete the sentence, I knew how wrong it was.  Nothing like Lear was nothing like anything I had ever seen before. I am still struggling to find the apt analogy to describe my experience. It did however come close to being on an extended rollercoaster ride. From laughing your guts out, to squirming at some of the graphic displays of hatred, to shedding a tear or two, there were a gazillion emotions, most of which passed even before you could fully grasp them. Atul Kumar cast a spell on the audience, a spell so strong that you were willing to let go of the fact that the play chose to showcase only what was “convenient”.
I remember reading Lear as part of my non-detailed text material sometime in the 7th standard. En route to Prithvi, I did a quick wiki of the plot, for fear of not catching the subtleties in the performance. This turned out to be a bad move in retrospective. While it helped me identify scenes and characters from the original play, it also drew attention to the fact that script was erratic and chose to include only those elements that maximized the entertainment quotient. Is that wrong, you may ask. That honestly depends on what you want from a play. If you’re looking to spend an evening watching hard-core Shakespeare, this is not where you should be heading to. On the other hand, watching Atul Kumar perform is something that I would strongly recommend to anyone interested in watching a play
The body language, the dancing, the juggling, and the effortless shuffling from clown to a dozen other characters, had the audience riveted to their seats. Particularly heart wrenching was the sequence where he explains to the audience why he doesn’t want his daughter to grow up. And truly cringe-worthy was the sequence where he gouges his brother’s eyes out. The question however is that did the audience know that he was alluding to Cornwall and Gloucester in the latter sequence? I myself am a little confused as to when it stopped being about Edmund and Edgar and when it moved to Cornwall. Of course, one can argue that this is a performance and not a viva that is to be cross-checked against a script. But the problem is that if you were asked to summarize the play or write a review, as is the case of yours truly, you are stumped when it comes to commenting about the story, screenplay or script. What stays fresh and strong once you walk out of the theatre is the performance and the fact that you didn’t look at your watch even once during the course of the play.
Nothing like Lear is brilliant as a stand-alone play. Watch it for the finesse of the actor, for the way he handles you like putty, catapulting you into one intense emotion after another, and snapping you out of it at his whim. Do not look for Shakespeare in this one. But to be fair, the title does say that it’s nothing like Lear.

 March, 2012



Ok Tata Bye bye
- Aishwarya Mahesh


Where do I start? A lovely play with an engaging narrative – Ok Tata bye bye scores for infusing color into a dark subject like prostitution. Hoping to get aid and ultimately rescue the highway sex-workers in a certain village in central India, Mitch and Pooja set out to make a documentary on their way of life. Their attempts to get the sex workers to open up in front of the camera and talk about what they do and why they do it form the storyline. Not only do they discover that prostitution is rooted deep in the tradition and customs of the community, but it has its share of economic ramifications as well. Most of the womenfolk in the village moonlight as sex workers to support their families. In this particular village, prostituting oneself is seen as far more lucrative and convenient than taking up a nursing job, which is perceived as pedestrian and pays poorly.  Besides, these women are indispensable to the truck drivers who need sex on the highway as badly as they need food and fuel – the demand far exceeding the supply.
 In the process of filming the women, relationships are forged, inner demons exposed and hearts brOken. The play was as educational as it was entertaining. And while the subject matter of prostitution has been the premise of many a play and film, Ok Tata bye bye was fresh in terms of treatment and staging.
Even thought the set was minimalistic, it was definitely one of the most effective sets I have seen. Four towering panels that stretched up to the ceiling and a choice assortment of odd props and pieces gave you the feeling that you were seated on the dirt tracks on either side of the highway next to the camp site where the film-makers were put up, and not in Prithvi theatre. And the cast were wonderful in enhancing this feel; the scene where the sex workers pile on to Mitch’s car for a drive, and the scene where Mitch and Pooja watch the footage of Seema’s dance performance on their laptop was particularly memorable.
Prerna Chawla as the unapologetic and spirited Seema was the star of the show. I almost didn’t recognize her in “All about women” – a multifaceted actor. Her performance in this play were endearing and funny. And the protagonist Pooja seemed to share better chemistry with her than Mitch. The play was replete with twists, turns and revelations that kept you well engrossed.  Mitch as the typical “gora” with a weakness for the dusky beauties did justice to his character but his relationship with Pooja could have perhaps done with a little more depth. And Nishi Doshi as the timid Rupa, the fourth pivotal character in the plot brought in the surprise element; her “Amway” dance sequence nicely showcased her versatility.
What didn’t I like about this play? I am tempted to say that it dragged in parts, but it did not. However there were many poignant moments in the last ten minutes of the play that seemed befitting for an ending and yet the play lugged along. For instance, when Pooja decides to take Seema along with her to the city, the moment was perhaps apt to conclude. And the blackout at that point seemed to indicate that the play had ended. But there was more. Again, I thought the play was done when the truck-driver did his little song sequence, black-out faithfully in tow. But there was more. The script sought to provide closure to the characters even if some of them didn’t quite require it. As a result, there were multiple anti-climaxes, diminishing the high note that the audience could have walked away with.  Watch Ok Tata bye bye for Rabijita Gogoi’s adept direction. If in fact the script was a tad lengthy, the director more than made up for it with her vision and execution. 


