Sir and Sarla are back on stage with Fanidhar in tow, of course…

Prof. GP Palekar (Makrand Deshpande), Sarla (Aahana Kumar), Fanidhar (Sanjay Dadich) are back on stage. This time, Keshav (Faisal Rashid) joins them too.

They’ve had over two months of rehearsals but premiere night jitters hit the best of actors and more so if you are reviving a play with a strong fan-base during the Prithvi Theatre Festival on Diwali night. That ought to induce a lot of pressure. And it has.

Playwright-director-producer Makrand Deshpande has gotten an opportunity to explore the lives of Prof Palekar, Fanidhar and Sarla yet again and he’s thoroughly enjoying playing the puppet-master before an audience that sees the characters unravel before them. “I want the audience to think that they have unwittingly stumbled into someone’s drawing room and are watching the intimate goings-on within,” he says, indulging the gossips in his audience.

Sanjay Dadich, in characteristic style, refuses to acknowledge the stress of opening night. “If you have rehearsed a play for two months and are still not confident about going up on stage then there is something wrong with the rehearsals that you have been doing,” he says, cockily as ever. He is, fittingly, a tad bit nervous about playing a character Anurag Kashyap played splendidly for five years. “Yaar, starting mein darr toh lag raha tha because maine bhi bahot baar shows dekhe hain and Anurag was brilliant in that. But slowly, slowly as I kept working on the character I got better and I have been with sir (Makrand) for over eight years so we do share a certain level of comfort,” he says.
While Sanjay and Makrand represent the past of Sir Sir Sarla, Aahana Kumar (Sarla) and Faisal Rashid (Keshav) are the present. Both of them were nowhere on Mumbai’s theatre scene when the play first opened to a house full Prithvi Theatre on November 15, 2001. Faisal’s only connection to Sir Sir Sarla before rehearsals began were the stacks of books with a picture of Sonali Kulkarni (who played Sarla then) staring at him whenever he dropped in at the Prithvi bookstore.”I have no clue about what people saw back in 2001. I’d read the play earlier but I didn’t understand it much. Now, I’ve understood the play better through rehearsals.”

Aahana, on the other hand, realised what it means to play Sarla almost immediately after she was cast for the play. “The beauty is that he’s (Makrand) has made it really easy. The only time I feel the pressure is when I meet someone and they go, ‘Haw! Are you doing Sarla?’ and all I can say is, ‘Ya…uhm…hmmm,” she says. The rest of the team might be worried about bringing back a well known play on stage and the expectations of the audience, or simply just about filling in the auditorium on Diwali night but Aahana has a more pertinent concern — her sari. “I just don’t want my sari to come off. That’s the only thing I’m jittery about. I two rehearsals, after I started wearing the sari, I have stepped into my sari and it has come off! But I think I will sufficiently pinned up for the show. No, I’m a little jittery about the show but the kind of confidence that sir has shown in us, I think hum sambhal lenge.”

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What’s it like to watch a play with 600 kids?

“Insanely, smile inducing.” would be my answer to the question: What’s it like to watch a play with 600 kids?

The answer sure surprised me because I’m not a kid-friendly person; I’m not very fond of children’s plays and I have NEVER woken up for a 11 am show (not even 11 am press conferences). So I was my usual, grumpy self when I got stuck behind three bus loads of kids who were reluctantly following instructions from their teachers about how to (and how not to) behave while watching the play. But my Vespa (yes, the plug is necessary) and I managed to vroom into the auditorium complex just in time before Ranga Theatre’s Quixotic Wonderland began. I was plonked next to a very sweet school teacher, who was able to deftly suppress every noisy uprising within her ranks (except for the time she took a loo break and chaos ensued immediately).

