Here are the three plays shortlisted for The Hindu MetroPlus Playwright Award 2011, which carries a prize of Rs. 1 lakh for the best unpublished and unperformed script. A panel of three judges went through a record 117 entries, before preparing a longlist of seven and whittling it down to a shortlist of three. Detailed interviews with the three shortlisted playwrights will be carried over the next few days. The winner will be announced later this month

A terrible beauty 

Magic and mayhem, surreal and hyper-real merge against the backdrop of a strife-torn Kashmir. 

“The Djinns of Eidgah” by Abhishek Majumdar 

“Our pictures of Kashmir are old. We think of Kashmir either as picturesque or with terrorists walking on the road. Neither is true.” 

For a play that talks of the insanity of conflict and the terrible toll it extracts from the perpetrators and the victims, “The Djinns of Eidgah” has an irresistible gossamer texture that wraps itself around you, inexorably seeping into your consciousness till you, like the 14-year-old protagonist, Ashrafi, are not sure of what is real and what is not.

Abhishek Majumdar's “The Djinns of Eidgah” has duality at its core — the seen and unseen, the spoken and unspoken, reality and fantasy, heartbreaking beauty and unimaginable brutality. Ashrafi has lost her father to the conflict and is being treated by a psychiatrist Dr. Baig, who has lost a son to the violence in the valley (he was wrapped in plastic and burnt). Two soldiers, S1 and S2, are emblematic of the dehumanisation of violence. And then there are the djinns, Hafiz-Rafiz who whisk Ashrafi into a world of make-believe where she is a princess and her father is still alive.

“There are three generations in the play,” says Abhishek. “There is Dr Baig's generation from before the Eighties, who knew of a life before the conflict, his son's generation who has a take on the situation in Kashmir and the following one. This generation cannot have a perspective on the state of affairs because they are born into it and are not aware of any other way.”

The 30-year-old alumnus of the London International School of Performing Arts has also trained under the guidance of Mahesh Dattani, Adishakti Theatre Lab and Yatrik. At present, the artistic director of the Indian Ensemble, Abhishek's play “Harlesden High Street” won The Hindu MetroPlus Playwright Award in 2008. His next play, “An Arrangement of Shoes” was shortlisted for the MetroPlus Playwright Award last year and won the Toto Funds the Arts Award.

MINI ANTHIKAD-CHHIBBER

An unbearable lightness

A love triangle set in the rarefied world of English theatre.

“The Green Room” by Aditya Sudarshan

The Green Room is about the artistic trauma of the so-called privileged, English speaking elite.

Anamika, the protagonist of Aditya Sudarshan's “The Green Room,” is torn apart by doubt and despair in the green room after a successful performance of an ordinary play. Malik, her rich boyfriend, tries unsuccessfully to understand Anamika's dilemma. Everything about her life strikes discordant notes as Anamika realises this is not what she signed up for as a young, talented collegian.

Lalit, her first love from college, dropped out of her life as she crossed over to the other side of shallow imitations produced by Karishma whose height of creativity takes the form of “a desi Sex and the City, Sex in South Ex.” The theatre critic, Shukla, who tells Anamika: “If you want to be a serious actor, a serious artist, then you have to know the real India. It's not all pubs and Cafe Coffee Days, you know.”

It is at this dark time of Anamika's soul that Firoz appears. Calling himself a fan, he asks some tough questions of Anamika.

“I have experienced the prevailing attitude towards Indian writing in English,” says Aditya. “While our inspirations come from the West, our lives are rooted here. We feel guilty about our privileged lives. From a wholly materialistic point of view, we are privileged but that is not the only thing in our lives now is it?”

Aditya has two published novels to his name — the classic whodunit, “A Nice Quiet Holiday” (2009) and “Show me a Hero” (2011), a heady cocktail of hero worship, cricket and murder. “The Green Room” is Aditya's second play, his first being “Sensible People”. The 26-year-old studied law at Bangalore and practised criminal law in Delhi for nine months before turning a full-time writer. He has recently moved to Mumbai and writes for NDTV's political comedy show, “The Great Indian Tamasha.”

MINI ANTHIKAD-CHHIBBER

Three to tango

A play that delves into the heart of man-woman relationships and leaves you asking, ‘why not'.

"Once, On That Street" by Swetanshu Bora

"This was a story that I just had to tell and has been waiting a long time to come out…."

A three-act play set in a flat, a strong-willed woman, the two men in her life, and an obnoxious neighbour with bad grammar and blinkered vision. Sounds simple enough, with a slight inclination towards the cliché, except Swetanshu Bora is a clever man, with a clever script.

Bora, a thespian through and through, can be recognised from his much-lauded performances in “Harlesden High Street” and “Elling”. And, in what is not his first attempt at writing for the stage, he has a masterpiece that has been crafted with the care of someone who understands the dynamics of the stage and a performer.

“Once, On That Street” was born when Swetanshu was attending Writers Bloc, a writing residency, conducted by Rage Theatre. “It was an idea I'd been always toying with but I penned it down when I attended the workshop,” says the Bangalore-based Bora.

The play deals with a situation that's so essentially 21st Century India. You are smiling, nodding in agreement and associating people you know with the protagonist Maya and her two men, Shankar and Karan. “My characters are not entirely fictitious and they are all loosely-based on people I know, but I think that just made it easier for me in the process of writing,” he says.

For a playwright who is still courting this new found romance, he makes bold moves in his choice of theme and even his ending. It might be the timeliness of his script or the tactical way in which the story has been told, or simply the confidence with which he tells it — he pulls it off. He sends you back thinking about the problem at hand and searching for a solution.

Relationships are not so simplistic anymore. Everybody has a story, which cannot be discussed enough, throw in some sexual tension and you have stuff that sagas are made of. Bora writes with the finesse of someone who understands the urban upwardly mobile Indian, is familiar with their easy dialogue, and knows the uncompromising nature of relationships and their refusal to settle for less.

CATHERINE RHEA ROY

LONGLIST

Abhishek Majumdar - THE DJINNS OF EIDGAH

Aditya Sudarshan - THE GREEN ROOM

Annie Zaidi - UNDER THE TREE

John Devaraj - ZOU RESHA

Mariam Karim-Ahlawat – FRACTALS: SEARCH FOR THE REAL

Rishiraj Verma - TALES FROM ANOTHER WORLD

Swetanshu Bora - ONCE, ON THAT STREET

Abhishek Majumdar - THE DJINNS OF EIDGAH

Aditya Sudarshan - THE GREEN ROOM

Annie Zaidi - UNDER THE TREE

John Devaraj - ZOU RESHA

Mariam Karim-Ahlawat – FRACTALS: SEARCH FOR THE REAL

Rishiraj Verma - TALES FROM ANOTHER WORLD

Swetanshu Bora - ONCE, ON THAT STREET

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Arts, Entertainment & EventsMay 14, 2012