Thursday, December 20, 2012

10-day theatre fiesta comes to end

Neha Saini
Tribune News Service

Aakash during the festival.
Aakash during the festival. Tribune photos

Amritsar, December 17
The 10-day theatre fiesta came to an end only to leave the audience asking for more and with performing theatre groups happily obliging. The annual National Theatre Festival organised by Manch Rangmanch at Punjab Natshala drew curtains with Draupadi, a play directed by Chandradasan. And going by the success of the 10-day event, the organisers are content that Amritsar has finally arrived on the theatre map of the country.

“We had already hosted some of the best theatre groups with our national and international theatre festivals. And this time too, the audience support and encouragement has made us plan these events frequently,” shared Kewal Dhaliwal, organiser and a prominent theatre personality from the city.

The theatre festival hosted 10 theatre groups from across the length and breadth of the country, right from Jammu and Kashmir to Kerala, Jodhpur to Kolkata. With critically acclaimed plays like Draupadi, Math Ke Raste Me Ek Din, Yamlila and Karmawali being staged, the festival was high on theatre ethics and quality performances. Some of the theatre groups and directors seemed quite impressed by Amritsar’s support towards theatre.

Amritsar audience witnessed plays like Yamlila

“It was an amazing experience being a part of the National Theatre Festival here in the holy city. I am thankful to the audience for their support and full attendance during all 10 days. The festival was an excellent mix of classic, folk and contemporary theatre and brought together some of the most popular and acclaimed theatre artistes from the country,” shared Suresh Bharadwaj, a noted theatre person and director of the play ‘Math Ke Raste Me Ek Din’.

Suresh was impressed by the venue chosen. “Punjab Natshala is an amazing cultural and theatre space created with the right amount of ambience and technical support. It’s probably one-of-its-kind in the country,” he said.

Likewise, Bahrul Islam and Sharad Sharma, who brought their plays ‘Akaash’ and ‘Arey Sharif Log’ at the festival, too felt that Amritsar has picked up pace with the other noted theatre hubs in the country.

“It’s not just about quality theatre, but also its implementation and understanding. The city has a good theatre audience and its encouragement enough for any theatre artistes to come and perform again,” said Sharad Sharma.

As for the future plans, Kewal Dhaliwal is hopeful that bigger and better theatre events become calendar activity in the holy city. “Artists in the city have shared the responsibility along with the artists nationwide to promote the cause of theatre in the city. If only the government would take note and chip in with some assistance, we can have more such activities on a much better scale.”

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Paying respect to womanhood through ‘Draupadi’

Neha Saini
Tribune News Service

Amritsar, December 16

drauDraupadi, as most would agree is the most prominent and fancied character from Mahabharat. There have been many inspired writings and portrayals of the character considered a strong embodiment of Indian womanhood.

And so the dramatised and a contemporary version of the character was at the centre of things when Lokadharmi Theatre Group presented Draupadi at the National Theatre Festival here on Sunday.

The Kerala-based theatre group enthralled the audience with an impressive play which tried to analyse the modern womanhood through the epic character.

It searched the many layers of complexity by which the motif of Draupadi exists in the psyche of Indian women and the reality of her life.

“Draupadi is an archetype for women of all ages. She was married to five men with virtues, yet never given her due respect and acknowledgement for her individuality. She was a woman with great intelligence and remained aware of her circumstances,” says the director, Chandradasan.

“Even when she rebelled against all odds, she couldn’t break through her constraints and this is where she becomes a representative of the contemporary women, who is aware and also tied into the archetypes of family and morality fed deep into her,” he adds.

Inspired by the idea after reading Yajnaseni, a novel written by Pratibha Ray, Chandradasan decided to represent the character as a symbol of both, modern Indian women and the marginalised segment.

The play made use of several props like paintings of many known women like Sylvia Plath, Madhavi Kutti, Taslima Nasrin, Silk Smitha and more.

It also brought in some great set design and drama with masks, puppets and innovative lighting on stage. The artwork, which plays a central prop in the play, was by renowned artist Shobha Menon.

