Is the theatre Utsav living up to all the claims it made on the outset? An insiders report on the festival
The Mumbai Theatre Utsav kicked off on January 13 with four plays on the same day. The first of the four was Pandavani the story of Abhimanyu entering the chakravyuh and dying within. It was enacted, danced and sung by Teejan Bai from Bhillai, Bihar using harmonium, tabla and dhol as a background. Called a folk ‘dance’ performance, it consisted mostly of the one-woman performer being rooted to the same spot, with hardly any dance. Ten minutes into the show viewers grew thankful for this and gladly let Teejan Bai’s voice and expression hold their attention as she shifted from singing in Chattisgarhi to narrating in Hindi, all the while drawing out fresh metaphors from an age old saga.
On to Awishkar’s Dhol Tashe in Marathi. Directed by Vijay Kenkre and written by C P Deshpande, the satire looked at the Pune Annual Ganpati Procession to question spending large sums on festivities, in context to the want and poverty prevalent in our country. It also questioned the adverse effects such religious sentiment could have if wrongly channelled. With simple stage directions, humourous repartee, racy performances, and socially relevant digs it held the audience till the end.
But one felt at times that the humour veered too much towards slapstick and the social messages too much towards the banal. We know about the dangers of religion. Will theatrewallahs move on?
Lali Lila, written by Devendra Prem and directed by Vipul Mehta, is a Gujarati commercial theatre box office hit. Revolving around a pair of Siamese twins who are as alike as chalk and cheese and follow diverse professions, the story takes a turn when one of them falls in love. The other twin decides to undergo a surgery for her smitten sister but is paralysed in the process. It is admirable that the play, with some stellar performances looks upon such a pathetic condition. But watching the angst of a pair of Siamese twins and the ills society inflicts upon them gets mind numbing with a script that focuses on emotion, touching pertinent issues only occasionally.
Then we had Mahadevbhai (1892-1942) in English. Jaimini Pathak’s one man performance, written and directed by Ramu Ramanathan uses Mahadevbhai, Gandhi’s secretary as narrator of a bygone era. It has Pathak flitting back and forth between characters as diverse as Gandhi, Dr Ambedkar, an anglicized school teacher, an old ex-freedom fighter, a yuppie MBA graduate, a schoolboy and a recalcitrant film producer. The script masterfully tells the tale of the freedom struggle, the men involved and subtly links it to present context to re-emphasise its relevance. With an understated yet engaging performance, simplistic but effective direction, what strikes you about the play is its simple functional set, highlighting the Gandhian values embodied in the script.
And now for the festival to come. With Hindi, English, Marathi, Gujarati, Malyalam and Bengali plays in forms ranging from naturalistic to Brechtian and folk to street, the festival has an impressive spread. It showcases not just Mumbai plays but theatre from other regions-Gujarat, Bengal and Bihar.
An important observation here though. There are no new plays. Most plays are at least a year old, if not much more. Sad, since theatre, a live medium, is supposed to reflect the scenario of it’s times. The Prithvi festival which used to commission new plays didn’t do so last November as it’s finances were expended in bringing UK group Complicite down. Hence, even the slew of new productions, normally seen post November, is missing. Can we see some new productions now that the coffers will, in Ashwin Gidwani’s words, “no longer be empty”?
This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/pfqs