2 reviews:'Tracing the Era of Urdu Theatre' by Danish Husain, & 'A Farming Story' by Faezeh Jalali
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
JAM by Harkat Studio: REview
Harkat Studios presents their first very own play: JAM.
Premier: @Prithvi Theatre, November 6, 2018. 60 mins; 19:00-20:00 hrs
The play merges live-projection, sand art and storytelling in a way that never seen before.
Bina and Surekha are college friends who haven’t met for years. Now they have met but are stuck in a car in a terrible traffic jam. For Surekha, this is an everyday situation. She drives, swears and is not above nudging a car that is refusing to give way. But is there more to her aggression? With no way out of the jam, they revisit their days back in Darjeeling and the treachery of their current lives. Matters take a sinister turn when Surekha scratches a bigger car. Was it deliberate? Why? In a headless turn of events, past and present merge, mirror and oppose each other. One decision can change your life forever, even if you believe you have forgotten - others remember…
Written by Annie Zaidi; Directed by Shivani Tanksale
Cast: Shivani Tanksale, Ishita Sharma, Ajitesh Gupta
Animation + Live Design: Debjani Mukherjee; Sound: Ajitesh Gupta; Light: Amogh Phadke
I've a driving license but I don't drive. I'd tried my hands in Indonesia for a few months driving around in my Isuzu Panther. Once on my way all by myself from Bogor to Puncak I was stuck in a traffic jam for four hours.
You don't know what traffic jam is until you hit the Bogor Puncak toll road on a weekend.
In one of those downhill stretches I softly hit the bumper of the car in front of me. Indonesian couple in the car were accommodating and didn't bother about a small dent. However, it was a big dent to my interest to drive.
Jam was a good enough reason for me to stop driving car from that day in 2003, and I was happy to driven around by my driver, Pak Jumhari.
This play, Jam, nicely shows how I can relate with the protagonist, Bina, played by Ishita Sharma. Like her even I don't know any technical details or names of different parts of a car. I honestly don't know :-)
Well, all the three on-stage actors including Shivani Tanksale and Ajitesh Gupta will make you believe you are in a traffic jam. A experience that comes to live thanks to amazing use of different media - sand-art animation, sound and lights - brilliant use of these in small doses keeps audience absolutely engaged for 60 minutes.
I see Jam as a superb experimentation of bringing together different art forms to share a simple story to make you almost 'feel' the space with the protagonists. A beautiful script by Annie Zaidi about two college friends from Mumbai going back-and-forth between their past lives and relationships, and revealing their own current relationships with each other. The use of Bollywood songs through a radio and involving Ajitesh as Radio Jockey in the background brilliantly uses the emotions of the two women protagonists - Surekha, the scientist and Bina, the 'happy' housewife from Pune exploring the idea of completing Masters degree.
You would truly enjoy this play - I'd highly recommend to watch it when you get a chance. Every time you are in traffic jam I bet this play will be a beautiful reminder!