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Friday, December 7, 2012

A play that smoothened the Communists’ path to power


‘Ningalenne Communistakki’ turns 60

An old janmi (agrarian landlord). Steeped in old-world beliefs, but facing dwindling fortunes. He is cross with his Communist son’s new-age convictions. However, the new realities and the force of events turn him around and make him a convert to his son’s ideology. As the curtain falls, the old man demands: “Hand me that red flag, let me keep it aloft.”

You might step aside the play today and be tempted to dub it yet another Communist propaganda material. But 60 years ago,Ningalenne Communistaaki  (`You have made me a Communist’) echoed the reality of the times. Kerala was steeped in feudalistic mores, superstitions, upper-caste arrogances, poverty and exploitation of the working class. Communism was the only hope on the horizon for the toiling masses.

Ningalenne Communistaaki , which deeply impacted Kerala’s society in the 1950-60s and helped propel the Communist Party into power in 1957, will turn 60 this week.

Land reforms

The iconic play, written by Thoppil Bhasi and staged by the Communist Party-backed Kerala People’s Art Club (KPAC), premiered on December 6, 1952 at Sudarsana Theatre at Thattassery in Kollam district. Apart from launching a people’s theatre movement in Kerala that drove backstage the then prevailing genre of theatre dominated by Tamil musical melodramas, ‘Communistaaki’ helped set the scene for the radical land reforms carried out by the Communist government and hastened the end of rural landlordism. Perhaps no work of art has had such an impact on Kerala’s social, political and cultural domains as ‘Communistaaki’, which has been staged more than 10,000 times.

“I still remember the exhilaration that G. Devarajan, who had scored music for the play, and I felt while walking home under a moonlit sky after the first staging of the play,” poet O.N.V. Kurup, who wrote the songs for the play, recalls. “On the way, we saw people excitedly discussing the play. We sensed that the play would go places.”

Asked to assess the impact of the play on the 1950s Kerala society, the poet said: “Communistaaki made the common people sit up and think how to remove society’s ills. It was the first play to have followed the Indian People’s Theatre Association’s (IPTA) mission statement: “People’s theatre stars the people.” Audiences could identify themselves with the play and it inspired the new generation to dream of a socialist future.

Social conflicts

A bunch of young men, fired by Communist ideals, had wanted to present a play that would bring on stage the conflict between conservative and modern values and the ultimate triumph of progressive values (Communism). The young men — who included G. Janardhana Kurup, N. Rajagopalan Nair, K.S. Rajaamani, O.N.V., Devarajan and Kambissery Karunakaran — zeroed in on ‘Communistaaki’. They rehearsed for a year in a tent put up at the home of Kodankulangara Vasu Pillai, a theatre enthusiast.

Janardhana Kurup, one of the founders of KPAC, who was the play’s director initially, also donned the powerful role of the villainous landlord Kesavan Nair. Mr. Kurup’s daughter Sarada, a former professor at Cochin University, recalls that her father had put his body and soul into the play. “As a five-year-old, I used to accompany my father to the rehearsal camp,” she told The Hindu .” She remembers K.S. George and Sudharma rehearsing some of the songs in the play.

Dr. Ambili, another daughter of Mr. Kurup, recalls that her father had portrayed the wicked landlord’s role so realistically that at one point where he had to slap his daughter Sumam (actor-singer Sulochana), Mr. Kurup had forgotten that he was acting on stage and hit Sulochana so hard that she writhed in pain.

Kambissery Karunakaran had played the role of the janmi Paramu Pillai initially (and later by P.J. Anotny and Premji). Sudharma took the powerful role of Maala, the peasant girl, who is secretly in love with Paramu Pillai’s son Gopalan who has fallen in love with Kesavan Nair’s daughter Sumam (Sulochana).

“My mother acted and sang as Maala in over 100 performances of the play,” Sudharma’s daughter Chitra Gangadharan, who teaches at Madappally Government College, told The Hindu . “She was very passionate about the role and very committed to the Communist movement.” Sudharma, a fine singer and actor, was a music teacher in a government school. Her actual name was J. Gomathy; she had renamed herself for the stage to hide her identity.

