Archive for December, 2011

December 28, 2011

Deaths, 2011

Some would say that this festive time of the year is probably not the right time for this post, but the beauty of life is only heightened by the sense of grief and loss. This post is both a remembrance and a short prayer.

This year was a sad one for Indian art. We lost true souls who were loved by many and respected by all for their passion, consciousness, commitment and humanness.

Badal Sircar, one of the greatest practitioners of theatre in India, was the pioneer of the Theatre of Synthesis – Third Theatre (First being rural, second being urban; to put it crudely). Constantly transcending convention to create relevance for the audience as well as the participants of theatre, Sircar forced critics, peers and theorists to wake up and take notice. A writer of proscenium plays, he evolved into writing and directing non-proscenium drama and took to mentoring young theatre artists in the later part of his life. He advocated and practiced the concept of free theatre through his group Satabdi, one of his under-acknowledged but most important achievements. All those in awe of this great artist must read .

Dev Anand was not only a superstar but also a writer, director and producer. Dev Sahab was a patron of many talented artists in Hindi cinema; the list includes Guru Dutt, Waheeda Rehman, S.D. (in Hindi cinema), Shekhar Kapur, Sahir, Majrooh and many more. He was style icon, swaying in his own unique way while giving lip to some of the greatest songs of Kishore, Rafi and Hemant Kumar. He was offered Amitabh’s role in Sholay. Superstars don’t have just one song (that too without a heroine), they don’t play equal to a fellow buddy and they definitely don’t die at the end.

Jagjit Singh’s was one of the few voices that could make a jaat cry. A great ghazal singer of all time, Jagjit sang a wide range of songs from traditional ghazals, classical renditions like thumri to Hindi film songs, Hindi (almost) pop. At his peak, he was unparalleled when it came to live singing. Some of his concerts are legendary (youtube him). It’s almost frightening to realize that after him, India will not have a ghazal singer. This soul invoking form of singing will die.

Mani Kaul is the latest addition to our list of great film directors. And some of his films are the latest addition to our (very, very) limited film collection. He made his first film at the age of 25, Uski Roti. Please watch it. A student of Ritwik Ghatak at the FTII, Kaul was a well educated genius. His films speak a different language and require different tools of appreciation. Excruciatingly painful, is the phrase a friend uses to describe his work. Well said. Sadly, his films are not easily available. They are solely under the ‘care’ of the film archives in Pune. Look out for them on the DD network or a film festival (retrospective as they call it, one almost feels that an artist has to be dead for his work to be available for appreciation). Some are available with us as well.

Satyadev Dubey could be seen standing outside Prithvi (theatre, Mumbai), smoking, talking a bunch of eager and young actors, directors or writers. He was old and sick in his last days but still took time out to watch a new production. A writer, actor and above all a director, Dubey was a brave genius. He was (in) famous for twisting plots, jarring the narratives and extracting absurd meanings out of old theatre texts. His interpretations were as much personal as they were relevant, maybe because of being given this unique personality, they became relevant. He enjoyed the pleasure of working with Vijay Tendulkar, Girish Karad and Badal Sircar. And his favourite actor (to direct and to watch) was Amrish Puri, kind of says it all doesn’t it. Many might not know this but he was a RSS cadet. An irreverent right-leaning theatre artist, such a heady combination!

Shammi Kapoor introduced the playboy category of heroes in Hindi cinema. He might have been the first real bad boy on screen. And the first real dancer too. His career was buoyed by the perfect singer-actor partnership with Rafi.

M.F.Hussain shouldn’t even be mentioned here under the category of Indian artists, but we aren’t strictly politically correct are we. An eccentric artist with loads of money, many classic sports cars and no footwear, Hussain’s artwork was critiqued by greats like Picasso. He was definitely someone who inspired many young painters throughout the world. On his demise, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray said, “He only slipped up on the depiction of Hindu gods and goddesses. Otherwise, he was happy and content in his field. If his demise is a loss for modern art, then so be it. May his Allah give him peace!”. His Allah surely will.

Pt. Bhimsen Joshi was known for his powerful voice, amazing breath control, musical sensibility and grasp of the fundamentals. Trained in the Hindustani Classical style (Kirana Gharana), he strove to achieve balance between what may be termed as traditional values and mass-culture tastes. You can find his recordings in the AIR archives, or even in decent music stores (HMV). Most insufficiently educated Indians only recognize him through a state sponsored national integration song, Miley Sur Mera Tumhara.

