Neel Chaudhuri wins the MetroPlus Playwright Award

CHENNAI : 31/03/2010 : Neel Chaudhuri.Please credit Yashas Chandra for the photo.   | Photo Credit: Yashas Chandra

Neel Chaudhuri is the winner of the MetroPlus Playwright Award 2010 for his entry Taramandal. Instituted by The Hindu for the best original unpublished and unperformed English script, the Award carries a prize of Rs. 1 lakh for the winning entry.

A post-graduate in film and television studies from the University of Warwick, the 29-year-old New Delhi-based Mr. Chaudhuri does film programming and edits an Asian cinema website. However, he describes theatre as his “major preoccupation”, something he wants to work towards as a career. Taramandal is the fifth play he has written. Mr. Chaudhuri has been recently awarded a grant from the Goethe Institut for writing a play that explores the life and work of German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder. He is also working on putting together a collection of new Indian plays in English.

A play about unfinished ambitions, Taramandal borrows the protagonist and his fate from Satyajit Ray's short story Patol Babu Filmstar. Chaudhuri weaves in a host of other characters into the play with touches of humour and a “sadness that has lightness” as it journeys towards disillusionment.

Mr. Chaudhuri's submission was selected as the winner from 80 valid entries received from all over the country. Ten plays were longlisted out of which five were shortlisted by a panel of judges. The other four shortlisted entries were Mohit Takalkar's Yellow Orange Sunshine, Mariam Karim's The Betrayal of Selvamary, Manjima Chatterjee's Limbo, and Abhishek Majumdar's An Arrangement of Shoes.

The scripts were judged by a panel comprising Arshia Sattar, independent scholar, translator and teacher, and Director of the Ranga Shankara Theatre Festival 2005, and Sheeba Chadha, well-known film and theatre actor, who has starred in recent plays such as The Blue Mug and Hedda Gabler.

In their citation, the judges said “ Taramandal has the strength and confidence to use an existing film script and expand both its form and it content, utterly persuasive in its warm fullness as a theatre text.” It went on to describe the play as having “an “extremely engaging structure, both tight and fluent at the same time, within which nestles a riveting directness of emotion. Joy, pain, pathos, longing, the inter-play between the world of performance and the performer – all are deeply moving in the compelling stories of dreams and failure and the resurrection of the spirit that Taramandal holds within itself. Ultimately, the play sparkles in the way that it unabashedlyand lustily calls out to be fully and completely performed.”

The judges also had a special mention for Abhishek Majumdar's monologue, An Arrangement of Shoes. Saying that while “it does not come to us in the secure packaging of a conventional play”, they observed that “its story-like narrative moves languorously, lodging itself inspaces of seething exploration and resolution, some seemingly banal others disturbingly inevitable. It has the capacity for the banal to evoke largeness, for lightness to evoke gravity and ispacked with motifs that allow for rich visual interpretation: the train, the cinema hall, the shoes are all fertile images for bringing this text to the stage.” Mr. Majumdar was the winner of the MetroPlus Playwright Award 2008.

Speaking to The Hindu, Mr. Chaudhuri said while he was “thrilled to receive the award, what's really exciting is that there is such an award in the first place.” He said the fact that 80 writers bother to complete a play and submit it to MetroPlus for consideration “suggests a great deal of movement.” Apart from thanking MetroPlus, which he said had given writing for theatre “great impetus,” he said thanks were due to the Tadpole Repertory, of which he is a member, and the actors who have workshopped tirelessly with him on Taramandal. “This play stands on their shoulders and upon the wonderful blueprint provided by Satyajit Ray's story Patol Babu, Filmstar.

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