Review: Free Outgoing

Anupama Chandrashekhar’s play Free Outgoing played at Ranga Shankara this past weekend. The cast of 7 actors from Chennai and Bangalore were directed by esteemed director Mahesh Dattani. It had been a very long time since I had seen a social drama, especially one in English, and especially one based in South Indian Chennai.

10392584_10152967250245042_2592613542958438467_nThe play runs more than an hour and centers around the life of a single mother whose life orbits around her children. She works two jobs to make ends meet and has mundane concerns about water shortage, exam scores of her children and her life is on a go go go pace. At the start of the play, her biggest concern is the performance of her son Sharath who is not matching up by any accounts to the over achieving daughter Deepa, who also has focused ambitions of becoming a doctor. Nothing amiss than the plot in any middle class family. But life falls apart.

Deepa becomes the centre of attention of the whole nation when the video of her being intimate with her boyfriend makes the rounds as an MMS. Soon, she is expelled, her brother too a day later and all are bound to each other in a house arrest, and the house begins to tear apart from within. The focus is on how a mother tries to keep her family intact in the sensless swirl of events that follow, judgements that are dealt and the loss of dignity.

unnamedPallavi MD as Malini the mother, held the play together with her performance. She and the actor playing Sharath were the two reasons why the play is watchable. Pallavi’s performance was captivating and very energetic and was brilliant in the scene where she sees her daughter’s mms video. But apart from those two actors, the play was disappointing. At best the treatment of the play was TV Soap Opera-ish with blame being pushed at one person or the other for the issue. To engage in this meant to hear the pleas of a mother for fairness, a negotiation for survial of a family but the silence of Deepa. This is why the content of the play fails for me – where it loses the plot according to me. Let me explain.

Teenagers desire freedom from their adolescent life, they are always trying to push the boundaries set around them about what is acceptable or not. Negotiating, taking risks come naturally to them. Deepa is no different than any other teenager. She engages in a sexual act with her friend and believes she has the anonymity of one of the many teenagers who are doing the same. Only her privacy is violated. Reminded me of Tylor Clementi who jumped the George Washington Bridge after his roomate captured him being intimate with his male friend in a webcam.

Society behaves rigid and inimical as shown by the moralistic teacher, the father of Deepa’s lover, the neighbour. What is disappointing is so does Malini. It feels like Anupama Chandrashekhar pays homage to the tv dramas of the 70s and the 80s. Who cares about Deepa? There is this whole, bitterly familiar. “Oh we am  victims, we were violated boo-hoo” by Malini where she does not even listen to the suggestions of her son to address the press with some inner strength – some transformation. What is disappointing is that, Anupama may be portraying this as what happens in real life, her play does not even attempt to show an engagement in a different solution. There must be another way. One wonders why she did not even attempt to interpret this situation as someone who lives in this day and age through the voice of someone closer to her age.  May be the repeated pleas from Sharat to Malini to address the press, to not back down, was the other voice inside Anupama begging for a different solution – she quells it repeatedly through Malini.

For one thing, it was the plot, for the other, it was the long scene changes and the music that made the play hard to sit through. If the audience was engaged, it was to see the performance ability of Pallavi MD who mostly held the whole play on her shoulders.

unnamed1When the lights came up at the end of Free Outgoing, one was left shaking their head in sheer disappointment. May be the playwright wanted Deepa’s silence to bother us, to anger us, to provoke us. But to what? You ask a close ended question and mumble an answer – an apology – making Malini the Martyr and Deepa the fallen daughter.  An older theatre veteran was unforgiving in her comments, when she said, “Why did that Deepa not kill herself… at least that would have been some drama.”

May be another competitor team can reinterpret this differently. I am sure it is permissible in theatre.

Review: Keep Calm and #ashtag

Play: Keep Calm and #ashtag

I liked the play and its energy, the actors did a great job. I liked how the narratives were woven and interlocked into each others in a way that made the horror of your life being played out in a public portal more real and gritty.

As I sat watching this,  kept going back to how virtual world is a safe + unsafe (still one goes back to it) refuge and identity for many students.  An easy refuge – from where one develops an identity of who we are in front of a willing audience of those who may be privy and needy to every minute detail of your life as you are open to sharing. Where identity is shaped perhaps on the approving -like or disapproving comments of someone out there.

