NATIONAL School of Dramas second national theatre festival, Bharat Rang Mahotsava 2000, held earlier this year had a broad canvas and a more varied fare to offer. There were 70 plays in 40 days. Starting with K N Panikkars Urubhangam and Karim Kutty, it went on to climax in a retrospective of Habib Tanveers six plays Dekh Rahe Hain Nayen, Gaon Ka Naam Susral, Jis Lahore Nahin Dekhya, Mitti Ki Gaadi, Mudrarakshasa, and Charan Das Chor. In between came, inter alia, the masterpieces of Satyadev Dubey (Dear Liar featuring Nasseruddin Shah), Ratan Thiyam (Meigee Ching, a la Shumang Lila, presenting mindless mayhem inhering the conflict between Kukas and Nagas), M K Raina (Tum Saadat Hasan Manto Ho) Saoli Mitra (Naathbati Anaathbat, Bitata Bitangsha), Rudrasprasad Sengupta (Feriwalaar Mrityu), Bansi Kaul (Kahen Kabira), and the works of such masters as H Kanhailal, Amal Allana, Anamika Haksar, Prasanna, Neelam Mansingh Chowdhry, Nadira Babbar, N Muthuswamy, Nimesh Desai, Waman Kendre, Faisal Alkazi, Satish Anand, Parvez Akhtar, Sanjay Upadhyaya, Balwant Thakur, Mushtaq Kak, Alok Chatterjee, Afsar Hussain, Anant Mahopatra, L Dorendra, S M Kulshreshtha, Kewal Dhaliwal and quite a few productions of the NSD Repertory itself. A most appetising menu, indeed; but the consensual verdict was the same at last year talent aplenty but genius all-too-rare.
Going by the overall picture, the Indian theatre today is at a crossroad, knowing not which way to go. The efforts to evolve a kind of total theatre via folk forms and/or ancient classical tradition do continue although without the earlier obsession. At the festival, the twin trends had their representatives in Panikkars productions. While in the hands of others, the twin impulses found parallel expressions, in Panikkars hands, they tended to coalesce. These trends were rooted in a desire to reject the realism of the western dramaturgy an allergy that had another manifestation in the third theatre of Badal Sircar represented in the festival through Sircars own masterpieces, Michhil and Manushey Manushey.
|A pity that this inexpensive third
theatre, which had taken the Indian theatre by storm in
the 70s, is only a half-forgotten relic today.
Equally lamentable is the fact that because of the allergy to the West, we rejected even Parsi theatre. As Nadira Babbars excellent production of Yahudi Ki Ladki underlined, it could bring together the East and the West. The way Nadira made broad gestures, exaggerative movements and poetic style of delivery go in tandem with imaginative realism and create a kind of total theatre was breath-taking, indeed. Another instance of perfect synthesis of folk form and modernism was afforded by the plays of Habib Tanveer." the smells and tastes of food, an evocative medium of the thoughts and feelings, there were those who found in this experience of sensuality a poor substitute of the profound experience of great theatre.
Could it be that Neelam is ahead of time and the audiences are not yet ready?
Equally divided were the audiences in their response to Anamika Haksars production of Synges Riders to the Sea. While some were thrilled by her innovative additions to the script, some others felt that the heroic spirit of Mauryas silent suffering stood drowned in the songs, jokes, and the verbal diarrhoea of the stories. Obviously Anamika has failed to work the parts into an integral whole.
Disappointment was more unequivocal in the case of Naachani written and directed by Bhanu Bharti. Here was the story of a dancer who becomes an object of titillation and is denied even the right to become a mother.
The numerality of the loosely connected dances seemed to suggest that dancing, rather than dancers tragedy, was the raison detre of the play. Anyway, Bhanus play did highlight one healthy trend directors turning to playwriting. Indeed, not only Panikkar, Sircar and Tanveer but also Kanhailal, Mohan Maharishi, Bhakti Barve, Sushma Deshpande, Parasuram Ramamoorthy, Afsar Hussain, Avijit Dutt, Alok Chatterjee, Praveen Bhole presented plays scripted or adapted by themselves.
Mirroring Indian theatre today, plays in the festival reflected all the current trends turning to Indian epics (Hey Parashuram, Saketam and Seeta Swayamvar, two plays on Ashwatthama, four plays on Draupadi), to folk tales (Bawa Jitto, Aks Tamasha), to history (Dhuruswamini, Saraighat, Ranangan, Zerenga), to western playwrights (Shakespeare, Strindberg, Lorca, Gogol, Synge, Jean Giradoux, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams), to Sanskrit classics (Urubhangam, Bhagwadujjukam, Mrichhkatikam, Mudra Rakshasa, Baalcharitam), to adaptations of novels/stories (Subaranlata, Draupadi, Savare Re, Lal Batti, Renu Ke Teen Rang, Ai Ladki). The popularity of solo performances was evident from the presentations of Saoli Mitra, Bhakti Barve, Sushma Deshpande, Sapna Sand plus Bharat Sharmas Solos in Contemporary Dance. There were representatives even of such trends as colleges of poems (Pul Per Khade Log) and songs (Ei Shaher Ei Samay). Assli Tamasha from Pune represented the popular folk form of Tamasha at its most authentic. The festival had also one new feature this time an interactive evening with Tanveer after a week-long retrospective as a kind of finale of the festival.
As for the themes, there was Gods plenty, but woman was in focus in a number of plays. Amal Allanas Char Chaughi presented a mother and her three grown-up daughters; Prasannas Road to Mecca (featuring Arundhati Rao) was about an old, eccentric womans realisation that loneliness is the price one pays for living life on ones own terms; Muthuswamys Kadavul Peyarai Mattrikonda was about devadasis Jayadeva Hattangadis Wada Bhawani Aaicha was an adaptation of house of Barnada Alba, Kirti Jains Subarnalata depicted a woman caught in the web of an orthodox, male-dominated system; Dinesh Thakurs Anii (by Tendulkar) was about a working middle class girl whose dream of being loved is fulfilled only when she is raped. Not surprisingly, Draupadi was the theme of several plays: while Saoli Mitras powerful solo-performance was built on her and Dorendras play projected her as the very cause of Mahabharata, Kanhailal (adapting Mahashweta Devis novel) used her name for the story of Dropdi, a santhal woman, who is raped by security men. While legendary Draupadi had escaped the humiliation of being stripped publicly, courtesy Krishna, no god comes to the rescue of Dropdi.
Mahesh Elkunchwars Wasansi Jeernani (directed by young Sandesh Kulkarni and featuring Mohan Agashe) had a mystic, philosophical tenor as it dealt with the mystery of death recording the last moments of a dying man. Yatriks bilingual Bombay Boshina, depicting the tension between two communities against the backdrop of the Babri Masjid demolition, showed that fence-sitters are no less guilty than the fundamentalists. The theme of Premanand Gajvees Mahabrahman was social power structure how the brahmin who performs the holy rituals of the funeral is treated as a subhuman dalit in day-to-day life.
If Turup Ka Patta, directed by Bapi Bose, was a thriller built around CIA conspiracy to kill Chou-En-lai, Good Morning, Inspector was a murder mystery. Perhaps the most inovative work of the festival was Roysten Abels Shakespeares Othello A play in Black and White. Here, in the process of rehearsing Shakespeares tragedy, taking on the persona they are playing, the performers discover in their personal relations the motivations of the Shakespearean characters and thus re-enact an almost identical drama in their own lives. Borrowing dialogues from a wide range of Shakespeares different plays, it is a sterling experiment of high order. No wonder it won the prestigious Scotsman Fringe Award at the Edinburgh Festival 1999.