It’s playtime folks

I decided to get theatrical over the weekend.

The Hindu, where this soon-to-be chief editor works, is organizing a Theatre festival at the Music Academy and my intellectually inclined little brother convinced me and my better half to give up watching pirated DVDs for a while and instead watch real three dimensional human beings on stage. The last time I was involved in a play of any sort was in a disastrous school production of a Chekhov play where the protagonist keeps yelling “Oh Palpitations! Oh Palpitations!” to indicate an impending heart attack. Apparently, it did not strike those translators that people generally do not have a predilection for using 4-syllable words when about to die from a massive coronary. You know, Id love to meet all those geniuses who translated Russian plays into English. And ask them if they would still translate the Russian phrase for addressing happy people as – “Oh my gay man”. And ask them to meet all my school time pnjaaabi friends who used to “Phir se woh dialog bol yaar” a million times and break into shady laughter. But, we digress.

The usual crowd that comes to watch theatre, is very interesting. Kurtas from Kalpadruma, Churidhaar tops from Fabindia, extraordinarily plain looking and fantastically uncoloured cotton sarees from Rupkali, Man Mandir and other boutiques that clothe cerebral folk. The men usually wear beards, or long hair, or both. The women usually have short hair, large bindis and carry handcrafted jute handbags. There is also a lot of “pretending to hug, touching cheeks and kissing in the air” going on. Cerebral, play-watching folk, let it be said, would have had trouble exchanging pleasantries with a certain Mr Arafat.

I went, dressed in a glow-in-the-dark T-shirt featuring a large green monster giving malevolent looks at anybody who bothered to look. And since I am trying to grow my hair to about shoulder length, it is currently at a stage where it resembles the bottom end of a mop. Dipped in tar. I had the slightest of feelings that I was not dressed appropriately.

The first play, “Bapu”, by Mohan Maharishi, was a crisp, 100 minute production based entirely on the letters exchanged between Pandit Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi between the period 1929 to 1948. The dialogue has been taken verbatim from these letters, without any creative flourishes or additions. Ofcourse, they didn’t read the entire letters. Just selected bits. For instance they did leave out Nehru’s request to Gandhi, dated Jan 8th, 1939, to, and I quote, “Please forward this letter to 10 of your friends and you will receive a sum of 1 million rupees from an exiled Nigerian prince”. I was disappointed they left that out.

But, on a serious note, that play taught me more about the Indian Independence struggle than 10 years worth of history textbooks at school.

On Sunday, I dressed cerebrally (wore a kurta, left a day’s worth of stubble), and watched Colombo based Stages Theatre Group’s  series of 3 miniature plays.

The first play, Last Bus Eke Kathawa was a brilliant solo narration about a poor Sri Lankan who loses his wife and son to a corrupt minister whose own wife is unable to bear children. The actor first handed out toffees to everybody before he started and at the end of the play, when he comes into a lot of money, he threw in a nice twist and concluded by announcing that he had bought these toffees and organized this play using the money he had just made (within the play)

The second play, 24 Hours, explored the incidents and events which took place in Sri Lanka on the 14th of August 2006. The script of the play was entirely taken from media reports from both Government as well as Tiger news sources and presents, with stunning visual imagery combined with dark sarcasm, how two sides involved in a conflict twist statistics to present biased views to the general news reading public.

The third, my favourite, was a piece of Forum Theatre, where the actors first present a scene that culminates in a crisis, and then the director then turns the play over to the audience to try and resolve. I do not want to go into the details of the plot line because I urge all of you to watch this one if you get a chance. You have got to be in the audience to really appreciate how engaging this medium is. If you are in Chennai, don’t miss the rest of the plays.

Wokay. Finis. We had Pnjaabi food at an Afghan restaurant manned by Tamil guys speaking in English.

And oh, it was a pleasant surprise to run into an old school mate, who also happened to be the compere at this festival.  He is also one of the founders of the Chennai based theatre group Evam.