Life, love and human foibles unfolded at the recently concluded The Hindu MetroPlus Theatre Fest through four plays

The four-day The Hindu MetroPlus Theatre fest concluded with Bombay Talkies. Eight monologues encapsulated life in Mumbai. The characters could have been any of us, or someone we know. A middle-aged single mom snatches a few moments to take stock of her life; a TV news reader, sick of all the gruesome stories she covered, quits her job and encounters uncomplicated happiness and kindness in ordinary people and a wife wonders if she will ever be able to do anything by herself without being ridiculed by her husband.

People we know

It continues with the story of a former child actor who struggles to stay on in Bollywood, willing to go the distance on the casting couch. That is followed by the man who is unable to break free of his past, when as an eight-year-old, he is sodomised by a neighbouring ‘uncle’. Then there is the ‘fixer’ whose mistress insists he do things the ‘right’ way. He however knows that bribery, contacts in high places and the opposite side of the law are the only ways to survive in the city. A Gujju boy dreams of a new life in the United States, free of the shackles of ‘culture and tradition’; and finally the chilling reality of life in 2091 – where people live on store-bought oxygen, no trees remain and petrol has run out.

Women at fault

On August 19, it was four plays based on the works of Anton Chekov. An Evening with Anton Chekhov was a trip back in time when women were no more than ridiculous caricatures. Four men moan and whine about how much happier they would be without the women who are making their lives hell.

Atul Kumar as the clown had the audience hanging on to his every word in Rajat Kapoor’s Nothing Like Lear on August 18. Unconventional, farcical, funny and profoundly moving at the same time, the play did Shakespeare proud. It was 80 minutes of chuckles, snorts, sighs and sadness. Atul clowned around, making fun of himself, the audience, his father, his brother and his own useless life. In between the gibberish and the nonsensical jokes, the clown let slip his guard and revealed deep anguish and sadness. It was a brilliant play and one that lingered in the consciousness long after the curtains came down.

The opening play of the Fest was Baghdad Wedding that delved into the lives of young men and women, caught between Western influences and their conservative Iraqi identity. The confusion and chaos of their country was reflected in their angst, their deliberate flying against the teeth of their culture, and the dilemma that haunted them when they returned to Baghdad from London for a friend’s wedding.

For those who came to the Corporation Kalaiarangam for the four days, it was a chance to see some of the best in the country’s theatre. Said Archana Dange, who works with children and theatre, “Besides being a real treat, we learnt so much. Especially about the use of props and lighting…I hope the next time we get to see more genres of theatre. This time it was predominantly mono acts. But I really enjoyed …Lear and Bombay Talkies…”

For media-studies teacher P.E. Thomas, it was the dominance of monologues that he enjoyed. “It was different from conventional plays,” he said.

Sudha Venkataswamy, Vice Chairperson of Amrita School of Communication was pleasantly surprised to see so many theatre lovers in Coimbatore. “It is so nice to know that there is a theatre-going crowd in the city,” she said.

Students watch the plays

This time the Fest saw many students from Coimbatore’s schools and colleges turning up along with their teachers. Besides those who had come on their own or with parents, students from PSG Tech, Amrita, Krishnammal College and the Isha Home School watched the plays. The drama students from Isha Home School particularly enjoyed the show. They had been prepped on the stories, the things they should look out for and so on.

“They learnt a lot about theatrical devices. They appreciated the minimalist settings, the few props, the perfect timings of dialogues and lights, and the shadow play, especially in Lear,” said Shobha Vishwanath, one of their teachers. She too wished there had been more variety in the basket of plays. Architect Sai Vivek, reacting to a comment that Coimbatore was not ready yet for some of the plays, said profanities are commonplace today and youngsters are constantly talking or hearing such language.

“The plays dealt with current issues. Baghdad Wedding had a good script but, somehow, I thought the acting let us down. I am not such a great fan of Chekov. …Lear was very good, and while it may have been called Bombay Talkies, this play and the issues it highlighted could have been about any place in the country.”