One can’t rehearse for what life throws up. The storm of emotions raging in one’s heart, which is melanged with the dust of experiences and realisations that a human feels, remains unexplained.

Explanations of such emotions are important. Reflection of inner self is important. It is important to listen to the dialogues everyone prefers to leave unheard and taking an escape route from the realities.

And when all such nuances of day-to-day reality are reflected on the stage, dressed in colourful attires and dancing to lyrical tunes, a commoner finally understands the importance of the theatre and its stage.

Dropping the curtain from all the human emotions, innate realities and interconnections of societal norms, the 13th edition of the Mahindra Excellence Theatre Awards voiced the excellent theatre talents selected out of 300 plays around the country.

The annual celebration raised a toast to stagecraft and celebrated the world’s oldest art-form with much zeal. The top 10 plays, which included seven in Indian languages, one non-verbal play and one performed in open air, gave the audience all the elements of stagecraft at once. The festival was indeed important in providing an open mic to the experts who expressed their opinion and expertise from stage.

 

Muktidham

 

Director talks

Theatre is perhaps the easiest way to discover who one is and what one could become. One is unsure of how true the statement is, but the best theatre is the one in which the audience can see the reflection of their selfs in the characters, dancing and singing on the stage.

The 13th edition of the Mahindra Excellence Theatre Awards attempted to recognise the top 10 reflections out of more than 300 entries from every nook and corner of the country. The directors shared the insights of the plays, observations on theatre and experiences. Excerpts:

“The idea is to challenge and question our current stereotypes around gender and sexuality”: Faezeh Jalali, director, Shikhandi: The Story of the In-Betweens

The story of Shikhandi is one that holds importance in this day and age. It reminds us that transgenders have always been a part of our society, our history and mythology. Yet, today, transgender people struggle to be accepted in the society for who they are.

Shikhandi is the retelling of a myth, using traditional forms but with a very contemporary text. The idea is to challenge and question our current stereotypes around gender and sexuality: to ask of ourselves who we really are.

Perhaps we can then realise we are all in-between: not only in gender and sexual preference, but comprising both good and bad, tradition and modernity, here and there, East and West, black and white ~ perhaps everything. The sooner we accept this fluidity within us, the easier it will be to accept people for who they are.

“Play explores human complexities as well as love treasured by mankind”: Goutam Halder, director, Moimonsingha Geetika

“Reading Moimonsingha Geetika, the balladry of Mohua and Nader Chand inspired me very much,” explained Halder. “We have performed many serious political and social plays dealing with complex problems of adult existence. The ballad of Moimonsingha Geetika explores human complexities as well as love, the purest form of feeling treasured by mankind. This story speaks of the ideals and norms that society holds important, the meaning of differences in social status and their effect on human relationships.”

Moimonsingha Geetika is a Bengali folk ballad, which envisions a society that allows women to love freely. The play tells the story of a girl, Mahua, the daughter of a Brahmin living in Gara mountain, who falls in love with a prince called Nader Chand.

“News instigated me to direct the play”: Chandra Keerthi B, director, Caucasian Chalk Circle

Caucasian Chalk Circle, a play originally by Bertolt Brecht, is the story of Grusha, a peasant, forced to flee a Caucasian city as a result of a revolt. She saves the abandoned child of the city’s governor, who has been killed and develops strong maternal instincts towards the baby.

On 27 August, 2017, a shocking piece of news flashed on TV: “Mother throws her 7-year old daughter off a building, twice!” recalled Keerthi. “I discovered that the incident took place two roads away from my residence! It haunted me for days. I recalled Natella Abashwili, the mother of Michael, in the play Caucasian Chalk Circle by German modernist Bertolt Brecht. This incident instigated me to direct Caucasian Chalk Circle.”

The play enforces a new feeling to motherhood ~ emotional, rather than biological.

“Media has altered our ideas of gender, sex and its power structure”: Kshitij Date, director, Item

The underbelly of Hindi cinema is its B Grade films, which were popular before multiplexes.”Media has altered our ideas of gender, sex and its power structure, while also setting unreal beauty standards for us to follow,” asserted Date. “For directing Item, I had to be the audience first and then experience the ‘B Grade’ idea of objectification and customisation of women.

