Writers' Bloc 3, the annual theatre festival in Mumbai, branches out to include Hindi and Marathi plays too.

It was, ironically, an initiative called Writers' Bloc that set out to end the long drought in playwriting suffered by Indian theatre in the 1990s. Begun in 2002 as a collaboration between Rage Theatre, the JSW Foundation, the British Council and the Royal Court Theatre of London, this programme that culminates in a festival showcasing original Indian playwriting talent is now into its third edition. New playwrights whose skills were honed in previous editions have gone on to become familiar names and this year's festival holds much promise as it introduces plays in Hindi and Marathi, featuring both newcomers and previous writers, bringing in varied locations from suburban Mumbai to Kashmir and themes ranging from war to love stories.

“Writer's Bloc 3 is bigger and will be a first in many ways,” says Rajit Kapur, who founded Rage with Shernaz Patel and Rahul da Cunha. “Not only are there scripts in Indian languages other than English, the festival now includes productions from Bengaluru, Delhi and Chennai.”

The writing process, lasting about a year, has remained the same — submissions from around the country are sent to the Royal Court Theatre, London, for selection. Chosen writers train with Court professionals at residential workshops, with resident actors at their disposal. Scripts are then completed and plays staged at the festival by various production houses. This year, 12 playwrights were sieved from among 104 entries.

Kapur himself has directed “Mahua”, a play in Hindi that is set in Orissa and he acts in Abhishek Majumdar's “The Djinns of Eidgah”, which reflects on the effects of the war in Kashmir on the lives of its children. The latter, directed by both Kapur and Richard Twyman of the Royal Court theatre, involved extensive research for which Majumdar was sent on a field trip to Kashmir. Meanwhile, Annie Zaidi's Hindi play, “Jaal”, was drawn from her own experiences as a journalist. Set in Mohagaon, where villagers protest against a dam being built, the play centres around a missing engineer and is about power equations. “I wrote my original play in English but discarded it for this one as the characters spoke Hindi in my head,” she says. Similarly, Ayeesha Menon's “Pereira's Bakery at 76, Chapel Road” deals with displacement in an urban milieu as its middle-class characters resist eviction by developers of a mall. Family drama, the television industry, sex workers, all find a place this year.

If the themes are contemporary then the festival promos are not far behind. This year has seen the use of electronic media with social networking sites such as Facebook and trailers of plays on Youtube. The productions boast stellar casts and sets designed by students of NID. The success of previous editions has ensured a variety of sponsors, allowing for what may be considered luxuries in theatre. This festival is another indication that Indian playwriting is rising from its ashes.

Writers' bloc 3, at prithvi theatre, mumbai, january 9-20. For tickets: 022-26149546.

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Sunday MagazineJune 28, 2012