Bhupen Hazarika was a lyricist, musician, singer, poet and film maker from Assam. Very well educated and well travelled, he was an iconic Indian artist recognized for his art globally. Hazarika was an active member of IPTA in his youth and his gutsy writings were avowedly anti-establishment. Not quite a household name beyond Bengal, his multi-faceted talents are relatively unfamiliar to mainland India.

M.A.K. Pataudi was a Nawab, on the field as well. Youngest Indian captain (22+) and a brilliant fielder (he is credited with bringing this fine art to Indian cricket). India won its first overseas series under Pataudi (New Zealand). He played for Winchester (school), Oxford (university), Sussex (county), Delhi and Hyderabad (Ranji). He injured his right eye permanently but continued to play the game, learning to play with just one good eye. Well, he wasn’t called the Tiger for nothing.

December 27, 2011

The Last Director: Satyadev Dubey

Theatre lost another artist this year. We all mourn the loss.

In an interview (dated 2008) by Reema Gehi, Satyadev Dubey talks about himself, his new play- KHUDA KE LIYE MAT DEKHNA and of what theatre means to him. His production of Jean Anouilh’s ANTIGONE (2007) reaffirmed Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s belief, talent does what it can, genius does what it must. Satyadev Dubey came to Mumbai from Bilaspur, Madhya Pradesh, to become a test cricketer. Instead, theatre became his pitch, and then his stadium for as many as four decades.

How is your health now?

I’m doing fine. I used to get bouts of dizziness. Last October at the premiere of ANTIGONE, I felt woozy. Everyone thoroughly pampered me and made my stay at the hospital a beautiful experience. You know, I’ve been a bachelor all my life. I don’t have a family. The hospital experience made me realise that I do have a family. And during my days there, I worked on a story idea for a play.

Which is?

(Laughs) My new play is called KHUDA KE LIYE MAT DEKHNA. Basically, it’s about me. The theme revolves around my work and my life. The three actors — Akash Khurana, Jagdish Rajpurohit and Shaikh Sami Usman play the three Dubeys. Akash is the main guy and the other two are his alter egos. There will be a lot of interaction between them. I call them all Dubenski.

Isn’t that being very narcissistic?

Of course it is. So? Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection. Similarly, I’ve fallen in love with the reflection of my work and my life. I enjoy the world of Acting and teaching the art.

Can Acting be taught?

Acting can never be taught but it can be learnt. This is a great mystery. You cannot repeat a performance. It may look similar but it is never the same. Naseeruddin Shah was trained for years at Delhi’s National School of Drama, and at Pune’s Film Institute. Even he doesn’t know that acting can’t be taught but he is still teaching it. When I used to conduct workshops, I would tell the students to imitate the way I perform a certain scene and then put in their bit.

But why begin with the principle of imitation?

If you are a good actor, you’ll go beyond what I do. I can give the actors a framework and then leave them to explore the rest to themselves. In that sense I give my actors not only the framework but also a lot of freedom.

Do you recommend acting schools to budding actors?

Whether you like it or not, acting schools are a huge business. Perhaps in the process, some great actors will emerge. However, a talented actor will manage to make a mark, irrespective of training. No one can guarantee that a student will become an exceptional actor. You can only teach students the tricks and give them tips. All of us know that an actor’s position is the most enviable one but only a few of us are aware that there are some remarkable theatre actors who haven’t done well financially.

You’ve dedicated almost your life to theatre. Has it been worth it?

(Smiles)Theatre has kept me alive. I can’t describe to you this feeling of being alive. If I may say so, theatre is like sex. It is a need. You have to enjoy it in order to like it. It is an extremely personal pleasure. (Pause) As you get older you stop to react. Now what do I do to keep this passion alive? I meet youngsters, I talk to them, share my experiences and wish to hear theirs. I’m always looking for fun. I am very selfish, I want to enjoy whatever I do.

Which is your most-cherished memory?

Let’s say that I’m glad that I’ve always been very lucky with my actors. They’ve all been very sincere and genuine. If I’ve survived in this field for so long, it is because of the perception of other people. I live by coincidence. Nothing in my life is planned, not even what I’m saying in this interview.