The part that struck me is that the people who approve or not are easily deceived anyway. (Who says that what we show on a platform is what we are really? Reminded me of Lady Gaga and the essay – LadyGaga and the Remaking of Celebrity Culutre.  So where is the desire to develop an identity from them coming from? This was very interesting for me – that self contentment comes from social approval… a sort of ultimate self deception that really is exhausting.

Another part that I found very evocative was the part about the girl who not just has to confirm to all the demands of society but also has to look pleasant and pleasing about it. It was really moving. I wondered about social media again in this struggle of both young boys and girls and how even their parents / significant others (as I have seen) can be restricted from participating in their real feelings thanks to social media. Am wondering about the balance therefore between safe/unsafe, supportive/supportive and private and public experiences for people.
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I also found the narrative of the boy getting beaten by bully/thugs in the love letter- a little alien to our collective experience, and may be perceived as forced in the story. However, videos and stories going viral are experiences that students face. Instances can be of students taking videos of friends sleeping in not so favourable places, or as newspapers videos that have gone viral are of people in the privacy of changing rooms.

As a teacher I feel that this reaches students in the age range of  16 -18 – students in + 2 classes. Knowing some of the kids I work with, I feel this age group will be very receptive to the play and be a part of a dynamic discussion. Also, while I could see most of the play, I could not catch the bits on the floor because of the seating. Can I suggest a seating change for the audience? I am sure this is nothing big!

Since the play goes through different themes, and ideas it would be good for the play to be tried with a complete resource pack and elicit a consensus from the teachers on what themes they might be open to discussing or not – or the whole thing. Each classroom will have some pertaining issues that may come up and this allows for a preemptive thought on the same from all significant parties involved in the viewing.

Age cannot wither…

Orange Sky’s production of Cleopatra was strong on costume and sets though the performances were slightly unconvincing



PASSIONATE QUEEN Cleopatra’s costume was grand as befitting the royal everyone loved to hate

William Shakespeare’s tale of love and deception along the shores of Nile and Rome, has captured the imagination of writers for centuries. Anthony and Cleopatra is as strong as its protagonists and is packed with intrigue, love and war. In a recent attempt, Bangalore-based Orange Sky presented their version of the famous play.

Adapted by Reshma Tonse and directed by Kanak Narayan Sen, Cleopatra was performed at the St. John’s auditorium. The play was executed well, with only a few technical hitches. The scenes moved rather swiftly between Cleopatra’s palace and Rome.

The stage is set to suggest these two locations with two Roman Coliseum like structures at the two ends of the front stage, and a pharaoh’s chair at the centre for Cleopatra and the actions happen in the appropriate areas.

Most of the stage was used well. The music too, occupies scenes between Anthony and Cleopatra, but ended rather abruptly every time.

The costumes were grand. Cleopatra was dressed in shimmering gold, and the rest of the cast in black. Keeping a basic style of the toga, the actors were given different styles in black. One can understand the need for neutral costumes and colours to avoid costume changes especially with same actors playing two roles, Tonse plays Charmaine and the soothsayer and the three main male characters — Agrippa, Anthony and Octavius Caesar — merged with other characters.

Structurally, the production followed the main plot of Shakespeare’s play.

So how is this play an adaptation? First, maybe in its attempt to recreate the classic to a modern audience, Tonse has retained the main characters in the play, doing away with more than a score characters in the original.

The director also suggests that the adaptation focuses on Cleopatra’s (Sudarshana Gupta) emotional trials, caught in self-doubt, vanity and fear. The plot in the adaptation is not far from the original. So are the characterisations. The single flaw? The performance seemed rather dilute and unconvincing. The strength and resoluteness of Cleopatra even in her emotional shifts, vanity and diffidence is missing. Rajiv Gupta, as Anthony was his confident self, Jaiprakash stood out as Agrippa, and was consistent.

While none of the actors had any problems with lines, they too struggled somewhere with being convinced themselves. Sudarshana Gupta’s work is apparent, nevertheless, her struggle to seem convincing as Cleopatra, only suggests that a play of Shakespeare, even if adapted, becomes in many ways both the best and the worst play for those who are working on it for the first time. Admittedly a difficult script such as this requires a lot of authorial and characterization support, otherwise faces the risk of showcasing good, potential talent, which ultimately does not touch.

