Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Thrust on playwriting-The need of the day *

Play-writing in Indian languages is in an all time low and in ambiguity now. The number of new plays written, published and performed is very few. The quality of the plays in representing Indian reality, its suitability to address the demands of the newer trends in theatre, and the creative space it gives to the actor director and other technicians, are derisory. In the content it looks so simplified immature and insufficient to represent the chore of the problem it seem to address, and is not capable in effectively holding the attention of the reader or the spectator– both emotionally and intellectually.

Regarding the form, it is insufficient to succumb to a motivating idiom on stage that provides an artistic space for the design a new production out of it. The playwright often seems to have been ignorant about the potentials/new possibilities/ current trends in theatre. He confines himself in some form of expression and blocks other possibilities of the stage. The director, actor, and other technicians have emerged as creative persons with the same importance as the writer; the modern theatre is a synthesis of the faculties of all these creative energies. Modern theatre has developed into a unique and discrete space where the dissolution of the creative faculties of different individuals merge together to form a single art work. It does not mean that the authority of all these artists is to be offended or diluted for the sake of the other. The work and creative heights of all these participating artists has to pitch itself at a symphony of resonances and the work of art reverberates in a unique amalgamation of ideas and imaginative temperaments to result in a true ensemble.

Modern theatre needs a collaborative coexistence of the playwright, director and actor. Each of the three is reluctant or ignorant about the faculties, creative identities and potentials of the other. At present we see that the plays performed lacks in any of these three faculties. Usually the director rules over the other two, or at times the actor, and at times the playwright predominates and the outcome lacks in its total communicative and artistic expression. It is high time that the three major creative entities of theatre mutually join in the creative pursuit more effectively and the immediate thrust has to be on the first phase of the artistic endeavor - the writing of the play.

The text of the new play
The new Indian play shall have the following features;
· Reflect the Indian realities, the social issues, problems, agonies, anxieties and also the delights of living in this period and country. It shall speak about the life of the time and the place.
· In perspective it has to reflect the Indian situation, but it can utilise the regional or desi concerns/situation to articulate about the macro India. Being rooted in Indian context the text can be universal.
· The text has dual existence, one as a material for the reader- the work of literature; and at the same time it has to transform into a performance. It has to furnish the dual being of drama, as a written text and at the same time yield into a performance text.
· That means the text has to withhold the autonomy of the writer and at the same time leave space for the director, actor and other creative technicians to artistically interpret and generate a new form, meaning and life to the written material.
· The text has to yield to the performance demands of the contemporary theatre devices. The best text shall be so open and flexible so that it can be interpreted and recreated in varied ranges of forms, styles and modes of expression. Classics from all traditions, (Indian, Greek, Shakespeare etc…) can be true models in this respect.
· The play can be written in any form of expression that has been developed all around the world over the times. It can assort to any of the genres of expression or create a new genre in playwriting. It can be narrative, expressionistic, absurd, or count on the fragmentary disposition of Images. But personally I think that theatre is at its best when it is narrative and this is reinforced again and again in the current trends of theatre all around the world.
· While being in a form, structure or style of expression, it shall be fluid enough so that other expansions/explorations on the text are allowed and possible.
· Most of the times the playwright seems to struggle in defining a performance style and technical mode of theatrical execution when writing his text. It is the job and faculty of the director and other artists to solve this problem in performance and the playwright has to focus his attention in the narrative structuring and the literary, poetic and political exposition of the content, story, idea, or idiom of expression. He can of course suggest/hint a performance mode in his writing, but it can be better achieved out of the collaboration with theatre and associated artists.
· It can be said the reverse too—it is the content that decides the form, and hence a collaborative coexistence may help the performing artists to reach at a form and technology best suited for the text.
· Most of the plays written are still modeled on the proscenium stage, its dynamics and aesthetics. The western perspective of theatre as a box-office commodity - a product that has to be consumed by the spectator - and related aesthetics decides the writing process. Such a theatre focus on the ‘show’ and the duality and detachment of the spectator from the action. Other options and modes for theatre bind the audience as a participant in the performance, emotionally intellectually and physically. Such theatre has to break open the confines and scaffold of the proscenium arch; writing a play in such a milieu needs a focus shift in attitude towards the positioning, narrative structure, craft and the mode of expression. Such attempts may give a new phase in the playwriting scenario and can be best achieved by collaboration with the playwright and the director.
· An Indian playwright has to acquire knowledge about the traditional and folk modes of narratives of the land and the people, its connotation to the aesthetics, and their social political and cultural implications. He can use and adapt any genre/mode he likes when writing a new play, but shall not be ignorant to the tradition of the land and the people.