For me the ‘central character’ in the play was ‘the bed’. Around it revolves the camera, plots, stories, dilapidated lights, dirty props, polished chairs, men and women. All are “items”. Item has altered my idea of expression. Stress the undercurrents and fade out the ‘say out loud’ narrative.”

“Focus is to blend the physical movement, visual imagery and music into a visual narrative”: Oasis Sougaijam, director, Hojang Taret

The play Hojang Taret is a Greek tragedy about ethical ambiguities of fraternal conflict that led to the destruction of the city of Thebes. “Hojang Taret is a classical Greek tragedy, written by Euripides, relevant even today. The long struggle for our Independence and the division of our country resonated with me. These similarities of the aftermath of war, pertinent even after 2,500 years, induced me to pick this play for a larger audience.The focus of my direction is to blend the physical movement, visual imagery and music into a visual narrative with multimedia element.”

“Character takes audiences with him on an inner journey”: Sasidhara Naduvil, director, Higuita: The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick

 

 

The play is an independent dramatisation of the famous works of N S Madhavan (Higuita ~ a short story) and Peter Handke (The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick ~ a novel). Higuita was staged for the first time 20 years ago as a 30-minute short play.

The stage arrangement consists of a football ground with a church on one side. Higuita takes the audience with him on this inner journey. The play is dramatised such that in the centre circle of a football ground, Father Geevarghese meets people from his past and present ~ Lucy Marandy, Jabbar, his friends and family.

Imprisoned in their boxes, the goalkeepers stand like caged birds under a burning sun. Geevarghese is fired by the image of Higuita walking back peacefully to his own post, after extending the ball to the farthest striker of his team at the rival post. Father Geevarghese sees himself breaking all barricades, like Higuita. He retorts against the injustice, which confronts him and discovers that even his priesthood cannot come in between.

“The play was conceptualised after three years of rigorous study”: Ranhang Choudhary, director, Comfort woman: An untold History

This play tells the untold story of the abuse by Japanese soldiers in eastern India during the World War II, through the plight of Sarengla, a village girl, who too loses her dignity to war and to the brutality of the Japanese army; it chronicles her struggles of abuse and survival and of the child, which grows in her womb.

Comfort Women is about the history of forced prostitution by the Japanese during World War II. During this war, as many as 200,000 women, commonly called “comfort women”, were forced into prostitution, brutally beaten, raped and held prisoner throughout parts of Asia under direct control of the Japanese military. After continuous studies and rigorous research on the topic for three years, the idea of the play was conceptualised.

“Relationship between man and woman is depicted through our dance-theatre”: Koumarane Valavane, director, Karuppu

Karuppu is a dance-drama based on the age-old Dravidian cultural rituals, depicting a universe that absorbs all imbalances, like a black hole from which rebirth of everything anew is possible. It is presented through the ultimate union of Purusha (male) and Prakriti (female) energies and the birth, destruction and rebirth of the universe.

Karuppu is about the “kala teeka”, or the black spot that is put on a new-born to ward off evil. Karuppu is black, but not evil. The darkness in us is tamed by age-old cultural rituals, which absorb all negativity like a black hole from which rebirth of everything afresh is possible.

Karuppu is the world without a creator: it is the vision of a world born simply from the union between Prakriti (the feminine) and Purusha (the masculine). This dynamic union between energy and consciousness is fragile, destructive and regenerating, and is depicted through the relationship between man and woman through this dance-theatre.

“Play uses theatrical space effectively to challenge our thinking”: Abhishek Majumdar, director, Muktidham

Muktidham, performed by the Indian Ensemble, is about plurality, synthesis of divergent views and the possibilities of coexistence in life. This collaboration, spanning over two years between the different departments and artists, was enriched by the multiplicity of ideas, opinions, tastes and technical skills.

The other key element of this production has been the engagement with historical, social and theological concerns of Hinduism. The play questions aspects of caste in Hinduism as elaborated by Dr Ambedkar. The play uses theatrical space effectively to challenge our thinking and introducing fresh perspectives.