November 13, 2018 TUESDAY: After solo trekking for a week in Agonda and then travelling 14 hours in an overnight bus to reach Ambernath late afternoon with a nice back ache....... I'd little physical energy to pack my evening to travel again to and fro four hours all the way to Prithvi Theatre, Juhu. How could I've missed two back to back events!
Another excitement was in sharing some of my favourite Mumbai artists with my nephew, Savyasachi Anju Prabir, who is currently in town on holidays from his Masters degree on Visual Anthropology, Media and Documentaries course in Munster, Germany. Here is a quick review of the two events from my Culture Call lens.
EVENT # 1
Tracing The Era of Hindustani/Urdu Theatre
Shama Zaidi, Jameel Gulrays, and Salim Arif in a conversation with Danish Husain tracing the early days, and the principal architects of Hindustani-Urdu theatre with focus on Mumbai.
The speakers were not formally introduced. That probably because they are well-known personalities in theatre.
Danish Husain of the Hoshruba Repertory began the Urdu Mehfil conversation by first giving the floor to Shama Zaidi - an eminent journalist, theatre and film personality.
To summarise, Shama Zaidi emphasised on how Urdu theatre's origin has been influenced by Sanskrit theatre - and in turn influenced modern Indian theatre including in various other countries.
Salim Arif gave a better perspective to audience about how Parsi companies found the commercial interest in Urdu language although adopted the architectural set up of the theatre from the West. Interestingly, the Hindustani-Urdu theatre did not limit to Mumbai but travelled across the country through these companies.
Jameel Gulrays detailed powerpoint presentation highlighted the influence of Agha Hashar Kashmiri in Urdu-Hindi theatre, in particular Yahudi ki Ladki published around 1915 and later was adopted in Bollywood film, while his first play, Aftab-e-Muhabbat, was published in around 1890s. For an novice like me, I liked his presentation.
Danish Husain facilitated the event by highlighting the historical timeline since late 17th century - taking note of influence of trade, space, theatre companies among others - that shaped Urdu theatre in India.
This is my first time at Mehfil@Prithvi. My knowledge about Urdu theatre history is next to zero. Its a shame that we'd to leave after an hour to grab a quick snack before the next show.
Yet, during my one hour of attendance, I felt that Danish could've moderated the first two speakers' talk - to streamline their thoughts focussed on the topic.
The last part of panel discussion and conclusion that I missed makes me curious to learn more about how Urdu-Hindustani theatre personalities have adapted during the British era and the changes that occurred since then... and its impact till now - in writing as well as in performance approach.
Such a powerful talk one would expect to draw a huge crowd, but less than a dozen audience in the room makes me wonder whatever happened to Mumbai's interest in such cultural events. So, if you are reading this post do spread the word and join this event every second Tuesday of the months and guess what its in bilingual (English and Hindi) and open to all and for free!
Urdu Mehfil is curated by Hoshruba Repertory under the aegis of Prithvi Theatre every second Tuesday of the Month from 7pm onwards at Prithvi House, Janki Kutir, Juhu, Mumbai.
EVENT # 2
A Farming Story by Faezeh Jalali
Jalali's two previous plays - 07/07/07 and Shikhandi - the story of in-betweens had mesmerised me (see my previous Culture Call posts to read its review). She created a tremendous expectations from her earlier hits.
One hour 40 minutes play with a ten minute break, A Farming Story, is an English play written by Vineet Bhalla. A kind of fantasy story about the current state of affairs reflecting on human beings' struggle. As the synopsis reads:
A small community of farming Hummals (human animals) is struggling to survive after environmental conditions have resulted in repeated crop failures. The villagers of this community are in debt to the Estate which owns all the land. Into this world arrive Hummal monkeys, fleeing from devastating forest fires. They hope to find refuge in the village. The villagers are deeply divided about this. When a mysterious disease destroys the community's livestock, the Estate blames the monkeys, who are then, imprisoned. What ensues is a fight not only for survival, but also beliefs of compassion, bravery and wisdom.Their world eerily reflects ours, with all-powerful corporations, environmental damage, genetically modified seeds, abject poverty and mass migrations to cities.
Here's my take: the actors were fabulous. The use of props and stage is just relevant and beautiful. The hairstyle and vintage props couldn't have been more apt. The fundamental challenge I think is with the script. It looked more of a film script. The first 30 min of the play just dragged and it became a long introduction without music, satire and with too much of dialogues. Some elements were not essential.. for example, the fighting sequence absolutely didn't fit in the play.
