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And then there were five...

Five plays have been shortlisted for The Hindu MetroPlus Playwright Award 2010, which carries a prize of Rs. 1 lakh for the best unpublished and unperformed script. We received 80 valid entries from all over the country. The panel of judges long-listed 10 plays, of which these five made the shortlist. Here is a snapshot of the five playwrights and their submissions. Detailed interviews with each of the five will be carried in MetroPlus over the next few days. The winner will be announced before the end of the month.

“An Arrangement of Shoes” by Abhishek Majumdar

It's hard to believe, but 29-year-old Abhishek Majumdar actually wrote this play on a bus, travelling from Madrid to Prague, on a holiday sponsored by a theatre workshop he was attending! And then, spent some good time in London trying to read his scrawling. A long monologue, it is in the evocative voice of 28-year-old Rukhsar, who tries to construe the various “arrangements” in life's unfolding. The story of her motley family — including a twin sister obsessed with stealing shoes —weaves in and out of life in a small-town Railway colony, communal implications of seemingly-insignificant events, the distant echoes of the Gulf War, death and cinema, growing up and ageing, all in an engaging narrative.

Majumdar, too, seems fond of arrangements, albeit musical. He's written the play in a flow of beats, rather than in rigid acts. The playwright-actor-director says: “My fundamental influence is music. As an actor, I break down scripts into music. Even in writing, I find it a useful way of looking at text, because music has an intrinsic logic.”

Abhishek, artistic director of Indian Ensemble, has performed in Bangalore, New Delhi, Chennai and London. His play “Harlesden High Street” won The Hindu MetroPlus Playwright Award in 2008. He holds performing arts scholarships from the Charles Wallace India Foundation, Inlaks Foundation and the London International School for Performing Arts.

BHUMIKA K.

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“Limbo” by Manjima Chatterjee

“Limbo” birthed from Manjima Chatterjee's “enforced period of being at home with my baby”. The new mother wrote when the baby slept, and when words cajoled her, she shut the door to the world. “Limbo” is her observation on relationships, rather marriages, at close-up. “For me, the milieu and the stage of a relationship are important,” she says.

Manjima examines marriages through three couples — a sitcom couple, two elders looking back at 40 years of togetherness, and a couple between cultures. Her couples are nameless, they are merely man and woman, and Manjima says that in the end, it's just that.

Theatre grew in stature unhurriedly in Manjima's life. From acting, directing, making and devising plays in college to theatre and workshops with the Kutumb Foundation, she moved to writing plays when she sent a script to Writer's Block in 2005. Her link with writing has been steady ever since, with Akvarious Productions staging “The Edge”, and “Waves” performed at Kutumb Foundation's theatre festival, apart from “Don't Look Now”, adapted from Daphne Du Maurier's short story.

When Manjima isn't writing, she is a freelance editor for academic publications.

“Taramandal” by Neel Chaudhuri

Satyajit Ray's “Patol Babu Filmstar” lingered on long after Neel Chaudhuri's Masters' thesis. So did “I'm not there” — the film inspired by Bob Dylan's life and music. Predictably, when Chaudhuri scripted “Taramandal”, these indelible impressions took on different dimensions. Patol's life is the lifeline of “Taramandal” while taking off from the structure of “I'm Not There”, where six actors play Dylan. Chaudhuri tells Patol's tale of disappointment through diverse characters. A key member and playwright of the Tadpole Repertory, Chaudhuri has so far scripted four plays and a couple of monologues. Having directed most of his plays so far, he hopes to be able to surrender his script to another director one day and dwell more on his writing. However, giving away a script, he says, is quite like “giving away a child”. The 29-year-old has been on stage since childhood. Over the years, his roles have meandered from being an actor to a director to a playwright. Like many, at one point, Chaudhuri almost gave up the idea of theatre and went on to study films. But the unexpected success of a play written and staged in 2006 has kept him hooked to the stage.

P. ANIMA

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“The Betrayal of Selvamary” by Mariam Karim

Theatre is all about communication, and so is language teaching. No wonder, Mariam Karim, who teaches French language and literature, has no trouble straddling the two worlds. An author of children's literature and a novel, she has also written “bits and pieces” for television. With “The Betrayal of Selvamary” she enters the realm of playwrighting.

That is, if you don't count her children's musical “A Bagful of Dreams”, which is about to go under production. “…Selvamary” is no child's play, though. A group of people in an upmarket section of an Indian metropolis is besieged in an apartment as the city around them explodes in State-sponsored riots. It is a “huis clos” kind of situation, she points out, where the characters are obliged to remain in their confined situation.

But, while the people in the room are types commonly seen in society, their reactions in a situation that obliges them to draw from their innermost resources, make the play interesting and chilling.

On what steered a children's author towards the grim realities of an adult world, Mariam says she is portraying “the hypocrisy of class relations, and of the good, educated people — within inverted commas”. This hypocrisy, she feels, is “a bane of old cultures”.

“Yellow Orange Sunshine” by Mohit Takalkar

In theatre direction and film editing, Mohit Takalkar has notched up experience worthy of a veteran, having directed plays presented on prestigious platforms across the country and the world for the last decade, and edited numerous feature films, documentaries and over 300 episodes of television serials.

He is also artistic director of the theatre group Aasakta, with a number of awards under his belt. But this is Takalkar's debut as playwright. “Yellow Orange Sunshine” talks of rebirth, memory, forgiveness, redemption and the lack of it. Its characters include a yaksha, a snake, an old village woman and a worker on the burning ghats of Kashi — rife with mythical associations, but not from any known myth.

“Our land is abundant in myths. I found plenty with rebirths, curses, snakes and what not… But, this play is not based on any of the myths or folk tales,” says the playwright. “I wish I had found one. That would have made the play stronger and helped me put it with more conviction. But, in a way, I also had an open premise. I could mould or play with it the way I wanted to.”

ANJANA RAJAN


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