February, 2012


Spunk
 -  Aishwarya Mahesh

It was perhaps the most hyped among the plays of Writers Bloc 3. A story about ‘magical’ semen by the legendary Siddarth Kumar (I had not seen The Interview but was already in awe of the man after watching his quasi stand-up act at Thespo) had my intrigue and expectation levels shooting through the roof. From the get-go, the play was extremely engaging. While the concept of miraculous semen was a tad unreal, it balanced nicely, the clichéd stereotypes of the protagonists – struggling actor, struggling single mother and a sexy but slightly bimbette-ish single woman - the interplay between both working out quite well. What held me most was the way in which the character arcs of each of the leads played out and how you fell in and out of love with them, pitied them, rebuked them, got mad at them and finally forgave them – while Brijesh morphed into a mean, scary, slimeball-esque person from the sweet innocuous pushover that he was, Rhea was completely stripped off of all the confidence, panache and slickness  that she initially exuded, and the shift of power from the latter to the former was subtle and nicely done. 
Special mentions for Sumeet Vyas (as the cigar-puffing, seemingly profound, new age conman/astrologer) and Shruti Vyas (as his adorable sidekick Annie) for their little cameo act; this was undoubtedly the wittiest sequence of the evening. It was interesting to see the play touch upon various social issues such as the preference for male offspring, beating the system with bribery, empowering quack god-men, custody battles or wife-beating without getting preachy. And while the inevitable ending was as expected, the journey was fun, quirky and entertaining. You could identify with the characters, there were those sure-fire punch lines that had you in splits and then there were those subtle bouts of humor that made you smile in your head. 
Spunk is a play about ordinary characters and how they behave under the influence of extraordinary semen, and full marks to the director for successfully making a slice of life scenario, memorable and interesting. In all, an evening well spent. 


January, 2012


Kyun Kyun Ladki
- Ishani Chatterji

Christmas morning brought with it some presents and a great play. A great CHILDREN’S play I may add…

The recipe to an adorable children’s play would be: questions, colorful costumes, music, some more questions, dance and more and more questions…

Gillo Gilheri’s Kyun Kyun Ladki, directed by Shaili Sathyu has all of these ingredients in it, hence making it an adorable play and a must watch for all age groups, not just children. The play is based on Mahasweta Devi’s Why Why Girl.  The play was first performed at Summertime at Prithvi in 2011.

As the audience began to pour in, I noticed how there were fewer children than adults.  As the lights began to dim, signaling that the play is about to start, I could feel the excitement as though I were a child myself.

The play has 3 sets of stories going on simultaneously. The story of innocent Aamna who has lost her mother and wishes to go up in to the moon to be with her. Amana’s innocent questions are almost heart breaking and so are her actions as she decides to pack up and leave to go and live with God. Besides Amana, there is young Gaurav who wishes to stay back in the village with his unwell Nana and friends. But the main story is that of the “kyun kyun ladki” Moyna, a tribal girl, who faces daily hardships but never looses her joi de vivre attitude. Her life is very different from that of the city bred children. She doesn’t have the time to go to school, instead works hard in the fields to support her family. Moyna questions everything, from why she needs to go far to fetch water to why does she need to eat leftover food but seldom gets an answer for anything.
Moyna’s life is not what a young girls should be but nevertheless one cannot help but love her assertiveness and enthusiasm. Her questions would make the audience wonder about the zillion Moynas across the country that live with such difficulties. But Moyna’s questions find an answer in the village schoolteacher who notices her thirst for knowledge and pushes her towards books and education.

 The director, Shaili Sathyu has filled the play with dance and various movements. The actors play multiple roles, not just themselves but if the need be, they change into objects and animals as well. The set used is not very elaborate. It consists of wire in the shape of animals that is suspended from above.  Lights were used beautifully to show the darks of the night or shutting of doors. What I enjoyed the most in the play was that at no given point of time, the actors were out of character. Moyna remained the wild tribal girl she is throughout the play. But above all, the laughter of the children around me was a good enough sign that they enjoyed it as well. Overall, the play does a good job of providing education along with enjoyment. It has something to offer to everyone. And the play left me with wanting to be a child again and explore the magical world of questions.