I was hoping to see the magic of Jalali. It failed, although not completely.
Something is missing in this play...
One of the female protagonists in a wheel chair brings out an underlying Jalali's signature - gender/women dimension. I didn't find any moment in the play to laugh - though some people in the audience were laughing... it made me wondered what was I missing!
With my expertise in forest land tenure and gender expert, 'A Farming Story' sounds like a perfect fit for any International Development organisations' outreach message. In other words, there was too much moral of the story and theatrical dimension got lost in the process.
As such I'd recommend you to go watch it for the sake of the social equity issues - combining migration, forest fire, GMO, community land rights etc - that this play raises. Yet, this is not a direct political theatre about staging a revolution.
As for theatrical experience this play could've been fit in 45 min. The script is the main culprit.
Otherwise, A Farming Story is a relatively nice play even though nothing extraordinary in the storyline.
Both the events - UrduMehfil@Prithvi and A Farming Story - reminds me of how theatre in India lost its 'social activism' tag, which used to be prominent in 1970 and gradually disappearing by 2000.
Do read this piece 'Staging a revolution: can theatre be an effective form of activism?'.. questioning how the arts effect social change.
Post two back to back events in one evening it was nice to get an opportunity to reflect while we both hogged prawn gassi with appam at Mahesh Lunch home restaurant around 11:45 pm in Juhu! That's only possible in Bombay!
This post is part of Culture Call www.purabibose.com
The 20th edition of Mumbai Academy of Moving Images (MAMI) International Film Festival was held from 25th October to 1st November, 2018 in Mumbai, India.
October first two weeks I was busy screening my Landing Together Films promoting in various countries in Europe, USA and India. Interested to learn more about documentary films I'm producing and directing, do visit www.landingtogether.weebly.com (see pages Tour and Films). I was only able to attend from 28-31 October.
The first time I attended MAMI was in year 2016. This year the registration fee was just INR 500 compared to 2016 when I'd paid INR 2000! For some films the queue was long compared to other films, therefore my pick of films is dependent on the key factor whether I woke up at 8 am to book online tickets or had to accept whatever films were leftover. Nevertheless, here are some of them, I categorised them in three ratings -
Very Good (****)
Here are some of the films I managed to watch in four days, and my top two picks and review!
***Fahrenheit 11/9 (USA)
***The Wild Pear Tree (Turkey)
***The Image Book (France)
***Los Silencios (Columbia, Brazil)
***Samouni Road (Italy - Arabic, Hebrew)
****Birds of Passage (Colombia)
*****Woman at War (Iceland)
*****A Twelve-Year Night (Uruguay)
2018 Icelandic film 'Woman at War' touched me the most.
Director: Benedikt Erlingsson
To me, this film touched the most - you know why - because intelligently this film tackles global environmental issue with nice blend of gender role and a tit-bit of humor.
Erlingson's film is Iceland's Best Foreign Academy Award nomination for good reasons. I am not a good film critic and not body could be for this film because it is hard to categorise this film into docudrama, suspense, social or environmental issue, women/feminist/gender, comedy, musical, or human rights or what?!
Identical twin sisters - one choir teacher and another yoga guru, a Spanish-speaking tourist, traditionally attired Ukrainian country singers and three musicians, and a shepherd cousin.
The film is not preaching but yet leaves behind so many beautiful thoughts with brilliant sound and music and cinematography. The electric company - Rio Tinto's land grabbing motives, local communities' naive approach towards environmental issues, the protagonist's love for nature, and government's false claims and using super modern technologies such as camera and drone to monitor 'traitors' damaging the electric fence sounds real for any countries, particularly in global tropics. Do watch this film if you get a chance.
2018 Uruguay's entry for the Best Foreign Academy Award film A Twelve-Year Night
Director: Alvaro Brechner
If you are from Latin America, you'd know the history of Uruguay's politics. This film nicely touches the human dimension of three men - who lived in total isolation for twelve years. La noche de 12 años is a powerful story will amazing direction from Brechner. The film shows how three men of MLN Tupamaros were captured and left in solitary confinement for twelve years because as one of the army chief says, "As we can't kill them, let's drive them crazy." One of the three went on to become President of Uruguay - Pepe Mujica.