DEEPTHY SHEKHAR


Online edition of India’s National Newspaper
Thursday, Jan 18, 2007

Evading the issue

Surnai’s production of Jameela Bai Kalaali closed the Ranga Shankara Theatre Festival. The play is adapted from Mario Vargas Llosa’s La Chunga, and set in rural Rajasthan. Like the original, the name of the adaptation is also the name of the protagonist and the bar she runs. The present adaptation seems filtered taking in only the story from the original play, and not the underlying themes. The lesbian overtones have been played as a fantasy of the men who come and drink at the bar. The turning point of the original play is in the silence of La Chunga. Many people see the silence as the key to the story of the young girl’s disappearance and her fate. “What did you do with her? When will you tell us?” the men ask La Chunga and her only response is her silence. At this point the playwright begins to play with the fantasy of the audience at large.

However, in Jameela Bai Kalaali, two things about the way the plot and themes are dealt, are disappointing. One, a scene detailing what actually happened to Chameli is explained. Later, Jameela Bai explains to the audience that her love for Chameli is of a maternal kind.

Jameela Bai Kalaali joins a list of plays that don’t want to address homosexuality. This play stands proof of the fact that merely conforming to a story does not make for a successful adaptation. The `tall ageless woman’ of Llosa’s La Chunga is subverted. While talking of the changes, Ila Arun, who adapted the play says in Theatre Alive “… and with Rajasthan comes the colour and music of the state which I thought was perfect for the play.” Strangely though, the play had a mix of recorded and live singing, which seemed out of place. The lead actress, Ila Arun, a singer and performer let down her audience by not singing live on stage.

Ila Arun as Jameela, remains cold on stage. While one can interpret this as Jameela’s defence against the men who taunt and provoke her, the coldness in speech and facial expression continue in her interaction with Chameli (Rajeshwari Sachdev). On her part, Sachdev was trying very hard to fit into the role of Chameli. K. K. Raina, Ravi Jhankal, and Mitwa stood out with their energetic delivery and movement in their individual scenes with Arun and Sachdev. They were convincing in their portrayal of common thieves. Rajit Kapur was good as Jabra. Though his Hindi had an urban touch to it, his obvious study of a village thief and pimp, showed well in all the scenes. For a play that has been performed for nearly eight years prior to this performance, Jameela Bai Kalaali displays unacceptable glitches, like not camouflaging the lights on stage. On the whole, Jameela Bai Kalaali was disappointing.

Deepthy Shekhar

© Copyright 2000 – 2006 The Hindu

Good In Parts

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An ambitious play tries to analyse Bhagat Singh

BUZZ OVER FUZZ The mystery of Bhagat Singh’s missing moustache became the topic of discussion post-performance. From left: Pathy Aiyer, Ashish Sen and Deepak Joshi

Last week’s performance of Deepak Joshi’s new writing of God and Country, directed as a one-man show by Ashish Sen with actor Pathy Aiyer as Bhagat Singh and J.P. Saunders surprised with a good audience turnout. It would not be a lie to say that Bhagat Singh is turning into one of the most popular political heroes of India, if one recalls the biopics and films based on his life and philosophy.

In this recent adaptation of one of his famous and last essays, Why I am an Atheist, Joshi tries to understand Bhagat Singh the enigma and examine his lack of faith even in the time of adversity. Was there a truly stoic man in his shoes or was he a zealous youth trapped in his own vanity? Did choosing to be a `thinking revolutionary’ mean choosing to disbelieve in God? Joshi poses these questions through the ghost of J.P. Saunders, a British police officer Singh accidentally killed. Saunders in the play peruses the question of atheism in the context of the nation. But there is a third mysterious character who goes into narrative monologue, and sometimes explains the context of the play.

The challenge

The content poses the biggest challenge here for the actor and the director. The bare bones of the play — discussions between the characters about faith, patriotism, conscience — are all based on the essay. Those not familiar with the essay will fail to understand most of what is said in the play. There is the risk of the audience only grasping the story, and evading the analysis or interpretation of the play. Also this begs the question: how does the entire essay and its analysis fit into a 45-minute performance? The answer: jerky. While an experienced actor like Aiyer manages to move between the characters skilfully, jumps in the content and presentation make it erratic. There are many allusions like the constant reference to Nero or the influence Trotsky and Marx had on Bhagat Singh.