I’m not very sure if I’d have enjoyed Quixotic Wonderland much if I hadn’t watched it with the kids. The play begins with some visually exciting choreography and it promptly had the young audience in its hold. The music, by Gagan Riar, was perfect for the production (I’m still humming the Shri Don Quixote number). But many of the cast members faltered. Beyond a point, I couldn’t forgive Sancho Panza’s mishandling of his prop horse despite his lovely singing voice. Also, the repeated use of entries from within the auditorium eventually became a distraction. When the action on stage got slow, children turned entirely towards the alternate entry points waiting to discover a new character’s entry. As for the play, I was expecting something more from this literary classic mash-up, some more give and take between the characters but they seemed to be too comfortable in their established identities to effect any drastic change in the script.

Anyway the performance was completely lapped up by the children and my complaints didn’t quite matter. And how could one not laugh along when an auditorium full of brats gave up Don Quixote’s hiding place in the tunnel or roared with laughter on the Red Queen’s eccentricities. The cast also earns full points for controlling the children without ever stepping out of character. Performing for children is a task taken up only by the brave and director Bijon Mondal’s troupe kept their audience engaged.

I wasn’t allowed to shoot videos or take pictures during the show but I managed to capture the audience reaction to the play… See how the kids excitedly met their favourite characters and hear them cheer louder and louder on Don Quixote’s entry…

Junoon’s Arts at Play for Schools in numbers

5 plays

12 shows

6095 audience: 5907 students + 188 teachers

(includes a few non-teacher adults like me 🙂 )

Quixotic Wonderland was performed as part of the shows programmed by Junoon for the Arts at Play for Schools programme. To find out more, visit Junoon Theatre

Quasar’s top 5 reasons to catch his new play

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A still from Q Theatre Production’s So Many Socks

It’s been three long years since Q (Quasar Thakore Padamsee) last directed a play, officially. The abbreviation-loving Ram Ganesh Kamatham’s mad play Project S.T.R.I.P. was where Q’s name last featured under the director’s tag. He’s been busy making a living, bringing other QTP plays on stage, Thespo and a million other things, but mostly the reason that he did not direct a new play in so long is because he wanted to take his time doing it. Q had read Tenzing Tsundue’s book of poems Kora nearly two years ago and his association with the poet-activist goes back even further in time. But So Many Socks is not a political play, he insists. Q wanted a large “bulk of time” so that he would not have to hurry the process of creating the play. So, from June through opening day, on September 6th, Q spent all his time developing So Many Socks, written by Annie Zaidi (who signed on to write the play because it sounded “like a weird and mad journey” according to Q).

It is really difficult for a director to pick *just* five reasons people should queue up to watch his play but Q has been brave. Here’s his Top 5 reasons to free up your schedule this weekend:

1. Annie’s characters are just so wonderful. Even though they’re intangible, they’re wonderful. There’s a poetry in her prose and it allows me so much freedom to interpret and take it forward.

2. Amey’s (Mehta, Dance Director at Temperance India) choreography is completely woven into the play. Every moment that I’m doing something even he’s in that space. In the credits he’s been called the Movement Director but he’s really the director of movement and I’m the director of words in the play.

3. The hilarious activist song by Suhas Ahuja that’s performed in the middle of the play.

4. Arghya’s (Lahiri) light design. Arghya has never worked with me as just a lighting designer. Ever. He’s not one of those who comes, draws a plan and then executes it. He brings in the extra level of trying to understand the text and what the vision is.

5. The ensemble of actors and the way they work together is something to watch out for. Each one has leapt out of their comfort zone to contribute to the play. This is a really generous group of people. Specifically, watch it for a girl called Shruti Mishra. This is her first play ever and she’s wonderful.

Catch the play on September 14, 15 (7 pm), 16 (4 pm and 7 pm) at KR Cama Auditorium, Opposite Lions Gate, Kala Ghoda.

Review: crack.

This review was first published on www.mumbaitheatreguide.com

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Yashwant Singh and Salone Mehta in crack.

The tagline for The Artistes Studio Production’s latest play ‘crack.’ is ‘Two lives. Two addictions. One end.’ The two lives in question are of Jai, a filmmaker, and Zoya, an actress who is also Jai’s live-in partner of eleven years, and the two addictions are what plague numerous urban, middle-aged couples – alcohol and loneliness. The end essentially involves a mixture of all of the above ingredients, which results not so much in a ‘boom’ but a ‘pop’.