A workshop to address these problems ---A series of collaborative workshops on playwriting may equip the contemporary playwright to come up with new plays that can be valid as a piece of literature as well as a material for adapting to the stage effectively. The workshop modality shall be,-
· Anyone who would like to a write a play can be included in the workshop. But preference will be given to the ones who had already written plays; and to writers who had already established as poets, fiction writers or in other literary genres.
· The writers would be asked to write the first draft of a play on any theme or style before they report to the workshop.
· The playwright should be grouped with a director who has the practical experience on the art of ‘transcribing’ the written text to the language of performance. The director shall try to understand the viewpoints and concepts of the playwright and at the same time work with him to mould the text to suit the demands of the stage.
· Both of them can use the service of a group of actors and try to work out a scene or a part of the play so as to understand the performance viability and style.
· The script has to be rewritten and modified in the workshop in accordance with the discussion with the director and the interaction with the actors.
· The rewritten text is to be read in the whole workshop so that further discussion with other writers and directors may change the form of the text further.
· In all the discussions the autonomy of the author is to be accepted and the playwright has to acknowledge the creative entity of the director and the actors in interpreting his text into a performance.
· The performance reputed productions, (live and projection of video) and discussion on the chemistry of transformation of the text to the performance can be an important activity in the workshop.
· The whole workshop is to be done at a peaceful serene and remote place where distractions of the participants are less, and creative atmosphere is persisted.
· Sangeeth Natak academy has to help publishing the good texts that is created in the workshop. And also help to produced on stage and a festival of such productions have to be organised as the next stage of the workshop.


[*] Presented to, Sangeeth Natak Academy New Delhi through Kavalam Narayana Panikker the vice chairman.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Life on the Strings – Doctor Faustus by Ljubljana Puppet Theatre from Slovenia



Life was hanging on the strings. Mephistopheles was dancing around. And Faustus was uncertain about his action, life and deeds. He was a puppet in the hands of the destiny, emoting, interacting, trying to cope up with, struggling to get away, and arguing with himself and Mephistopheles, who had made him sign a treaty that has been taken away by a flying spirit the moment he took his hands off.


It was a puppet play. The place was the upstairs of Oxford Books in Kolkota. And the Ljubljana puppet theatre from Slovenia was performing their adaptation of Doctor Faustus. The event was part of the Ganakrishti International theatre festival 2008. And I was there to present my play Karnnabharam in the fest.

Doctor Faustus written by Marlowe was adapted brilliantly by Igor Cvetko and the director Jelina Sitar, to suit the puppet show. The performance space was barely 1feet x 1.5 feet. The puppets were 4 inches size. Cast in metal and tied on strings the puppeteers gave life to these inanimate objects to narrate the saga of human fate and tragedy into an interesting, animated funny tale of about one hour duration. The Puppets and stage design is done by Milan Klemenčič

The puppets of Faustus, his servant Wagner, Mephistopheles (in many forms), the evil spirits and assistants of Mephistopheles, spirits, animals, Boatman Caron of the underworld, his master Pluto who is the lord of the underworld, Helen of Troy (offering to Faustus from Mephistopheles) and other devilish creatures were the regular expected characters. There was Kasperle - a jester and regular character from the European puppetry world, is an added character in the plot. Kasperle arrives as the house of the professor Faustus, and offers himself to be his servant, who can clean, roam around the master and of course eat and drink, but for a salary. He cannot enter into a treatise since he does not have a soul (I am just a puppet without a soul to pledge)! The puppet Kasperle is in an interesting counterpoint to Faustus and his surrender to Mephistopheles. As a parallel to Faustus- Mephistopheles couple there is the couple of Kasperle and Asmedeus, one of the devilish spirits. In the final scene when Faustus is to be taken to the hell, Kasperle has also to depart the duty of the servant and go away. But he has to be given the salary for two months that is pending and Faustus is unable to pay it. Instead Faustus offers to exchange his costlier cloth for with Kasperle, which Kasperle denies. He says that if it is done there is a chance that Mephistopheles may mistake him for Faustus and will be taken to the hell. Instead he says that Faustus may say hallo to his aunt who is staying in room no 13 of the hell. The introduction of Kasperle made a very interesting parallel to the Faust story and at the same time added fun and humour to the plot.



