Saturday, February 14, 2009

META Fest 2009- On Transformations and Spaces in Indian Theatre



The curtain for Mahindra festival is up again…And the list of the ten plays selected for the festival is announced. It includes Kalivesham (Malayalam directed by Kavalam Narayana Panikkar), Ayussinte Pusthakam (The Book of Life, in Malayalam adapted and directed by Suveeran from the novel with the same name by CV Balakrishnan), Madhyabartini (Assamese play directed by Bahrul Islam) and Layla Majnu (Urdu directed by Ram Gopal Bajaj). As a welcome change all the ten directors of the selected plays are nominated for the best director award.


The other plays selected and the directors are Afsaneh - Bai Se Bioscope Tak (Akarsh Khurana), Absent Lover (Preethi Vasudevan), Hamlet - The Clown Prince (Rajat Kapoor), Aao Saathi Sapna Dekhein (Swanand Kirkire), All About Women (Hidaayath Sami), and Shakkar Ke Paanch Daane (Manav Kaul).


Kalivesham –on an Actor Possessed by the Character


This play written and directed by Kavalam Narayana Panikkar based on Nalacharitham, has Nala as its protagonist who gets possessed of Kali, the evil character. The text of this play provides a context in which there is interaction of three characters Nala, Kali and Natan (actor) of which Kali has no physical existence. His presence can be manifested only through the Natan (actor). Here when the Kathakali theme makes its renewed passage to the modern theatre it presents to us a thought process which forms the very basis of the art of transformation in theatre.


Ayussinte Pusthakam- On Sin and Sexuality


Contextualized against the intense emotional lives of a father, son and grandfather living in a small village in Kerala, this play offers an inter-textual theatrical experience dealing with the concept of ‘sin’. The play directed by Suveeran, deals with the themes of sexuality and sin against the backdrop the dogmatic religious concepts among priests and with its dynamic but semantically loaded scenes boldly tries to deconstruct the oppressive religious attitude towards sex as sin. The constructs like family, marriage, priesthood, incest, and pedophilia are being scrutinized, problematizing philosophical grand-narratives, using the simple but powerful images and medium of theatre.


Madhyabartini – Adapting Tagore


The play is a dramatization of Tagore’s classic short story Madhyabartini staged by Seagull, Guwahati. Rare Tagorean touches of the grotesque, in which a childless wife Harasundari nags her devoted husband Nivaran to remarry. He does, most reluctantly, but then gradually becomes besotted with his young new wife, leading to complications, one after another. The use of the Assamese folk form of Kamrupiya Dhuliya circus, with its clowns as narrators makes relate to the modern day flux of conflicting lives and interests.


Layla Majnun - A tale of timeless love and separation


Ram Gopal Bajaj, the actor-director who made a name with his spectacular plays as “Surya Ki Antim Kiran Se Surya Ki Pehli Kiran Tak”, “Asaad Ka Ek Din”, “Qaid-e-Hayat”, “Skandagupt” and many more directs Ismail Choonara’s play “Layla Majnun. The story begins with the chorus comprising women introducing the characters and informing that people are obsessed about Majnun as he wanders around lost in Layla’s love. All along, the chorus and a pair of story tellers appear and the incredible tale of love, pain and separation is unraveled in action and narration. The cast, except Banwari Taneja who played Majnun’s father are former students of NSD. The back stage workers include Amba Sanyal as the costume designer and Rajesh Singh, as the music director.


Afsaneh: Bai Se Biscope Tak-Revisiting Nautanki


Akash Khuranna is bringing back the age-old form of Nautanki and Baithak (a form of Kadhak). The story centers around two characters, Gulab Bai who danced for the masses with her Nautanki, and Beni Bai who catered to the elite with the more refined Baithak style. And now, they are old, and are reflecting on the glory of their past life in a surreal space where they sit and talk about their experiences. The play has Kathak, music and a spirited cast.


The Absent Lover –the International collaborative.