Okay, so what about the constant complaint that theatre hardly pays.

It won’t pay. Why should it? The best thing in the world is done by the amateurs. There are other ways and means of earning money. Like films or television. Today, I don’t know why I did some films. Probably to earn enough money to grow in theatre.

Don’t you get riled when you see under-rehearsed productions? 

(Nods) The amount of time, which a group believes in allotting for rehearsals is very subjective. A well-rehearsed performance is like the institution of marriage. It will be long lasting and therefore, much more valued. An under-rehearsed one is like a one-night stand. Once it’s over, it’s over for good.

Your style has been fairly conventional. Do you approve of experimental theatre gaining momentum?

How do you describe experimental theatre? In a way, all new work is experimental. The bottom line is whether the audience likes it or not. As for being conventional, I love my entries and exits. Even in my new play, there will be a proper beginning, a middle and an end.

What kind of relationship have you shared with your audience?

I often wonder of what can I do to seduce my audience. It has to be a two-way relationship. An audience must have a certain desire to watch a play. Like you want to watch a well-rehearsed performance, that is your need. Kehte hai na? Ishq hai do majbooriyon ka saath aana. It is like love, a mutual need. There is no logic in that.

Who have been the deepest influences on your life?

Shyam Benegal, whom I’ve known for over 40 years, has been one of the greatest influences on my life. Also Badal Sircar, Girish Karnad, Kumud Mishra and Vijay Tendulkar. These have been long lasting relationships. They are family. In fact, when I read Sircar’s play, EVAM INDRAJIT, I was very young and impressionable. The play inspired me to take theatre seriously. To date, I draw inspiration from it.

Besides your new play, is there anything else in the offing? 

I have put all my energies into my new play. This may be my last. I don’t know, if I’ll ever write again. You see, the themes get exhausted with actors and directors.

So what did you expect from your new play? 

I wanted to be contemporary. There is a conscious effort to be different. Every era finds its playwrights. There was Sophocles, George Bernard Shaw and in Indian Theatre came Vijay Tendulkar. Tomorrow, another playwright will emerge.

Do you see anyone of such potential?

(Lights up a cigarette) You see, everyone at some point has done something commendable. If I have to name a few, there are Akarsh Khurana and Trishla Patel, whose work I enjoy. Recently, Hidayat Sami, who has been with me since 19 years, put up a marvellous production called ALL ABOUT WOMEN. Most of the new theatre guys are doing impressive work. But quite honestly, I’m no soothsayer. I cannot predict their future.

It is said that it is very difficult to know the real Satyadev Dubey? 

(Laughs) Satyadev Dubey himself doesn’t know who he is, so how can they?

December 18, 2011

Blog’s new feature

We are categorizing events listed in the calendar now.

A green star alongside an event means that we are definitely attending.

A yellow one means that we might.

See you!

December 4, 2011

The Art Called Cricket

All sport is art. The humanness involved makes it so, as pure as any panting and as creative as a human mind can conceive.

Being a massive fan of Test Cricket, I regard it as one of those rare art forms which can match the uncertainty of life itself. Without a pre-written text or even a guidelined environment (unlimited overs, no stupid field restrictions), test cricket charts its own course through the five days of play. There was a time when even the five days were not a constraint. The timeless tests of the years gone by are legendary and romantic to the modern connoisseur. Recently ICC, the governing body for international cricket mooted the idea of a timeless test for adjudicating the test championship final. What an idea! Reliving the glory days of the gentlemen’s game.

Test cricket saw a unique day of play in the recently concluded South Africa – Australia series. Day 2 of the first test saw the fall of more than 20 wickets! A part of all four innings innings were played that day. Wickets fell for no reason at all. The South African captain Graeme Smith termed the events ‘paranormal’, for lack of a better word. The pitch was fine, the bowling ordinary. Yes, the unpredictability of test cricket was here for all to see.

The denouement though, came at the very last ball of that mad day. The batsman guided the ball straight to the point fieldsman. And, he grassed it! After all those wickets that fell, there had to be a dropped sitter. You have to call this poetry, for lack of a better word.

