Feisty Five

Ambika Shaligram
Tuesday, 12 February 2019

The Saarang Theatre Festival, which begins from February 25, has curated a rich variety of performances. Here’s a glimpse into the productions

Veteran theatre artists like Atul Kumar, Mohit Takalkar, Koumarane Valavane and young name, Suraj Parasnis will hold the stage for the first edition of Saarang Theatre Festival, organised by Sahitya Rangabhoomi Pratishthan. 

Earlier, known as Vinod Doshi Memorial Theatre Festival, the festival has a new name, however, the ethos and spirit of the festival remains unchanged and this year too, the theatre-going audience in the city will get to see five best Marathi and non-Marathi plays.

Here’s a line-up of the festival that will start from February 25 and conclude on March 1. All the  plays will be performed at Yashwantrao Chavan Natyagruha, Kothrud.

Behind the walls 
Whenever Suraj Parasnis would visit his aunt and peeped from her house into the home of her neighbour, he would always be struck by the stories and the byplay that would take place there. “The unfolding stories, dramas in each dwelling are separated by only a wall/s. I was very keen to capture all this in one frame,” says Parasnis. He has directed Davikadun Chauthi Building for the festival and has roped in four writers for the same — Manaswini Lata Ravindran, Abhiram Joshi, Virajas Kulkarni and Omkar Gokhale. 

Parasnis, who has formed a theatre group called Theatron, along with Kulkarni and Shivraj Waichal, says, “Our play Mickey is doing quite well. Ashok (Kulkarni) kaka heard of it and he asked if we could do something for Saarang Theatre Festival. I didn’t want to let go of the opportunity, so we came up with this concept.”

He mentions that he needed a female perspective for Davikadun Chauthi Building and he asked Manaswini if she would write a story. “We were clear that for a show of this scale, we couldn’t have one writer writing all the stories. We wanted a different tone and that’s why we got four writers with different sensibilities. Hopefully, all the four stories will come out as one whole on the stage. Manaswini had written the script of Bun Maska for Shivraj, so we knew each other’s work. I hope I can do justice to her writing. I had also directed the plays of other writers, so Manaswini’s writing will act as a glue and hold the other stories,” says Parasnis. 
(Davikadun Chauthi Building will premiere on February 26, 7.30 pm)

‘Khichdi’ of many different elements
The Company Theatre Production’s Detective 9-2-11 is a comic noir, with elements of Navketan Films and Alfred Hitcockian directorials adding drama to the world of cinema on stage. Atul Kumar, who has directed the play, says, “Detective 9-2-11 is an original script. It’s written by Pallav Singh, a third year student of National School of Drama (NSD) and Niketan Sharma, an actor-director student from The Drama School, Mumbai. It was actually developed as a play of 30-40 minutes for students of NSD. Later, it was performed as a full-fledged play for Adyam Theatre Festival.”
Kumar, who has directed Piya Behrupiya, says, “Visuals have their own language and that’s the area, I like to play with. I liked the idea of creating cinema on stage and that’s what we have done with Detective 9-2-11. The idea was how in cinema house, with one take you are inside the room and with another, you are outside the room and then suddenly you are up in the skies, looking at the houses. The camera lenses help you play with perspective visually. That’s what we have done here.” 

The play was improvised as it was being written. “We had a broad idea about the play and then we started creating situations. A man and a woman do certain things and then suddenly two cops come resulting in a chase. We were also researching on the typical scenes in Hindi films of 1950s and ’60s, especially movies made under Navketan banner. So we put some dialogues from that era. We took dialogues from Hitchcock films and played around with it. It’s a khichdi of many different elements, but it has worked fortunately.” 

The play has six actors, who are performing about 100 characters on stage. The entire set is on wheels and it keeps moving around, the characters keep changing their costumes on stage. Obviously, the Hindi-English play is very fast-paced and it helped that two of the actors are trained in physical theatre. “Two of our actors are trained at the London International School of Performing Arts and are trained in clowning, mime and pantomime, mask work. The students from The Drama School put in input from our classical arts like Koodiyattam and Kalaripayattu. They brought in that kind of energy to the script, so the play is very fast-moving,” adds Kumar. 
(Detective 9-2-11 will be staged on February 25, 7.30 pm)

Against caste-hate crimes
Chandala or Impure is an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet. Directed and adapted by Koumarane Valavane for Indianostrum Theatre, Puducherry, Chandala is the story of an old demon, who feeds on hate. He has divided the world in four varnas: the purest at the top — Brahmins. Below them are the Kshatriyas, followed by Vaisya and lastly, the Sudras. There is also a fifth category — the Chandalas. They are excluded from everything because they can pollute purity itself. An angel, Kama, the cupid, will face this eternal demon. But the monster has cleverly broken itself into pieces and hidden them deep in our hearts. “This is a story of two mythical lovers, Romeo and Juliet, renamed as Jack and Janan. Their story will make love flow in everybody’s hearts and cleanse them of the monster,” says Valavane. 

“The choice to do Romeo and Juliet was triggered by honour killing incidents in Tamil Nadu. The story that has left a deep impression on us is of Shankar and Kausalya. Shankar, a lower caste man, was killed in broad daylight by Kausalya’s family. Kausalya fought to bring justice to Shankar and she is now an activist crusader against caste-hate crimes,” he adds.
(Chandala will be staged on February 27 at 7.30 pm) 

The father-son bond
Aasakta Kalamanch has come out with its new Hindi play, Chaheta. It’s based on a Palestinian play by Amir Nizar Zuabi and explores the relationship between a father and a son. It has been directed by Mohit Takalkar, who has also collaborated with Zuabi on another of his play, Main huun Yusuf aur yeh hai hamara bhai. When asked about Palestine connection in his recent works, Takalkar says, “This is Amir’s second play. I read it after Main Huun Yusuf... and I liked it, found it interesting. However, Chaheta doesn’t deal with Israel-Palestine conflict per say. It has observations about religions and I think it’s a more universal tale.”

The crux of the story deals with the myth about Abraham’s story which is found in Quran, Bible and Jewish religious book. “It is said that Abraham takes his son to the top of mountain to sacrifice his favourite son, his chaheta. Our play takes off at this point, figuring out what must have happened to the son, what happens to his mother. It’s a dark, metaphorical tale, wondering if the family is able to put this incident behind them and can move on with their lives,” adds Takalkar.
(Chaheta will be performed on February 28 at 7.30 pm)

Past continuous
Deewar was written by Prithviraj Kapoor and Inder Raj Anand. It has been revived by Sunil Shanbag, who has made a few changes to the original. Talking about the old play, Satish Alekar said, “The original cast of Deewar included the entire Kapoor clan — including Shammi and Raj Kapoor. When it used to travel to Pune, they would book a special train to haul the set, costumes. The sets used to be erected on Hirabaug maidan (now Nehru Stadium) It was performed realistically. This was a much talked about play in those days. My parents had watched this play. When I decided to work in theatre, my parents told me, ‘Direct a play like Deewar’.” 

The synopsis of the play: In a fictional jagir in North India, two rich zamindar brothers rule over a happy family and a harmonious community of peasants. The unexpected arrival of foreign visitors seeking refuge is the beginning of a dramatic change of fortunes. Ruthless machination by the foreigners split the community and turn the brothers against each other. First staged in 1945 by Prithviraj Kapoor’s Prithvi Theatres, Deewar is a fascinating allegory of colonisation and the Partition. In 2019, it is a remarkable insight into a historical moment full of promise for a new nation.
(Deewar will be performed on March 1 at 7.30 pm)

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