The discussion between Saunders and Bhagat Singh moves fast, without much chance for comprehension, almost making it feel like plain oration at parts. The narrator does admit that one might see the entire discussion as nothing more than academic ramblings. But nothing changes. The director also includes a physical voice, an offstage, loud voice, at times in the play, repeating what Bhagat Singh has said. Whose voice is it? It was distracting and seemed out of place.

Director Ashish Sen chose to use a single actor to play all these three roles probably to reinforce the fact the Bhagat Singh was indeed conflicted and perhaps in constant conversation with himself. In the execution of the play, in combination with the content, the different characters have been given different points on stage as if in a way to establish their characters. The stage setting was simple. While Bhagat Singh paces between the chairs, sometimes sitting, but always talking aloud, the character of Saunders starts behind the chairs, slightly away, to give the impression of the British guard. The third character stands again aloof (metaphorically and actually) moving in places connecting the different pieces of the play.

One wonders if the play was challenging enough for an actor as experienced as Aiyer. But the ease with which he moved through the characters did show that he was at least having a good time on stage. The lighting by Paresh was good, but the costumes and the mystery of Bhagat Singh’s missing moustache became the topic of discussion amongst the audience post-performance. While it is a pity that this seemed to be the topic of discussion with some, most young members of the audience seemed to want to reach out for a copy of Why I am an Atheist.

Purpose served?

DEEPTHY SHEKHAR

© Copyright 2000 – 2006 The Hindu

Losing the plot


An excellent play was marred by listless performances and shoddy coordination

LOST CAUSE The excellent plot was let down by unconvincing execution

 

Dream Scope in collaboration with The Forum presented The Afghan Women recently. The play, directed by Puja Goyal, was written by William Mastrosimone in the aftermath of the World Trade Centre bombing. It is therefore a play of the `present’ plight of most in Afghanistan.

The changes that emerge from war mean different things to different people. All the characters struggle with misplaced identity. The loss of the burkha for the women, the struggle of the men to hold on to their tribe, and the loss of `belonging’ for a new generation of men who can easily follow the path of hegemony are included in the plot.

Plots, counter plots

A warlord, Hamood (Terrence), seeks protection from the new government in an orphanage even as he plots to overthrow it.

The Afghanistan-born, America-raised physician Malalai (Sabreen Baker) sees its futility, and convinces three local women Wajma (Yamini), Gulalai (Gangamma) and Nahid (Ashika Devi) and Hamood’s son Omar (Nabeel), schooled in the ways of war, to overthrow him.

At the core of the plot stands the naked truth of all wars, that a conflicted country probably is the best judge of the right solution.

Going beyond

Mastrosimone’s work transcends from being a play just about women to the lives of the men in the tribes, and of people at large facing war and death every day.

The lines are witty, profoundly light, and develop the characters well, and move between modes of despair and hope rather interestingly.

Which was why it was disappointing to see it performed without conviction and just as publicity vehicle to promote a shopping fest. The audience was made to wait for 45 minutes so that the chief guest could arrive and then again during the interval for nearly 25 minutes for introductions.

The performance that followed both times was listless.

The three women (Yamini, Gangamma and Ashika) merely spoke their lines to static moves. The main actors were either standing or sitting. The music was abrupt and sparse. What really jarred was the use of lapel mikes that had problems. What about actors projecting their voices? Even internationally, in musicals (from where the idea was probably taken), where lapel mikes are used, the actors project their voices. In this case, some actors were inaudible even a few feet away from the stage. There also seemed to be lack of coordination between the technical support group and the actors, evident in the constant sounding of `checks’ in the lapel mikes and the long gaps between the scene changes (nearly five to seven minutes) when the actors were heard conversing backstage!

The death of Hamood was comical and diluted the essence of the scene where the women take over, and claim their power.

There is clear potential Baker, Nabeel and Terrence who showed some interesting work. The intention of the performance, to donate the proceeds to International Orphan Care for the Afghan children, which is supported by the playwright, was laudable.

