Reading in between

Dexterous Theatre director Sabina Mehta Jaitly.

Dexterous Theatre director Sabina Mehta Jaitly.   | Photo Credit: Photo: S. Subramanium

Sabina Mehta Jaitly on “Publish or Perish”.

Play readings are often the first step towards staging a play. With the focus only on the text, they strip away all other distractions. But with an experienced cast of Bhaskar Ghose, Ramesh Thakur and Sabina Mehta Jaitly — a play reading is not merely a reading, it’s a performance.

Yatrik recently presented a reading of “Publish or Perish” a new play by Anuvab Pal, directed by Jaitly at the India Habitat Centre. Set in the U.S, the play deals with “explosive issues” but with a touch of irony and a splash of humour.

Jaitly received Pal’s script a few years back. She decided to do a play reading to test it with an audience. Play readings are also a useful practice ground for actors, she finds. The director recalls that Pal sent her three versions of the same play, each with a separate ending. She would want to stage all three endings, but then the play would last three hours! Unwilling to allow that, she had to make a choice.

Having previously directed serious plays like “Mirza Bagh”, it has been a while since Jaitly tried her skill at comedy. She explains, “As an actor I find comic timing very difficult. You have to get it just right. As a director on the other side, you have to orchestrate getting it right for the actors.” “Publish or Perish” attracted her because of its “extreme comedy”. She adds, “It’s not light. It’s not black. But through comic one-liners it deals with issues like racial profiling, race, arts and aesthetics.” It is especially relevant to our times because it throws light on America’s continued insularity.

Optimistic about Indian English playwrights, Jaitly likes to work with playwrights who are amenable to changes. She also adapted Pal’s play so that the two main characters are of Indian origin.

She herself chose the name “Publish or Perish” over “Fatwa”. Jaitly explains that she prefers to veer on the side of caution, “We can’t be so irreverent about race and religion,” she says wisely, adding, “There are better ways to be a martyr than over two lines.”


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