Doctor Faustus is undoubrtedly one of the most prominent characters in Eureopean literary history. The motif of the story about a scholar who sells his soul to the devil in his desire for absolute knowledge of the world can be tracked down to the European Middle Ages. Its origin however can be found in the legend of Theophilus brought to Europe form Asia Minor in the 11th century, and written down as a play in 13th century France.

Different German variants followed. Faustus as the title hero fist appears in Christopher Marlowe`s drama form the 16th century. Doctor Faust became one of the most popular plays performed by travelling puppet theatre companies in 17th and 18th century Germany, spreading as part of puppeteers` standard repertory throughout Central Europe.
The great German poet Goethe saw a play and transformed it into his famous epic. Nevertheless, Fustus has spent the most of his treatre life on the puppet theatre stage.
The Slovenian Doctor Faustus puppet production of 1938 in Ljubljana saw the creative pinnacle of Slovenian puppetry pioneer, painter Milan Klemenčič (1875 – 1957) who used the Leipzig text of the play, adapted and produced it at his Little Marionette Theatre.

The puppet play as is presented now uses puppets on strings that is moved and manipulated by the puppeteers, and also sets, painted backdrops, music, sound and lighting. The set looked realistic and at times expressionistic (when it represented non realistic spaces). The detailing of the sets and action are amazing: for example it has the many windows lighted by different colored glasses being closed in one by one, as midnight falls!

It was interesting and enthralling to watch the way the puppets moved, danced, flied and filled the tiny performance area. The tiny puppets filled the whole volume of the ‘theatre’ with immense energy, rhythm, and subtlety. They danced, climbed on tables, chairs and the furniture, and were trying to climb on a horse and taken to the skies by the horse, sat on chairs etc. There were immense life in these inanimate objects that was transmitted into them by the puppeteer; the puppets become an extension of the body of the puppeteer. The puppeteer has to breathe his soul and energy, into the puppets while he manipulates them. We can also say that it is the nature and the character of the puppet decides the puppeteer and his work, not the other way round. It is the puppet that demands to the puppeteer to work in a specific way since it has a nature, character, and life of its own. The mutuality of the puppet and puppeteer gives sense to a puppet play.

The play in five acts ended in doctor Faustus being taken ‘to hell with heaven and earth’. The tiny inanimate objects and the microcosm it created were effectively chronicling the pit of man in earth, and his voyage for hell and heaven within and around himself.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

KARNNABHARAM Travels to Kolkota



KARNABHARAM (The anguish of Karna), The Malayalam adaptation of the Sanskrit Classic Performed by Lokadharmi Kochi Kerala travels to Kolkota. The play is written by Mahakavi Bhasa, translated into Malayalam by Kavalam Narayana Panikker, Music direction by Bijibal and the Design & Direction is done by Chandradasan.
· This play has won the prestigious awards for Best play, best stage design & best costume design from Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards 2008.
· Also nominated for best Actor, best Ensemble and best Choreography in the festival
This play is performed widely in major theatre festivals all over India including Bharath Rang Mahotsav New Delhi 2006. Karnnabharam was performed in the cities of Bangalore, Gulbarga (Karnataka), Hyderabad, Vijayanagaram (Andhra Pradesh), Jagdalpur (Chatisgad), Cuttack (Orissa), Patna (Bihar), New Delhi, Kurukshethra (Hariyana) and now in Kolkota.
The play will be performed in Kolkota As part of Ganakrishti Natya Utsav 2008, organised in collaboration with East Zone Cultural centre Kolkota. The two shows at Kolkota are at– Bharatheeyam Cultural multiplex Kolkota on 21.07.2008 and the second at Rabindrasadan on 22.7.2008.
This is the 312th and 313th shows of the play that has been widely performed all over India.