This dance theatre is inspired from Kalidasa’s Vikramorvishyam. The play begins when a wandering story-teller, the Sutradhara, inviting the audience into a mysterious forest…and story begins to emerge...Pururuvas, has lost his lover - Urvashi in this forest and he struggles through the forest encountering strange and wonderful manifestations of nature. His ordeal becomes a metaphor, an intense crucible of self-examination as, through the pain and longing, he journeys towards redemption and true love. The original script for the play was written by Bruno Kavanagh, with costumes and sets designed by Paris-based Delphine Ciavaldini, lighting designed by Les Dickert from New York, and music composed by U.K.-based Ben Foskett. Preeti Vasudevan the director of the play performs the role of Urvashi, alongside French-born dancers Celine Pradeu (tree spirit) and Gilles Chuyen (the king and the narrator) in the cast. It will also feature the music of Bengali Baul singer, Raju Das.


Hamlet – The Clown Prince


The play, (in gibberish and English) is a hilarious version of Hamlet -- a company of clowns presenting their version of Hamlet along with multiple doses of digressions to share their own lives and personalities. Clowns being clowns, the play is not only funny; it’s filled with contemporary influences which manage to present the classical tragedy with a modern feel. The actors shoulder the show with impromptu dancing and breaking into songs to dumb-sharads (father’s ghost who by the way is not allowed to talk… being a ghost and all) and through the stories of the clowns and their relationships with each other. Rajat Kapoor is the director.



Aao Sathi Sapna Dekhe – a Musical all set to Entertain


Swanand Kirkire’s play is a musical set in the Chandni Chowk area of Old Delhi - a romantic musical with elements of suspense and comedy in good measure. A Romeo-Juliet love story has the two fathers adopt the garb of feuding parents. When the fiction gets unmanageable they struggle to unscramble it to arrive at a happily-ever-after conclusion. The first part of Aao Sathi Sapna Dekhe takes place in moonlight, that magical time in youth… that strange innocence that bestows seeing rainbows even when it didn't rain… The second part is in face to face with the brightness of day, that painful transition to the harsh glare of reality. The play operates at the intersection of folk theatre and popular Hindi cinema.


All about Women – Stories Interwoven


Well-known light designer and actor, Hidaayat Sami makes his directorial debut with this Croatian play penned by Miro Gavran. The play has an unusual structure in which five life stories; alternate and interweave. One story concerns two sisters who are at loggerheads because of the man they both love - and there is also the question of their mother. The second story is also about two Women who are exceptionally close, until their relationship undergoes a crisis when a third woman comes into their lives. Then there is the story of secretaries working for the same firm; about three little girls who go to kindergarten together; and old ladies living in a retirement home.


Shakkar Ke Paanch Daane –the One Actor Show


Shakkar Ke Paanch Daane by Manav Kaul is a one actor play- with Kumud Mitra as the actor- discusses the life of the central character Rajkumar, a small-town simpleton. The play, which begins with a poem, does not have a conventional beginning, middle or end. The simple stage design with a lone chair, and a small space left in the middle by the four surrounding blocks, acts as his small world from which he springs with funny surprises…The light and sound design also help in creating an impression of a road, possibly of a highway, which is very close to where he lives. At various times, the road to an unknown land seems to beckon him but he appears to be content in his small space.


The plays selected seem to be an interesting mix of what is happening in contemporary Indian theatre. I am especially happy to see two plays are from Malayalam in the list of ten.


Ayussinthe Pusthakam - The Book of Life is nominated for best Ensemble, Script (CV Balakrishnan), Direction (Suveeran), Lighting (Suveeran) Scenic Design (Sunil CR), and costume Design (Priya).The nominations for Kalivesham are for best choreography (Kavalam), best ensemble, Direction (Kavalam), Lighting Design (Harikrishnan) and for sound design (Harikrishnan).


And we cherish our memories of the last year Meta where our production of Karnnabharam was selected for 3 awards, for best play, best costume design, and for best scenic design.


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