Footpaths, food and fables

The setting sun’s glow fading in the distance, the wafting aroma of spices and masalas and the ebbing tide of people and vehicles passing by – this is a familiar ambience for us as we dig into our favourite evening snack from our neighbourhood street food vendor.

That is the kind of setting Stand on the Street will take you to – albeit inside an auditorium. The play is based on the stories of street food vendors, and doesn’t stop with only their tales. The play also takes their audience on a walk through a crafted space to sample street food from around the country while masked performers draw them into the narrative.

Curated by Chef Manu Chandra for the Serendipity Arts Festival in Goa and directed by Aruna Ganesh Ram, the project is a production of the immersive theatre company, Visual Respiration, and opens in Bengaluru this weekend.

Experience and understand

“The play allows the audience to experience and understand what life is like on the streets,” Aruna says. “When we eat street food, do we really know the stories of the people who are making it, what their lives are like and their aspirations? If we can get the audience to examine their relationships with the street and the people who inhabit it – then we will have succeeded.”

She elaborates that, for the performers themselves, it has been an eye-opener. “This project has given us an insight into the life of a street vendor which, in all honesty, we were not aware of. It is only when you hear their stories of living under ₹100 a day that reality hits you, you understand your privilege and are grateful for it. That is how we felt. These people can’t afford to miss even a day at work. At the same time, it is not all gloom and despair. Their lives, children and aspirations come to the forefront. They are all engaged in a day-to-day struggle for something larger. Of the 250 people we spoke to, the majority spoke of their families. We have put together a varied assortment of prospects that we gathered and crafted into the performance. For the audience, it’s an experience of a day in the life of a street vendor and a 360 degree experience of the street.”

Rare choices

Of the foods discussed in the play, Aruna says, “We’ve veered away from the popular eats and focussed on specific foods from different States of India. We start with the jhal muri (a puffed rice snack) from Kolkatta, move to chana sundal from Chennai and litti chokha (stuffed whole wheat dough balls) from Bihar among others. We discovered so much history in the stories, where we learnt about the food and its origins. We analysed whether food is political, economical, social or personal, and interestingly, it’s all of that. Those are the aspects we’ve tried to capture.”

Street food is also immersive like theatre since we are eating what’s prepared in front of us. Putting that in the context of a performance was a fun experience, says Aruna.

All five senses

“Food is the most immersive experience. It’s the only thing that engages all five senses at the same time. What made it interesting for us is we’ve collected the stories and framed these dramatic narratives in a physical theatre performance with masks. Masks are a medium and offer a universal representation of the vendor. The experience is heightened and enriched with this prop.”

She adds that while performance is vital, food remains central to the script and completes the experience. “While traditionally, food is not allowed inside the auditorium, we’re already showing how food and theatre can come together. It is a new exploration. You have to have the food in your mouth when you’re listening to the person’s story. That’s what makes it personal.”

The process is holistic for them as well. “As performers, we’ve also learnt how to make the food ourselves. For us, it’s a day in the life of a street vendor recreated through us. Preparing the food completes the experience for us and does justice to their work,” believes Aruna.

While her favourite street food is masala puri, she found the journey discovering new street food a fascinating one.

“Commissioned by Manu, a lot of ideas initially came from him. With time, however, fascinating narratives presented themselves and influenced our characters in the play. What we are presenting is five compelling characters that emerged from the process of studying these 250 people.

“Their stories had an equal amount of personal, political and philosophical undertones. That allowed us to create a journey for the audience from a story that is personal and political.”

Stand on the Street will be performed at Untitled Space, JP Nagar, on March 17 and 18 at 3.30 and 6.30 pm. Tickets, priced Rs. 400, available on BookMyShow. The performance then heads to Chennai, Mumbai and Delhi.

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Printable version | Apr 17, 2021 3:06:08 PM |

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