DEEPTHY SHEKHAR

© Copyright 2000 – 2006 The Hindu

SEEMINGLY FARCICAL

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I asked a friend to come watch the fifth play of the RANGA SHANKARA THEATRE FESTIVAL 06 with me. The play was in Marathi, and after the Cotton 56, Polyester 84 experience, I was ready for more. It was called Makdachya Hati Champagne, (Champagne in a Monkey’s hand)and promised to provide a lot of entertainment. But my friend, refused to come to watch the play since it was in Marathi. His complaint was not new. I had heard it many times from many people. “How can I waste time over play in Marathi or any other language? I wont understand anything. It is wasted viewing,” he concluded. I wondered about this the matinee show began. Do I need to know a language to understand a play? My preparation, to get a head start in understanding helped me.

I knew this play was a political satire. I had read the promotional material Ranga Shankara had made available, but I was keen on understanding how a political satire could be set in a bachelor pad in Maharashtra. Three men live there, all addressed by names matching their personalities. ‘Chaku’ (Vivek Bele) is uncouth and blunt, Pustak (Sandesh Kulkarni) is a book worm obsessed with Bernard Shah’s ‘My Fair Lady’, and then there is ‘Makad’ (Anand Ingale). He is called Makad – Monkey. Why? “Let me explain with an example.” He is Makad like the monkey who cut off the nose of the king, while trying to kill a housefly. Creating chaos. Makad works as a television reporter, and craves for news all the time, when there is no news happening, he churns it, like Makad in the king’s story –making a mountain of a mole hill – 24/7. Enter Pencil (Sharvani Pillai). The girl Chaku woos. She is called Pencil because, her past is erasable, and yet has no refill. She also has not cap to cover her mistakes.


The play can seem to be a slapstick comedy. Yet look beneath the layers. Each scene begins with the television. There are glimpses of political strife that consumes the Maharashtra Government. In the play- similar tensions revolved around Pustak and Chaku, both contenders for Pencil’s attention and love. Pencil not only loves all the attention she is getting but she takes it further by arranging the contest to select the man she wants to marry. The external and internal strife are similar. The play depicts the manipulation and the schemes of all the parties involved.


So what is Makad’s role in all this? How does he gain? He does not love or woo Pencil, neither does he gain her love or suffer at the loss. So what is his motive or gain? The playwright projects the idea current in these times. He introduces the ‘opportunist’ here. “Just be available at all times” is his mantra. Pustak’s marriage to Pencil, the threat of the divorce and surprisingly bigamy with Chaku, are too familiar political occurrences of ‘vote of no cofindence’, and the coalition governments. And like the political dramas turning sour, because of the middle man’s intervention, the proposal of bigamy / coalition government falls flat, and suspends into a limbo state. A marriage not ending in divorce (vote of no confidence) or moving towards bigamy (Coalition Government).


The play has been constructed as a satire with a lot of imagination. The playwright introduces various concepts and philosophies –“be available” and “conceptual spying” and other hilarious examples of ‘political strategies’ are interspersed with witty lines. The performance was entertaining. The 180 minutes does not seem heavy, when the audience is kept on its toes. For people like me to whom the language is foreign, the high energy of the play and the involvement of the audience kept me going. I laughed when the audience laughed, mainly enjoying their joy, and realized that I did not need a translator after the first few minutes. This is also because, what can seem to be a highly verbose play also had a lot of physical enactment. Pustak’s, who can be made stereotypically stiff in his body postures, moved like an inspired dancer, Makad – true to his creed of middle men was an actor with in the play and worked his voice and face effortlessly. And Chaku, who is unlike all the unimaginative portrayals made in the past of ‘uncouth and unversed’ people.


One thing that stood out in the performance was the effortless ease in which the entire execution was handled. There was no fumbling of lines. The set was constructed to use the space of the stage appropriately. Three beds, changing wall murals, a television, an illuminated wine cabinet and even a sink were fitted beautifully, and the actors moved between all this in ease. The coordination between the actors and the sound was perfect. The actors Sandesh Kulkarni, Anand Ingale, Vivek Bele, and Sharvani Pillai not only enjoyed themselves, but performed for a highly energetic audience. My friend – he missed an opportunity for a good laugh. It is all in the ‘being available!’