Theatre

Space odyssey, Haryana style

Radio calling: The cast of Hello Farmaaish (below) director Yuki Ellias.   | Photo Credit: Neville Sukhia

The compelling world of women-run community radio stations that, almost anonymously, cater to vast stretches of agrarian India, is juxtaposed with the infinite expanse of outer space in Hello Farmaaish, a promising new production from Dur Se Brothers.

The play is one of the rare homegrown original productions supported by the Aadyam initiative, and is directed by the dynamic Yuki Ellias, from an English script by Sneh Sapru adapted into Hindi by Vidit Tripathi. The talented trio evoke a period setting circa 2003 that coincides with iconic astronaut Kalpana Chawla’s inspirational but ultimately ill-fated final space mission aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia, which disintegrated upon re-entering Earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven crew members. In the foreground is a rural outpost in Haryana where women gone ‘rogue’ take over a radio station and start broadcasting their own uptempo version of Akashwani, perhaps aligned with the aspirations unfurled by Chawla’s ascent.

Complex worlds

Much like space is for most of us, the Indian rural hinterland has been a parallel universe for Ellias. “We sometimes don’t know what’s happening just a couple of hours away from Mumbai,” she says. The manner in which the information revolution has taken women in its stride, led her and Sapru to Mewat in Haryana, where a five-year-old radio station, Alfaz-e-Mewat was creating waves. On air, women spoke unhesitatingly about domestic abuse, menstrual health or female education. Ellias was disarmed by the ‘community of radio’ she encountered, stretching across families and neighbourhoods. “The complexities of being a woman on the airwaves came to light,” she remembers. Clear elements of characters and stories that might lend themselves to a dramatic retelling bubbled to the surface. It was a world in which, almost everyday, individuals were breaking new ground — either as the first woman radio jockey, or as the earliest women who ‘called in’ on a live show.

Several testimonials based on conducted interviews made it to Sapru’s initial draft, embedded into a fictitious framework. Ellias always knew that the play would have to be performed in Hindi, so it wasn’t long before she enlisted the services of Tripathi, the writer of the well-received production Lassanwala. The space and time of the play had now received an appropriate tongue. And, as the making of plays go, actors’ improvisations on the floors brought in changes of flavour and texture, even as whole scenes were edited out.

Abstract purpose

The scaling-up that is all but mandated by Aadyam’s lush budgets meant that Ellias harnessed the means of production she would otherwise eschew in her previous ‘smaller’, but no less ambitious, plays like the popular Elephant in the Room (also scripted by Sapru) and Charge. In Hello Farmaaish, scenographer Vivek Jadhav’s production design creates a world of abstractions that should effectively allow the kind of transitions Ellias describes in the press release, “One minute, you’re hurled into outer space and the very next minute, you’re hurled back into the small Haryanvi settlement.” The last schedule of rehearsals took place at the Prabodhankar Thackeray Open Theatre in Sewri. Working in an old-style proscenium with all the trappings of the professional stage allowed the play and its actors to spread their wings far and wide into a larger space, after weeks-long rehearsals at an intimate and hospitable space in Andheri called Castiko.

A short film that the team made during their stint at Mewat was enough to get seasoned performer Puja Sarup, Ellias’ longtime friend and collaborator, to come on board the unusual project. Upcoming talent Abhishek Chauhan, who had directed Ellias in Basti Mein Masti, a street-theatre performance for children that did the rounds of city tenements earlier this year, was also roped in. Others came in through a rigorous audition process, which has ultimately proved rewarding to Ellias. “Not just having the usual suspects from the Mumbai theatre scene in my play allowed me to go on interesting character journeys with my actors,” she says. Together they were able to crystallise an excursion into worlds about which little is known, whether that be due to them being impossibly out of grasp or just down to cultural insularity. Hello Farmaaish is an attempt to bridge these gaps in entertaining fashion.

Hello Farmaaish will stage on Saturday, August 18 and Sunday, August 19 at the Royal Opera House, Girgaum and on Saturday, September 8 and Sunday. September 9 at St Andrews Auditorium; more details at bookmyshow.com


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Printable version | Jun 13, 2021 11:47:37 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/space-odyssey-haryana-style/article24708264.ece

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