No, its not just the story, that makes this film successful. It is the way Brechner treated his protagonists that clearly shows violence as a secondary compared to human dimensions of film's character. Each one full of emotions, humane touch, and powerful dialogues. I highly recommend you to watch this film.
Yes, I am a big fan of this World's best President ever, José Pepe Mujica, long before Facebook glorified his unique lifestyle - donating his salary or driving his own old car or living a modest life. However, do watch this film to see what a good film can do to get a standing ovation in Mumbai's MAMI festival (PVR ICON, Versova).. a truly powerful cinema recommended for you!
Some of the films that I missed watching in this festival and look forward to catch it somewhere are
3 Faces (Iran)
Born and raised in Maharashtra, I consider Marathi as my maternal language! It is true that I can read, speak, understand and even write Marathi better than Bangla language. When I was in primary municipal school, in the outskirts of Mumbai, my teacher along with my mother had decided that instead of Malayalam as the third language it will be Marathi.
I'd not seen a single play in Marathi till date. My brother, Prabir Bose, himself an expert of Theatre for Development, suggested (rather pushed) me to watch this play at NCPA, Mumbai. I am glad to listen and accept his advice.
This play is running for over 40 years making it older than me!
I think the actors are all new (not the ones who played 40 years ago) and some of the dialogues has nicely been adapted to suit the current scenario of the country.
Satish Alekar's Mahanirvan is more than a story about death man.. it takes the audience more in-depth to examine human society, relationships and our behaviour with 'rituals and traditions' and underlying politics.
Let me call it as a musical play in two acts with two key protagonists - sutradhars - the dead man and his son. Satish Alekar beautifully uses typical Maharashtrian regional folk songs and music such as Abhang, Bhajan, and Kirtans through out the 120 minutes. The interval/break in the play sees the shift of 'sutradhar' from dead man to his son. Of 15 men in the play there is only one woman - the widow - and her role is nicely placed from being dependent, to vulnerable, and to some one with desire. Alekar direction has left no gap in depicting the chawl atmosphere, or brining sarcasm in our belief-systems - be it in the form of black crow that claims monopoly in traditional ritual systems of death .. questioning what is culturally acceptable or prescribed and followed/passed-on blindly. I must admit Nachiket Devasthali's acting got me floored.
Each and every character is well-placed and audience is given a chance to understand the character - its relevance in the play/story. To me, the story is well executed and sometimes I found Marathi language was a bit too polished for me to understand, but that was only in a couple of dialogues. Overall, I would highly recommend to watch this play if you get a chance. Absolutely brilliant performance by the actors.
The Hindu has published a detailed review of this play, which you can read it here
A documentary set in Firanghi Mahal, Lucknow, an institution for rationalist Islamic scholarship founded in the late 17th century. Through two women, Sughra Fatema and her niece Khadija Ansari, it tells the unknown stories of women and their struggles to find their own ways of being in a time of dramatic changes. One wrote poetry to express herself and the other became a student activist who went to jail for being a revolutionary. The film is an ode to humanism and the indomitable spirit of women who refuse to give up the search for a meaningful life.
About the Director:
Uma Chakravarti is a feminist historian who taught history at Miranda House, Delhi University, where she also curated film screenings of documentary films from the late 70s onwards. She has recently made three films: ‘A Quiet Little Entry’ on women’s history and the small archives of unknown people; a second film on the 1960s and 70s in India, and the way political and social events at that time shaped individual women’s lives titled ‘Fragments of a Past’, and her third film ‘Ek Inquilab Aur Aaya’ which dwells on the multiple histories of Muslim women which we rarely see in documentary cinema.
This might be one of the first films I watched about Muslim women's history though limited to Firangi Mahal. Prof. Uma is an amazing personality and she mesmerised her audience with her witty answers. A good number of her students were in the room who enriched the Q&A nicely - sharing about gender and history in India and Lucknow, in particular.
The film which recreates the past making it a docu-drama film holds the attention of the audience by moving the stories of two women - Urdu poet Sughra Fatima and her niece Khadija Ansari - amazingly independent thinking women. I realised how little I (and we) know about these women - am there are so many untold stories to be shared of such women. One question I was wondering was about the name Farangi Mahal. Anand Patwardhan nicely raised this issue during the Q&A sessio. The word Firang (meaning foreigners) refers to French owner who was the first owner of this mahal (palace), according Uma, director of this film. It became the center of Islamic learning as well as cultural centre. The film nicely travels the time based on memories, poems by Sughra and walking down the road with Khadija Ansari, the rebellious one, telling her story and involvement in Khilafat movement and loads of emotions.