“My mother used to act in the play at night and during the day she would work at school, for several days on end,” Chitra Gangadharan recalls.

“Those days, no glycerine was used for sobbing on stage and hence she had to actually weep after whipping up real emotion. She actually lived as Maala on stage and the huge emotional stress used to shoot up her blood pressure. She became hypertensive (high BP) from her early twenties because of the emotionally-charged acting.

Break with old theatre

Playwright and director Chandradasan notes that ‘Communistaaki’ marked a break with the then prevailing theatre practices in terms of content, text, acting, and staging.

“It was Kerala’s first indigenous theatre performance,” he told The Hindu . “In fact, Communistaaki later on set the formula for the professional theatre in Kerala.”

Sajitha Madathil, actor, theatre researcher and author of `Malayala Nataka Sthree Charithram’ points out that a play cannot be evaluated out of its social context. ‘Communistaaki’ had provoked its viewers to think of social change, and that was a great achievement. “But, the depiction of women characters is problematic — it smacks of male-chauvinistic construct of female roles.”

Courtesy The Hindu Daily-  KOCHI, December 6, 2012

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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Drama of a Decade


Posted: Dec 01, 2012 at 2236 hrs IST

Theatre director, actor and anchor of the group Manch Rangmanch, Kewal Dhaliwal is in a reflective mode as he looks back at how the National Theatre Festival, Amritsar, which he began in 2003 as a humble initiative has reached a brand new stage. As the countdown to the 10th National Festival begins, Dhaliwal is happy that this time it’s a collective effort, with support from various quarters. “It’s a heartening to see that the festival has grown and some of the best groups of the country are participating in it, with audiences coming in from all over Punjab,” says Dhaliwal.

This year, the festival is dedicated to the legendary writer Saadat Hasan Manto, with a line-up of plays reflecting the themes, styles, approaches and contexts of theatre and directors from states such as Kerala, Rajasthan, Assam and Delhi as well as a play from Pakistan.

“In the past nine years, we have staged plays in different languages here, and found that language was no bar in art,” says Dhaliwal, before talking about the selection of plays which will be performed from December 8 to 16 at Punjab Naat Shala.

Among the plays to staged is Karmawali, directed by Sunita Dhir and written by KL Zakir. The powerful play depicts the tragedy of Partition through the eyes of a woman — a reminder than women are almost always the most acute victims of any upheaval.

From Ujjain comes Arey Sharif Log, directed by Sharad Sharma, while director Baharul Islam’s group from Assam brings Aaakash, a funny story by writer-filmmaker Bhabendra Nath Saikia. The play begins with a letter that is dropped into tha hands of a loving father, whose daughter is about to be married. The letter reveals the immoral character of his would-be son-in-law.

Jamleela by Arjun Deo from Jodhpur will depict the folk culture and music of Rajasthan in this woman-oriented production. Anveshana’s Dance Theatre will present Anveshan, a woman’s story through dance and intense physical movements.

draupadi bobinson7The audiences will also be treated to Kerala-based director Chandradasan’s acclaimed production Draupadi. The play, as its title suggests, revolves around the main female protagonist of the Mahabharata, the powerful and often-misunderstood Draupadi. In the production, the playwright tries to analyse the nature of modern women through this epic character. Draupadi, a woman married to five men, who is often considered to be one of the reasons for the great war between the Pandavas and Kauravas. The play is presented in an unusual style — with props such as paintings, masks and puppeteers taking the story forward.

The festival opens with Dhaliwal’s Manch Rangmanch’s new production, Kis Thag Ne Luteya Shehar, an experimental production that attempts to tackle the changing face of cities, where concrete is fast replacing human elements, and the youth are moving away to the greener pastures for power and money.

The last play is Kaun Hay Ye Gustakh, by Pakistani theatre person, Madeeha Gauhar’s group, Ajoka Theatre. The play is based on the various trials that Manto faced and brings to the fore some unknown facets and writings of Manto. “We have spent time and energy to put together a festival that will appeal to different audiences,” says Dhaliwal.