Sunday, Dec 17, 2017 | Last Update : 04:02 AM IST
There is a bravery and freshness in a lot of the work that can only be the prerogative of the young.
Thespo 18, the annual youth theatre festival for people under the age of 25 drew to a close, a week or so ago. And once again the little festival enhanced its edgy reputation by producing some exciting and breakthrough work. There is a bravery and freshness in a lot of the work that can only be the prerogative of the young. That’s why, I think the festival is so vital to the city’s theatre-scape. By being challenging in both content and staging, the young groups push envelopes when most of us would be happy with status quo.
Two of the one-actor plays at the festival, took remarkably different routes to being effective pieces of theatre. Bhanvar, about a night watchman whose shift never end, was hilarious and extremely watchable. Our eyes never wavered off Shivraj Waichal’s performance for a moment. He was magnetic. And when the final scene happens (it’s quite literally a deus ex machine), it takes your breath away. They achieved a very rare thing at the intimate Prithvi theatre: spontaneous applause for a set element.
The other one-actor play, The Show, was in a completely different style. Here the actress almost ignored the audience, as she created the sanctuary one feels when they are alone at home. She simply went by her own tasks and slowly and surely we were drawn in to this world. While Bhanvar tried to keep himself up at night, she was occupying her mind with distractions that would enable her to fall asleep. The play was largely in Kannada, and yet had the audience riveted, as we followed each action and gesture as if we were looking at a laboratory experiment. It was an incredibly bold choice of style, one that left us uncomfortable, and yet we couldn’t look away.
This ‘not being polite’ element was also found in the play that opened the festival. Ismat Chughtai’s Lihaaf is about a Begum that has an affair with her masseuse. What is often glossed over in usual retellings is that the Begum also molests her young niece. This imaginative production, which used three performers to essay the multiple parts, didn’t hide any of the ‘uncomfortable bits’. The image of the multi-hand masseuse will remain with many for a long time.
Te Kay Aste, and Syaahi were the ‘safest’ of the plays that made it to the final five. One dealt with the awkwardness around teaching sex education in rural Maharashtra. It was quirky, cute, and had a finale that made you feel terrible for laughing at all the preceding bits. It made the audience an accomplice in the stigma around sex education. Syaahi on the other hand made an imaginative leap, by taking three Vijay Tendulkar plays and merging parts of them into one narrative. However, the attempt lacked the depth and substance that one would have hoped for, and left us feeling a little untouched.
The big criticism of the Millennial Generation is that it’s all about the self, since they’ve never known scarcity. Having always grown up with the internet, young people seem to be obsessed with their immediate surroundings. Although the short plays at the festival were all about the individual, yet they somehow seemed to be about larger issues, without ever trying to be. Mujer looked at six female actresses sharing personal anecdotes about what it means to be a young woman in urban India. Chenda, masterfully brought the issue of cattle slaughter to the fore with the story of a percussionist who believes his drum is haunted by his recently deceased cow. Bhool looked at young love in a tribal community, and Khouf re-visted Gulzar’s short story about communal tension. While each play dealt with survival and focussed mainly on the protagonist, it still told us a great deal about society at large, and how our younger citizens view it.
The festival closed with a special treat: a conversation with the Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient M.S. Sathyu. The normally reticent and shy set designer seemed to respond to the energy of the young audience. He charmed his way into our heart, rattling off one humorous anecdote after another. As a lifelong member of the country’s foremost ‘agit prop’ theatre company, the Indian People’s Theatre Association, he naturally bemoaned the state of the country at present. He spoke about the prevailing idiocies and shared about how it’s not enough to just be good at theatre, if you aren’t actually saying something. He talked of censorship controversy around his much-acclaimed film Garam Hawa, and the importance of telling stories such as that.
Theatre, by its very nature, will always be niche. What is most heartening about Thespo is that even though many alumni have gone on to successful careers in the more commercial forms, they still make time to have one foot in the theatre. Jean Genet believed that theatre was a mirror to hold up to society; thanks given the evidence of this week, the mirror is in good hands.
Quasar Thakore Padamsee is a Bombay based theatre-holic. He is also a member of Team Thespo.