I must admit that though I've not heard about Uma Chakravarti earlier, but she is definitely going to be one of those role model heroes - a young woman in her 70s directing such amazing films. Such an inspiring evening with wonderful people makes a good memory.
Scroll.in has published this film's review, read here: https://scroll.in/reel/850967/an-urdu-poet-her-activist-niece-and-two-faces-of-rebellion-at-lucknows-farangi-mahal
*Vikalp@Prithvi is an initiative of filmmakers Anand Patwardhan, Simontini Dhuru and Chandini Parekh.
They organise documentary film screenings often with Q&A with the film director
Every last Friday of the month at 7 pm
At Prithvi House, Opposite Prithvi Theatre, Janki Kutir, Juhu Church Road, Juhu, Bombay.
Entry Free on a First-Come-First-Seated Basis
Facebook Page: bit.ly/vikalpscreenings
Twitter Page: www.twitter.com/Vikalp_Prithvi
After a low-key Onam sadya*, I'd a beautiful evening listening to storytelling, i.e. Qissebaazi in Urdu language.
Theatre events in Mumbai used to be known for its punctuality. This is changing rapidly. Today's show got delayed nicely by 20 mins - when it comes to timing I am more Dutch than a Dutch citizen and I arrive 20 mins before time! Anyways, during this 40 mins waiting time I'd a chance to continue playing on phone 'Godot Godot' - with 8 year son of my friend. He acts Pozzo and I'm his Lucky ..
This is my second blog on Qissebaazi already in three months! In May, while dealing with Mumbai summer wave, I'd watched for the first time Qissebaazi and I spontaneously became a fan. Since then I have been following this unique storytelling show in Mumbai, which is directed by Danish Husain under his production company, the Hoshruba Repertory. A few days ago, my nephew suggested a couple of indie Hindi films (a fact that I watched more Iranian & Latino films than Bollywood Hindi films) and one of the suggested films I happen to watch on Netflix was Ankhon Dekhi.. a nice surprise to see Husain in this film and to learn he is also a film actor.
The two performances lined up for today's event at Hive, the Great Eastern Company, Byculla, Mumbai were in Malayalam and Urdu languages. The uniqueness in appreciating this art form of storytelling lies in the idea to bridge the culture gap breaking language barriers. To me Qissebaazi is one of the most creative form of art using storytelling in a culturally diverse country like India, particularly, more so in this current political scenario.
All my indie documentaries under the Landing Together films are multilingual primarily to have a culture of language inclusivity - showcasing diverse ethnic tribal and indigenous peoples' languages bridge nature conservation. For example, when I use different tribal/adivasi languages in my film to narrate a social issue, it brings a deep cultural meaning with power wherein language is not just to share the information/ story, but to show how it shapes protagonist's opinions, perceptions, customs, and builds (or breaks) collective identities. Probably that's another reason why I am better able to connect with Qissebaazi's unique format.
Danish Husain's justification to tell stories in different languages works well because of the way he understands his audience and uses creativity in executing the stories. He does so by dividing each story into two languages. A 'core' language is that of the text, and a symbolic 'bridge' language often either in Hindi or English that helps the audience to comprehend the story.
By bringing stories in original language(s) in front of an urban-literate audience raises a crucial question about their 'languaculture adaptability' i.e. how do audience from culturally diverse background understand a story in a foreign language that belongs to another culture.
Padma Damodaran, opened her story with a Malayalam poem - a tribute to Kerala's fishermen who extended their unconditional support in disaster rescue operations during the recent floods. She picked up a beautiful story, 'Wooden Dolls', written by Karoor Neelakantha Pillai - of course, none from the audience (including me, I was born after his death) knew this famous short story writer. I'm not elaborating the plot here. Padma kept her audience engaged till the end - using Malyalam as core and English as the bridge language.
I liked the structure of today's programme wherein Danish did the introduction, followed by Padma's dance-song-story, and finally Danish wrapping up with a nice dastangoi/storytelling from Dastan-e-Amir-Hamza in bilingual - Urdu and Hindi. You might want to attend one of this storytelling events.
On my way back home - two hours train journey - looking at August's beautiful Sturgeon full moon made me ponder on how nature and art has been separated in Mumbai's urban setting.