In short, the play looks at the lives of Jai and Zoya, who are well beyond the seven-year itch phase of their relationship and they don’t look like they’ve made it through very well. They’re together only because Jai is a “rock solid trunk” on which Zoya likes to grow like a “creeper”. Padding up the protagonists are neighbours from the housing society where they live and sundry filmwalas. The neighbours gather more than often for society meetings to discuss the damage a new construction is causing to their own building while the filmi types land at Jai’s doorstep hoping to work with the director who had won an award for his work in the distant past. A significant advantage of the hopefuls who seek work with Jai is that those cast opposite Zoya become easy targets for her, as she admittedly metamorphoses into Mrs Robinson (a la Anne Bancroft from the film The Graduate!). The banter between the buildingwalas is supposed to make one feel concern for what will happen if the building collapses because of the construction activity. But it doesn’t. The tension between Jai and Zoya and their attempts to make it work somehow is supposed to make you feel worried for both or either of them. But it doesn’t.

A major plus point of the play is the individual’s performance. Every cast member works to build their bit into the play and that gives the play some weight. Yashwant Singh (plays Jai, has also directed the play) makes the brooding director look good and Salone Mehta (plays Zoya, has also written the play) often breaks into a breezy ditty to liven up the stage. Supporting actors ― Conan Pereira (Vir), Gillian Pinto (Sheila), Kiran Patil (Peter) and Kriti Tewaree (Neighbour) ― are particularly noteworthy for their contribution on stage.

The biggest drawback for the play is that it lacks depth. There are some interesting, urban, relatable themes that the production ably sets out to explore. Unfortunately, the campaign fizzles out before it can take shape and as it fizzles the story starts to steadily lose its originality, becoming predictable. It’s not that the play is lacking sincerity (one certainly can’t accuse the group on that front) but the meat is missing. The characters could have been developed some more so we wouldn’t be left asking so many questions as the play came to a close.

The Artistes Studio Production’s last play, Crystal Anniversary, also suffered from a similar problem. It had sincere actors, an interesting theme but not enough time/information given to the audience to get to know the characters better. This play, crack., has only had an opening run of a couple of shows. Hopefully, with some honest feedback the play will be able to offer its audience more than their money’s worth.

How I became a dastango…

“There are no props, no entries or exits, we can’t even move around on stage. It’s only words and gestures that keep the audience engaged for an hour,” points out Rajesh Kumar, as he explains the thrill of being a dastango, a storyteller. Dastangoi is the art of Urdu storytelling in which a dastan, or story, is recited or read aloud. The tradition originated in India’s first brush with Dastangoi was in the 16th century. More recently, Mahmood Farooqui has been working on reviving Dastangoi since 2004 and has built a team of 20 dastangos over the years. Rajesh Kumar and Rana Pratap Senger are two young dastangos from Farooqui’s team, who began their tryst with the art form in 2009.

Both Rajesh and Rana had many years of theatre experience before they turned into dastangos. Rajesh had been an active part of the Delhi theatre circuit where as Rana had learned the ropes as part of the late Habib Tanvir’s theatre group. In fact Rana and Farooqui first met during the filming of Peepli Live, where Rana helped the cast members with their diction. Rajesh and Rana were among the many enthusiastic participants who had signed up for a Dastangoi workshop by Farooqui in 2009. Both realised quickly that this was unlike any other theatrical experience they had had. They immersed themselves into learning the text, however difficult it might be. “We stayed quite far away from each other so we would meet in a garden midway to learn our lines and rehearse. Ped-patton ko dastan sunaya karte the,” Rana recalls the initial days. As for Rajesh, he did not even make it to the entire workshop, reaching the venue only on the last day. Himanshu Tyagi, who used to partner with Farooqui earlier, insisted Rajesh take up Dastangoi seriously, “I took up Dastangoi as a challenge.” From the group that attended the workshop, only a handful have remained faithful to Dastangoi. Rajesh usual pairs up with Rasika Duggal, while Rana’s partner is Sheikh Usman but lately they’ve grown confident enough to perform with anyone they are paired with.