December 4, 2011

Theatre And Its Text

Theatre ­­direction is losing the battle against its age old nemesis, the written text.

While modern theatre uses new media and video just to enhance its visual appeal (in more than most cases), classic theatre is steadfastly anchored to its text. The text becomes the universe whereas it should be the core, the crux of theatre. In the ongoing theatre festival, Bhartendu Natya Utsav, this textual theatre is abundantly present. Apart from one play (O by Sohaila Kapur), all the others were old school classic theatre presentations. These plays took to the text literally and never let go. At times this fascination of theatre directors with the written word became so concrete that obvious directorial injunctions were omitted (or even worse, left out).

Tyagpatra, directed by Rajendra Nath, was about the relationship between the present and the past. It emphasised nostalgia and hindsight. A moving tale of an orphan female forced to live in the societal trappings even though her environment demanded fairness. The only person to even acknowledge her plight was her adolescent nephew. He himself embarked on a predestined journey of education, a salaried job and matrimony, inevitably loosing connection with his aunt. As the boy (now a grown man, a judge) tries to reassemble the pieces of his memory with regards to his aunt, he faces a moral crisis of his own; how can he be a fair judge of others in the present if he wasn’t one of his aunt (whom he so loved) in his past? This interplay between the past and the present screams for representation on stage, but is showed banally with a lot of memory flashbacks and yes, the text. What happened to the production managers, light designers and sound engineers? Are they just paraphernalia now?

A comedy must be rich. It cannot afford to be anything but rich. In all its puns, ironies and absurdity, a comedy has to have meaning. Sab Thaat Pada Reh Jayega by Ranjit Kapoor is a satire on family, society and to some extent, the Indian State. In its mesh of absurdity and over simplified characters, one wishes to find a unifying meaning, which takes the play to a higher level making it come alive in the lives of the audience (or at least that must be the aim). This skewing of reality to make it absurd is somehow incomplete till the absurd connects back to reality (or soars into the fantastic). Again, this is the director’s prerogative. It has to be. There is no one else. To argue that the text is sacrosanct (and hence cannot be altered) is plain naive. This golmaalesque form of comic tradition, where everything culminates in a grand finale of sorts, is just a textual device rather than a theatrical (or cinematic) one. Where are the absurd characters? Whatever happened to the Brechtian minimalism?

A coupling of short stories, admittedly see-sawing with each other, is a great way of representing two sides of the same coin. This was the premise of Waapsi and Ayodhya Babu Sanak Gaye. The former held sympathy for the younger (the son) and the latter demanded respect for the elder (the father). The text and context of both stories was completely different (therefore two different plays I guess) but the common under currents of the love-hate relationship between two generations were obvious. A novel theatrical device of narration (overly criticised by my peers) interspersed with play-acting was used by the director to disassociate from the text. An attempt, no doubt, to enable audiences to relate the two stories together. Commendable. Direction takes centre stage. Or does it? Doesn’t narrative treatment enhance the text even more? Where are the disjointed narratives? What happened to the traditional ‘nat-natni’ form of narration?

Let me be the first one to admit that all this talk of direction guiding the text is easier said than done. Direction in theatre (even in cinema for that matter) is not an easy task. But it is the most important one. The lighting, the sound cues, an actor’s blocking and even a voice over from off-stage is forced through from direction (it should). The text is also important, important for the director to understand, internalize and depict on stage. Text forms the focal point for all direction. But it is not everything.

During the course of the festival, a compeer said that cinema is a director’s medium and theatre actors’. That is not true at all. Ask any practitioner. Director is the sole carrier of the art form. He is the one who understands the text so completely that he desires for the audience to grasp the same meaning. In achieving this feat, a director must objectively create spaces for the form to take over and demand audiences to read the text through this created space. If this does not happen then a text is better off read and there is no need for any further representation (be it on stage, film, canvas or anything). An argument beckons; Isn’t this a utopian form of art? Where is the subjectivity? Yes it is. And yet it is subjective. Simply because there is a desire to achieve this unity (between the director and the audience) and not a certainty. Every person will interpret things differently, creating subjectivity. But it is important and essential to leave spaces for these interpretations. And this is a director’s task, not the text’s.

I read (or heard) somewhere that theatre mein sahityakar zyaada hain, naatakkar kam. So true.

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