A snapshot of the three playwrights and their plays shortlisted for The Hindu MetroPlus Playwright Award 2012, which carries a prize of Rs. 1 lakh for the best unpublished and unperformed script.
Romeo and Juliet reboot
Puppets choose to cut their strings and play out the greatest love story ever told
“Romeo & Juliet – No Strings Attached” by Prashanth Kumar Nair
Just when you thought nothing more could be done to “Romeo and Juliet,” comes Prashanth Kumar Nair’s “Romeo & Juliet — No Strings Attached.” A smart and savvy tribute to the Bard’s play about the star-crossed lovers in fair Verona, “No Strings Attached” features five puppets who decide to cut their strings and do whatever they want. The implied back story is that the puppets have been playing “Romeo and Juliet” night after night and so even when they cut their strings, they still play out the famous tragedy; only they do it their way.
What follows is a wild ride through pop culture references, including “The Sixth Sense”, K. Balachander, Shekhar Kapur, William Shatner, Arnab Goswami, Viju Khote in “Sholay”, Mallu politicians, George Bush, attacking Iraq and songs set to the tune of Backstreet Boys’ “I want it That Way” and “American Pie.”
“I mean no disrespect to Shakespeare,” says the Bengaluru-based Prashanth and there is no disregard, as the essence of the play is scrupulously maintained. The jokes are delightfully referential. One gets a sense of Richard Armour’s “Twisted Tales from Shakespeare” with lines such as “why should I draw my sword when I can draw something ugly like your face” as well as the various versions of the ‘what’s in a name’ line.
“The story remains the same. I have only abridged it. I would describe the play as what happens when a bunch of puppets break away from the strings holding them back and go on to enact their version of the greatest love story.”
The 30-year-old advertising professional and theatre enthusiast from Bangalore runs an amateur theatre company Tahatto with five other people. His first set of 10-minute scripts was performed by Tahatto as a play called “Full Meals” in 2010-11.
Prashanth wrote a script called “The Amateur Playwright” for the Short+Sweet, 10-minute play festival and won the people’s choice award for best script and the best play.
Too Close for Comfort
A play that takes an unsettling look at how filial affection could transform into erotic love – and what the consequence of such a blurring of lines might be.
“Baby” by Nandini Krishnan
Anurudha and Shailaja are married, and clearly in love. They send each other letters of longing while Shailaja resides at her parents’ house during her pregnancy. They have everything to look forward — the delicious bliss of reunion, a new child, married life.
But Shailaja dies, and Anurudha is faced with learning to cope with his loss whilst raising their daughter alone.
Still desperately in love with the memory of his late wife, Anurudha continues his letters — addressed to the ghost of pleasures past and love lost. He encourages his young daughter to do the same, and the pair form a close bond over this special ‘secret’. But as she grows older, her attachment to her father grows deeper, and more possessive — she wants the letters to stop. Isolating herself within the domestic space, snarling at the prospect of marriage and violently determined to erase the memory of her mother, she draws further and further into an unsettlingly close relationship with her father that threatens to shock and disturb audiences.
In her exploration of the ties that bind, freelance writer Nandini Krishnan pushes her characters and her audience to disturbing places — forcing you to think about issues you may not often think about. Using a minimalist, epistolary format, and a sparse stage and cast, ‘Baby’ explores the dark and discomforting world of incest.
Influenced by the research she did on incest for an article published in Zeitgeist, The New Indian Express, “It’s not my place to condemn or endorse incest,” says the Chennai-based Nandini, “It exists, and it’s there. How does it make you feel? It’s disturbing, but I don’t think we can or should judge. I just want people to think a little. It puts you in an uncomfortable position and forces you to think about something you really don’t want to think about.”
But her play isn’t just about the shock factor of seeing a father and daughter getting too close for comfort. There are interesting inversions of conventional power dynamics — who is the victim? Is there a victim? Is this is a victimless crime, and if so, what on earth are we supposed to make of it?
Wearing humour’s mask
One personal tragedy, the death of a prominent writer, and a circus of hyperbole and political tokenism is unleashed.
“The Last Journey” by Satish Pendharkar
How public can the life of a public figure be made out? Should grief be left alone within the circle of familiarity, or, in the name of “public interest”, drawn out and milked for all its worth? Satish Pendharkar’s play, “The Last Journey”, is set in the imaginary State of Navalakha, the tale told in retrospect through the voice of a rookie newspaper reporter, whose first assignment involves reporting on the funeral of well-known writer Dushyant Singh. It is no ordinary funeral; its tone and mood are set in the chambers of the Chief Minister, who decides that honouring people’s sentiments with a State funeral for a popular figure might be a good idea with a re-election bid round the corner. The funeral, thus, becomes the stage where the drama proceeds to unfold, a drama whose green room is the echelon of power, politics and things accompanying.
Instead of completely contextualising characters to the main issue at hand, which is Dushyant Singh’s State funeral, each scene allows space for banter which though not always immediately relevant, is a dark commentary on issues facing modern democracy. A disgruntled collector, for instance, on receiving contradictory instructions from his political bosses complains how if he were more tuned in he would have been an “in-the-face minister and not a faceless bureaucrat”. A cornered official, unsuitably, invokes Right to Information, whereas someone, innocently, wonders at the ramshackle state of police department vehicles.
Kochi-based government employee, Pendharkar, who emphasises the work is completely fictional, says he took three months to write the play, which is spread over 11 scenes. Attention is paid to scene progression in the script, duly explained, with the narrator standing out of or becoming part of the narrative landscape, depending on his relative place in the story.
The core of the play, Pendharkar says, is “how politics has entered almost all walks of life and how we tend to, for our personal benefit, not think twice before hurting others.”
“I thought it would have universal appeal. Although the play is set in India, in an imaginary town, it holds good in any other place too,” says Pendharkar, whose short stories have been published in various magazines and whose one-act play, “The Homecoming”, won an award at the 2007 Theatre in the Raw in Canada.
(In alphabetical order)
Ajatasatru: V. Narayanan
Baby: Nandini Krishnan
Dark Clouds of the Dawning Sky: Anand Raghav
Metaphor: Deepa Kylasam Iyer
Romeo & Juliet – No Strings Attached: Prashanth Kumar Nair
Scratch: Swetanshu Bora
The last journey: Satish Pendharkar