The biggest challenge of Dastangoi are the stories. On Mahmood’s blog (http://dastangoi.blogspot.in), he quotes a note by Abdul Halim Sharar, the first historian of Lucknow. In the mid-nineteenth century, Sharar wrote that Dastangoi ’rested on descriptions of four phenomena, war, romance, trickery and magical artifices.’ “I was most scared about remembering the text and more so the sequence of the events that we have to narrate. This is not like a regular play. If you forget anything you can’t improvise. Dastangoi has nothing contemporary. There are jadugars (magicians) and ayyars (tricksters) – aap kahan se improvise karoge?” Rajesh asks earnestly.

Although, over the past two years, their Urdu has improved considerably, language continues to be another big challenge Rajesh and Rana face. Moreover, with rising interest in technological forms of entertainment, the art of storytelling has diminished. “Na yeh zabaan chal rahi hai aur na sunnewale hain. Aajkal log dekhte zyada hain aur sunte kam hain na,” Rana points out.

Even so, the two have managed to garner compliments on their command over the language from audiences in Lucknow and Hyderabad, where the audience has a keen ear for Urdu. Even in Karnataka, the audience was positive despite the language constraint. “Meeta Vashisht asked us if Urdu is our first language,” says Rana, rather proud of the celebrity attention. Rajesh reveals a trick, “If we find even one man in the audience who understands what we’re saying, we catch hold of him. Looking at him, the rest of the audience also puts in the effort to understand. They think that if one guy can laugh along why can’t they?” With Mahmood’s contemporary dastans – one on Binayak Sen and the other on the India-Pakistan Partition – the audience find it easier to connect to the performance.

Over two years and 25 shows, Rana and Rajesh have developed a certain sense of confidence in the art form. Yet there are some personal goals that they wish to achieve, sooner rather than later. “Mahmood and Danish (Husain) have been performing for so many years that they play around with the text, move from one story to another and back without losing the tempo. For us to reach that level will take a while but we’re working towards it,” says Rajesh, terming Mahmood and Danish as his idols. Rana adds, “Traditionally, dastans are make believe so Dastangoi tests your ability to come up with stories spontaneously and for that you need to know the language really well. For instance, if the characters are in a jungle, then the jungle can be described for more than half an hour or if they’re in a bazaar then it can be described down to every minute detail.” “We’re not confident enough to play with the text on that level,” Rajesh admits, modestly. The slight edginess that the language barrier causes also gives the group some in-jokes. “Sometimes when I take a pause, you know, for effect, my partner thinks that I’ve forgotten my line and rushes to my rescue to ‘save the performance’,” Rana says, flashing a grin.

Such faux pas aside, Rajesh and Rana have come a long way as theatrewalas over the last few years. “At the thought level, we have improved. Zabaan bhi saaf hui hai. Now we’re part of something that’s not done anywhere else in the world. I’m proud of the fact that I am part of the revival and development of a tradition,” Rana says. With utmost sincerity, Rajesh ups the melodramatic quotient even more: “I struggled for almost seven years to get some work but I wasn’t getting any acting assignments. I took up Dastangoi as a challenge that had to be completed and I knew I’d get a good result. Dastangoi has given me a purpose to believe in.”

I Wish…

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If I was as rich as the Ambanis, I would only perform dastans all my life. I would perform everyday. May be I would perform every word that has been written on those 46,000 pages.
– Rana Pratap Senger

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Firstly, I want to perform the piece featuring Aazar Jaadugar. I had rehearsed it thoroughly for my audition but I’ve never got to perform it on stage! Then, as a dastango I should be able to hold the audience for 2-4 hours and people should come up with requests on the stories they’d like me to narrate.
– Rajesh Kumar

Catch a Dastangoi performance on May 4, 6.30 pm onwards at Jnanapravaha, Fort.
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