From gangster comedies and psychological thrillers to mythic battles, the 14th edition of The Hindu Theatre Fest promises plenty of action next month — personal, political and much more
If theatre had a heart, it would be a large one: accommodating, open to new possibilities and welcoming of new voices. In India, we have seen this in many recent experiments — from plays highlighting our current political climate to ones that have been constructed for smaller audiences and spaces (like Atta Galatta, a café-meets-library-meets-performance space in Bengaluru) — urging viewers to participate more intimately.
“As opposed to cinema and literature, theatre is a minority arts,” notes Ramu Ramanathan, Mumbai-based playwright-director. “Because of its very nature — an oral form — theatre is nimble enough to escape the attention of trouble seekers. You can say powerful things, raise questions, and quietly get away with saying them, too,” he says, pointing to Yalgaar 1857 as an example. The 2015 Marathi play drew on the 1857 revolt and became a voice of dissent, combining the philosophies of Dr Ambedkar and Karl Marx.
Though not all shots at creativity are successful, there are often sparks. What is heartening, however, is how it is possible now “to create small stuff and display it”, says Arundhathi Nag, actor and founder of Bengaluru’s Ranga Shankara. Like Dolls, Chennai-based Crea-Shakthi’s 2017 production, which stemmed from an idea to discuss personal stories and evolved into a more intersectional discussion of women. Of course, there has also been a significant shift in writing. Sunil Shanbag, Mumbai-based theatre director-screenwriter (who recently won the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award), says playwrights have begun looking within, and inward, using theatre as a tool to echo emotions that resonate with a larger audience.
The upcoming The Hindu Theatre Fest promises to allow us glimpses into these various palpable movements in contemporary Indian theatre. “The Hindu Theatre Fest has, time and again, brought plays to cities (Chennai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad) that would otherwise not have had the opportunity to see them,” says its curator, and Editor of The Hindu, Mukund Padmanabhan. “For me, this is a very significant aspect of the festival.” A look at what’s in store at the 14th edition, which begins on August 10.
Naseeruddin Shah speaks about his love for late Indian-Urdu writer Ismat Chughtai and her writing
“I just can’t have enough of Chughtai’s writing”
“In my dreams, I write like her and the characters peopling her stories seem like members of my extended family. I had a grand aunt who dragged herself around the village on all fours, turning up (by chance) at different houses exactly at meal times, and a miserly grand uncle who kept money hidden in the rafters of his house only to one day see a pigeon flying away with a hundred rupee note in its beak. People like these were only sources of merriment for us as children, but Ismat’s acute observations and compassionate re-creation of human behaviour have helped me understand them better.”
“I’d love to be called a feminist, but I hate labels”
“As a child I witnessed misogynistic behaviour in my family. For years, I thought this is the way the world should be. I think it was George Bernard Shaw, whose vision of the life force residing in the woman, that first made a difference to my thinking. And then I was hit by the double whammy of Mirza Ghalib and Ismat, with Faiz thrown in for good measure. Reading Ismat was a revelation. I’d say she introduced me not so much to the concept of feminism, but humanism.”
On August 10, at Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao Concert Hall, at 7.30 pm
Aruna Ganesh Ram recalls how she hit the street looking for inspiration
In November last year, Ram and her team of three actors set out to meet street vendors in Bengaluru. The intent: to capture their lives and stories, and create an immersive experience. “One vendor pointed to the street where her husband died; another told me how the cops took away his friend’s film script,” says Ram. Originally commissioned for the Serendipity Arts Festival in Goa, the play emerged from sieving through multiple narratives — across Benares, Kolkata, Chennai and the Northeast — to craft an act that uses food as a sensory experience to journey into their lives.
On August 10, at the Rehearsal Room of Sir Mutha Venkatasubbarao Concert Hall, at 2.30 pm, and on August 11-12, at 2.30 pm and 5.30 pm
Atul Kumar goes behind the plot, physicality and process
You call this a gangster physical comedy and it marries many genres — graphic novels to gangster films.
“It’s full of gangsters, is highly physical and is a comedy… so there you go! But more than mere forms, I was keen to capture the soul and ensure it not become vaudeville and cabaret — for it to remain the story of a man on the run, who is trapped by fate and, in a sense, swims through all these genres.”
