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Theatre, actually

Force-fed on a glut of amateurish, over-hyped productions masquerading as theatre, Bangalore is beginning to lose the ability to appreciate the finer nuances of the craft, considering the poor turnout for Kadambari's National Theatre Festival

DISAPPOINTING It was sad that such wonderful productions ran to near empty halls; Anamdas Ka Potha

When a person has gotten used to surviving on crumbs, a sumptuous repast might well appear unappetizing. That pretty much sums up the empty rows at the Chowdiah throughout the Natyotsava '05, a festival of Hindi plays by the National School of Drama Repertory, staged from October 17 to 21. Yes, there is the linguistic obstacle, the plays being in Hindi, but then again, Hindi plays boasting Bollywood stars in the bills do run to packed houses, so that excuse does not hold. Sure, the tickets were overpriced, sure, the publicity during the run-up to the festival was perfunctory at best, but a good play should be watched because it is good, not because it has been glibly advertised. Moreover, when it is being staged (as these plays were) for a noble cause (in aid of the traditional stone-carvers of Shivarapatna, as in this case), it surely is not too much for the `theatre-aficionados' of this city to shell out a few extra rupees. In point of fact, the festival, as already mentioned, ran to virtually empty stalls. Which only proves one thing — force-fed on a glut of amateurish, over hyped productions masquerading as theatre, this city is about to lose the ability to appreciate the finer nuances of the craft.

Flawless productions

Onto the plays then. They were, in chronological order, Taj Mahal Ka Tender, Anamdas Ka Potha, Jane-Maan, Us Cheez Ke En Amne Samne, and finally, Vijay Tendulkar's famous Ghasiram Kotwal. Since it is impossible to do justice to all the plays within the short space at one's disposal, this reviewer shall concentrate on two of the plays — Anamdas Ka Potha (Music: B.V. Karanth, director: Robin Das) and Us Cheez Ke En Amne Samne (Playwright: Mahendra Bhalla, director: Prof. Devendra Raj Ankur), two plays that were very different from each other as chalk and cheese, yet were characterised by the same traits of a mastery of technique and near-flawless production value.

The former is based on the first chapter of the Chandogya Upanishath, title Raikva-Akhyan. It is the story of an ascetic (Raikva) on a quest for ultimate truth, who, curiously enough, has never set eyes upon a woman. The first woman he meets happens to be Jabala, daughter of King Janashruti, whom he rescues from a violent storm after her cart overturns and the driver is killed.

There is an instantaneous attraction that develops between them, although Raikva is too naïve to realise it. They have to part hurriedly though, and thus begins his agonising quest for Jabala (who, to further complicate matters, had introduced herself as Shubha), which transform into an allegorical commentary on society and life through his eyes. He comes across the second woman in his life, the sagely Ritambara, who become a surrogate mother to him. The play uses the structure of traditional Indian performance forms, with minimal sets, the use of a singing chorus who both participate as dramatis personae and provide commentary on the action, and the actors moving from point to point to convey a change of space.

Ghasiram Kotwal

It was not entirely without blemish — for instance some of the actors probably needed to lower their pitches a little (although the fact that they performed without microphones at the Chowdaiah and yet managed to reach the last rows is praiseworthy), but all-in-all, a powerful allegory, portrayed with a forceful simplicity. One must make special mention of Nasreen as Jabala, who portrayed her character with a restrained finesse.

Dysfunctional household

Us Cheez Ke En Aamne Saamne is, self-proclaimedly, a study of incompatibility among couples. But this tale of a dysfunctional Delhi household, in spite of certain clichéd moments, ends up being more than that — it becomes a poignant tale of urban longing and hope amidst meaninglessness. The play is portrayed through the eyes of Supriya Batra, a woman in her late twenties who keeps rejecting husband after prospective husband, because she has developed a kind of fear-psychosis watching her parents' completely meaningless marriage and their constant quarrels — what if her marriage also ends up like theirs.

As she approaches thirty, her younger sister Neena, about three years her junior, also starts getting frustrated at her, because her own marriage depends on Supriya's. During the course of the play, both sisters go through a marriage and a separation — Supriya with a former lover and Neena, in a streak of rebellion, with one of the men her elder sister rejects.

The play ends poignantly with the sisters tearing up reams of matrimonial advertisements, and proclaiming in a chorus their resolve to wait for the right man. Nasrin, playing the embittered mother with élan, eloquently proved her versatility, but the real show stealer was Sameep Singh, in his brief appearance as Sikander Lal Wadhwa.

One must make special mention of the lights, which were in perfect consonance with the mood of each and every scene, and by subtly complementing the shifts in the play, became a key ingredient of the dramatic action.

Taj Mahal Ka Tender

In ending, one urges the organizers to do a better job of publicity in the future, and pleads with the theatre going audience not to let go of opportunities like this one to savour professional theatre, for such opportunities here are few and far between.


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