I wish we can have some daredevil artists taking their art events to beaches, forts and mountain camps and pushing the urbanites out of their pigeon holes to enjoy theatre, storytelling, dance in relatively natural settings.... But, I doubt whether mainstream audience is ready to leave their popcorn comfort zone of watching commercial Bollywood films.
At least I am exploring option to screen my films in open sky theatre.. or forests. Till then time to prepare for my short film screenings, including one in India at Vikalp@Prithvi, Prithvi theatre, Mumbai on Friday, 26/10.
*Onam is a harvest festival originated and celebrated in the southern state of Kerala. Onam sadya is a typical traditional homemade food to celebrate this festival.
For a change this blog is not a review. I watched the two films Ghost Hunting and Palestinian Children under Fire. Post screening there was the Q&A that provided further learning .. if you have read the news and recent news (read Ahed Tamimi or the Unseen costs of imprisioning Palestine minors
Vikalp@Prithvi is a monthly series of documentaries and short films followed by a discussion, brought to you by Vikalp: Films for Freedom in collaboration with Prithvi Theatre, on the last Friday of every month at 7 pm. Entry is always free. On July 27, Vikalp@Prithvi screened two films on Palestine followed by Q&A with the director and human rights activists.
The first film was 'Palestinian Children Under Fire' Directed by Amal Wahdan
Followed by Q&A with Apoorva, South Asia Coordinator at the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee and Feroze Mithiborwala, General Secretary, India Palestine Solidarity Forum.
About the Film: The film catalogues historic and current Israeli human rights abuses perpetrated against Palestinian people, especially children, providing the most up-to-date record of such instances of human rights violations available to date.
Amal Wahdan is a Palestinian women and human rights activist and former political prisoner. She was one of the founders of the Unified Leadership of the Intifada 1988. She is the Chairwoman of the Shaikh Hasan Foundation.
The second film screening was of 'Ghost Hunting'. Followed by Q&A with Palestinian Director Raed Andoni
About the Film: A filmmaker, searching for former inmates of Jerusalem’s Moskobiya interrogation center for a documentary, places a newspaper advertisement in Ramallah. After a casting process, the men reenact their interrogations, discuss details about the prison, and express the humiliation they experienced during detention.
For those in Mumbai do visit every last Friday of a month at 7 pm for Vikalp@Prithvi film screening and Q&A at
At Prithvi House, Opposite Prithvi Theatre, Janki Kutir, Juhu Church Road, Juhu, Bombay
In search of Dariya Sagar
A two hour long play curated by the Blind and the Elephant and directed by Gerish Khemani. I watched in my favourite place G5A.. favourite because of the location.
When you've spend you primary and secondary school years in a place called Ulhasnagar you cannot avoid Sindhis. As a child I grew up seeing the transformation in Sindhi community around me. Once I told my mother, "That fat woman with big bumpies came to meet you." I got slapped for being so honest. A hard working community, my widowed mother used to contributing running the house by getting loan by mortgaging her jewellery to one of the Sindhi families in the neighbourhood. One day she lost her mother's only piece of gold pendant and I saw her crying because she was unable to repay the interest rate. I developed special emotions for all Sindhis thereafter... Period.
In this background, I took courage to watch this play - more to understand if Gerish Khemani will address what is this lost identity has done to next generation - a majority who continue to live in ghettos/ camp areas. The play was too long.. that would be my first comment to writers Khemani along with Akshat Nigam.
The actors did a good job to entertain throughout using appropriate props in between. By break time G5A's Black Box cold temperature was already making many feel drozzzzy ;-) Some audience left during the break time, but I wanted to check out the ending. Oh the music and the singer (didn't get his name) did fabulous job and kept the momentum of the drama alive. About the play, the constant search for identity - Sindhi identity - by the protagonist, Jatin, takes you through the history of India before the divide and the journey to leave the land, memories behind in Sindh to adopt a new home. Dreams, ghosts, story-telling of two lovers, and displaced community all these elements nicely twisted in the script gave a nice theatrical experience. Entertainment.
As I walked out of the theatre, I remembered my childhood friend Dolly whose grandmother 'amma' used to tell us stories of why she converted to adopt Sikh culture. Amma would tell us stories of how before partition they had to leave all their ornaments in a trunk that they hid in a well. She would say it was the trunk where she left her Sindhi identity. Now they are Punjabis. Dolly's father was brought up like a Sikh family. Amazing how identity gets lost and new identity is created.. you cannot have the luxury to not have any identity - can you?!
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