How did the script evolve into the play?
“The rough script was originally developed with students of the National School of Drama. A couple of actors, who are a part of the play, added on to it, and mostly improvisations on stage during rehearsals helped us find words for what we wanted to depict. The script keeps evolving, constantly.”
On August 11, at Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao Concert Hall, at 7.30 pm
Saurabh Shukla looks at the play’s metaphors
“Barff is a script I’ve engaged with for several years now. Because I live in Mumbai, I placed it originally in Maharashtra but something was lacking. Three years ago, while shooting for a film in Kashmir, I was moved by the people there, their gentleness and their warmth. But I also became conscious of the inherent fear that permeated the beauty of the place. To live that fear was unnerving. I knew my story had to be located there and even though there’s nothing political about it, we are never completely free from the politics of the land we are from.”
On August 12, at Sir Mutha Venkatasubbarao Concert Hall, at 7.30 pm
Amey Mehta layers an epic with a folk festival
“To capture the flavour of Aravan’s story and Koovagam — the annual festival for transgenders in Tamil Nadu which revolves around the warrior’s sacrifice and Lord Krishna’s widowhood (who had taken on a female form to marry Arjuna’s son) — I needed a movement language that was earthy and raw. All my actors went through an intensive workshop on a series of dance styles like Bharatanatyam, Odissi, Karagattam (a folk form from Tamil Nadu), Kalaripayittu (a martial arts form from Kerala) and contemporary dance. I knew I was attempting to portray a world they were very isolated from, so I organised a mock Koovagam festival in Mumbai and, through a series of ramp walks and a day filled with cross-dressing, the actors began to get familiar with that world.”
On August 16, at Museum Theatre, at 7.30 pm
Koumarane Valavane’s inspiration to dig deep
The dance-drama emerged from Valavane’s dream to create work inspired from Dravidian and similar cultural rituals. “I was fascinated with how these 1,000-year-old rituals stand like a dense forest, their roots deeply penetrated into the lives and lands of the people,” he says. Karuppu was the group’s own journey into this, but from the wider context of the universe that encompasses female (Prakriti) and male (Purusha) energies. “The deeper we travelled, the more it opened up the imbalances within the individuals, the actors within the story, and the scape itself. Karuppu evolved to depict a universe which absorbs all imbalances, becoming a black hole from which re-birth is possible.”
On August 17, at Museum Theatre, at 7.30 pm
Nimmy Raphel explains the genesis and evolution of her directorial début
“Any story is open to interpretation. As part of our constant engagement with the Ramayana — Adishakti’s Ramayana Festival (2009 to 2011) — I began wondering about how a single story could have multiple points of view. I extended that idea to the episode of Bali’s death, with all the characters who witness it voicing their varying opinion. It’s interesting also because in our current times, we are often pushed to voice only one opinion. The play is a larger reflection of that idea.”
On August 18, at Museum Theatre, at 7.30 pm
Gerish Khemani on the what, when, where and why of his creation
“In the last months of 2016, I was in Berlin on a British Council Scholarship to study Devising Theatre and Performance. During improvisations in class, when the teacher wanted us to express in our mother tongues, I was flummoxed. In an international environment, encountering refugees from the Middle East on my daily commute, I was struck by the extent of my situation — my little connection with my mother tongue, my own exiled past, heritage and homeland. The play is a quest to reclaim the syncretic cultural thread, and the central character, Jatin, is in some ways an extension of me — though reflecting a darker, more extreme manifestation of the alienation I’ve grown up feeling.”
On August 19, at Museum Theatre, at 7.30 pm
Mahesh Dattani breaks down the process of directing a psychological thriller
This is a plot-driven play, but I still did a detailed character analysis with the actors, Manjari Bhart and Bhart Dabholkar, to motivate them to a more truthful performance.
Greed is a craving to fulfil a void in us. So the actors worked on a bio sketch, including the childhood of their characters.
Playwright Anil Deshmukh’s script is set in Mumbai. It’s a metropolis that isolates human beings.
On August 19, at Chowdiah Memorial (Bengaluru), at 7.30 pm, and August 26, at Ravindra Bharathi (Hyderabad), at 7.30 pm
Tickets, booking and helpline
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