15th Bharangam Diary: notes, rants and experiences

DAY 4: 8th Jan 2013

Conversations at the food hub never seem to take a constructive turn. There is talk about politics but like a performance piece, abridged and censored. There is talk about the art but that entails a lot of ego. So, essentially, what you do is eat and drink, and wait for the next show to begin.

Maya Bazar

Script: Sri Malladi Venkata Krishna Sarma

Director: R. Nageshwara Rao (Sri Venkateshwara Natya Mandali, Hyderabad)

It is with deep regret and shame that I admit being ignorant of Surabhi Theatre till now. This is surely one of the most technically advanced and culturally apt theatrical practices in India, if not the world. Imagine these few moments of the play; Ghatotkach sets the stage ablaze with a firewall and Abhimanyu retaliates by shooting an arrow in the sky and summoning rain. A monster’s lair with dragon spewing fire and dingy lighting is transformed into a bright palace in a matter of seconds. A righteous arrow fights a rogue ‘gada’ mid-air and needless to say, the ‘gada’ is defeated, catching fire and exploding to dust as it does so.

Many more such extravagant pieces highlighted this Surabhi Theatre performance but if you stop and think about it, aren’t these mere gimmicks serviced to titillate? Yes and no. this is popular theatre which is meant to entertain but with its text of mythological magic and disbelief, these small little wonders on stage create an atmosphere that is fantastic. The narrative is structured in a manner that allows these magic moments to be played out effectively. The depth of stage is controlled with an experience that only such a historic tradition can bring. The props are designed to be used for a purpose rather than for mere visual effect. And in all this bling and crassness, there is poetry too when a bird casually flying centre stage drops only to pick up a fish from the river below and carry on its merry way.

Theatre practitioners must utilize some of these techniques and sensibilities to better their directorial interventions. It does not need to be magical all the time, but it certainly can be inventive in the face of the text they are working with.

Learn more about the group here. And support them in whichever way possible, like B.V Karanth, NSD and the governments have for so long.

After the Birds

Based on: AristophanesThe Birds

Directors: Jessica Cohen, Jim Ennis, Tomasz Rodowicz (CHOREA Theatre Association & Earthfall, Poland)

It is difficult to write about a play that was more felt than watched. It’s like critiquing a piece of fine art. There was dance, song and metaphoric actions, all revolving around the fate of the birds after Aristophanes is done and dusted.

Birds should rule the earth. Gods are barbaric but not as barbaric as the man. Build an enormous nest and guard it. This is the new world, a utopian world, with guards, alarms and watch towers. Is this a utopian world?

A note on the form: such song, dance and physical theatre must be adapted to an Indian text. This form is perfectly suited to many mythologies and fantasies of India.  

Text of the The Birds, in case someone wants to read this masterpiece of Old Comedy.

DAY 5: 9th Jan 2013

Its ticket booking day!

In a festival so overwhelmingly crowded with theatre of varied genres, text, languages and regions, it becomes really difficult to choose what to see and what to let go. While the NSD productions are sound in content and technique, they many a times go overboard with experimentation, losing the plot along the way. Plays from foreign countries have a default lure but that is only because of inaccessibility, one can always find a torrent for a film produced out of Azerbaijan but a stage play from there is almost impossible to watch. Then there are personal preferences as well where a ‘natya sangeet’ might be overshadowed by an improvisational piece, or a new-concept theatre might lose at the original charm of the proscenium. But on the day of buying the tickets, all these questions and biases have to be dealt with and we must choose. So the line-up of the next few days looks like a unappealing mess of theatrical cacophony. So, while a Kashmiri play had to be watched, our beloved Mr. Manto lost out. A 3 hour long Bengali play was never an option but a 2 hour Bengali play got the nod because of its director. Decisions, oh, the pain of making these cruel decisions! Here’s hoping that we do not miss out on something brilliant just because of our choices.

Monsieur Jor Dan and Dervish Mastali Sheikh

Script: M.F. Akhundzadeh

Director: Firudin Maharramov (Sumgait State Musical Drama Theatre, Azerbaijan)

First things first, the show started with a song and dance celebration of the new year and we were given Azeri sweets to eat!

A typical drama interspersed with ‘Omar Sharif-ian’ comedy, this play was not really captivating. Apart from some good performances and a culturally rooted plot which must have meant something, there was nothing that delighted. The poetic vibrations of the Azeri language (which is close to Persian) was a boon to the ears.

Note: The scriptwriter is known as the founder of modern literary criticism in Iran      

Sangeet Maanapman

Script: K.P. Khadilkar

Director: Nipun Dharmadhikari (Raahen, Pune)

A typical sangeetnatak is full of songs that highlight emotions but fail to take the narrative forward. This becomes tedious when the number of songs is so many that they reduce the play to an Indian long distance train, stopping and starting as it pleases. This play was no different. Such theatre lost its appeal and many practitioners are trying to revive the tradition by making use of modern theatre techniques and sensibilities. With this play, the easy way out was taken. A 3-D animated background was used to set the environment of each scene. These projections, though well crafted in their own right, seemed to take away from the character of the play. With so much that Indian cinema and theatre owe to sangeetnataks, hopefully there are other productions that do justice to this now unpopular form and bring it back to life.

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