The artists traveling to perform the play are Sumesh Chittooran, Sudheer Babu C.S, Selvaraj.V.R, Pradeep Chittoor, Madan Kolavil, Jyothi Madan, Sebastian K. Abraham, Santhosh Piravom, Sijin Sukumar, Jolly Antony, Nandan Palluruthy, Ajaikumar Thiruvankulam, Sanosh Palluruthy, Aadarsh Madhav, Subramanian, Jebin Jesmes, Gireesh Menon and Chandradasan


Saturday, July 5, 2008

In the Moonlight of Love – Soorya Krishnamurthy adapts Premalekhanam (Love letter) by Basheer




Love is a sweet and dreamy experience, quite unique and pure… it transcends human beings into a realm of lighter existence, into the bliss of being among hardships.
When Vaikom Muhammad Basheer writes about love it becomes all the more sweeter and transparent – as sweet as a ‘candy from the skies’. The human experience revolves around the whole scaffold of dreamy nuances of human bondage and at the same time is rooted to the ground reality, the conflicts of being in the ruthless and loveless society with all contradictions. Love becomes a cold stream of moonlight into which his characters can take a dip to forget the hardships and struggles ordeals and survive. He is the Sultan of narration, and the real legendary writer who has created his own language and constructions, an alternate narrative language itself whenever the words fail to express the nuances of relationships and experiences.

Premalekhanam (love letter) written in 1943 is adapted into a play by Soorya Krishnamurthy, into a simple and telling narrative form that makes us soaked into the moonlight of love. Recently many of the stories by Basheer have been adapted to stage by many theatre persons and all were appealing in theatre. There is some magic in the writing of basher that makes the adaptation into a success. This may be because the works of the Sultan of Stories are truthful, clear and unique exposé of human situation. It is neither the craft nor the technique of writing that makes it unique, but the truthful earthy human experience, the link with contemporary concern, and the clarity of vision and expression. Thus it is immaterial whether is expressed as fiction, drama or film in which the expression takes place.

This production also was a soothing experience and at the same make as reflects about the society in which we live in and our own limitations. It makes as dream about the moonlight of pure love that transcends all walls and bondages, the bondages of caste and religion in one level and bondages and limitations of our own existence and self to merge into the transparency of unconditional love.

The director and his crew have taken a simple and transparent design for the play quite true to Basheer and his writing. It was performed in an arena where the audience was sitting on all four sides of the square in which two characters Kesavan Nair and Saramma (enacted skillfully by the couple Amalraj and Lakshmi) were trying to play their mutual love. Kesavan Nair a bank employee (the play is hosted by the Bank Employees Arts Movement in Kochi) and his infinite love to the unemployed Saramma, the daughter of his tenant and her negation of his letters of love and expressions is used not just to engage the audience and marvel them, but also to reflect the conflicts of the present day. The whole interaction seems a gibe or a game of love in which direct expression is negated by the ploy of Saramma, who always postpones saying “tell you tomorrow”. And hence we have to wait till the last minutes of the play where the two lovers really express their love and unite.

The play depended not on any techniques or technology, other than the skill of acting from the cast. The design and approach of the director is quite refreshing in an atmosphere of overt technical gimmicks and overindulgence in gadgets used in contemporary theatre. Krishnamurthy in his previous production Melvilasam (Address) also has avoided any technological usages and depended on his actors and the human emotions of the dramatic situation to create his theatre. It is to be remembered that technique is not alien to him and he was doing a lot of ‘light and sound shows’ of massive formats quite efficiently. But when it came to theatre he left the craft beside, and is working on the basics of human experience and theatre itself.

The set was simple, with minimum essential properties, and minimal use of music and sound. The play started with Basheer’s favorite song ‘Soja Rajakumari…’ that set the atmosphere for the play to take place. The other sound used was the sound of a train to mark the different scenes which finally suggested the train in which the two characters leave for a voyage seeking a new life to a distant place. The light was to make the action visible and to mark the scene changes, and the use of a blue light to represent the night and also the moonlight of love that always is there in the hearts of the lovers became proficient. The blue light was there when the Saramma finally opened her heart to Kesavan Nair and the pair has really expressed their mutual love.

And the thrust of the narration that the director emphasized was on the religious diversity of the two lovers. The possibility of a life together between Saramma who is a Christian and Kesavan Nair who is a Hindu and how the couple is going to name their child was the chore of the play. This story that was written in the 1940’s and the resolution that they will grow the child without any religion, and name him as ‘Aakasa-Mittai’ (the candy from the skies) felt more relevant today, where the atmosphere outside is echoing the nonsense of screams, protests and bloodshed about a lesson in the curriculum of the primary school. While watching this production I was taken into the mystic and cooling experience of the moonlight of love; and at the same time was also made to ponder about the viciousness of our society that is retreating in its deliberations, deteriorating sense of humanism, conservative orthodoxy enslaving the progressive liberalism more ferocious and fierce than in the darker ages of history.