He then took his insights and helped form curriculums for institutions that were dedicated to building a better kind of theatre.
It was the night before Christmas, and the NCPA Campus was pretty deserted, except for the Little Theatre that reverberated with the sound of applause. The din rivalled the roar of the nearby Wankhede Stadium, where India was wrapping up another insipid series against Sri Lanka.
However, the packed Little Theatre was anything but insipid. The largest ovation was rightly reserved for Dr. Mohan Agashe, who received the Thespo Lifetime Achievement Award. His acceptance speech was full of grace and insight, which was a treat for the audience of well-wishers and young theatre enthusiasts.
Dr Agashe talked of using theatre as a medium of education. Since our mainstream education has failed us, we need to use entertainment to “smuggle” information on various topics, be it dealing with dementia, teen angst, depression, or even larger social evils. For him, that is the purpose of the artist and the purpose of the art.
Dr. Agashe, is a strange theatre being. His first profession is that of a psychologist. So the ‘Dr’ before his name is not Ph.D, but a real medical qualification. He has successfully juggled both passions, often cross pollinating from one to the other. His insight into human nature, has led him to construct some of the most astounding characters. He then took his insights and helped form curriculums for institutions that were dedicated to building a better kind of theatre. The FTII acting programme was shaped by him, as was his introduction of GRIPS theatre in India, where young adolescents essay the role of children in plays.
The rest of the evening was the presentation of festival awards. The four plays at the festival vied for statuettes in various categories. Ahmednagar’s Khataara walked away with most of them, including the coveted Sultan Padamsee Award for Outstanding Play, and the Deryck Jeffereis Award for Production Design. Bombay’s Trikon Ka Choutha Kon? took home Male Actor and Ensemble, and Lucknow’s Main, Mera Baaja Aur Woh won Male Supporting Actor. Each winner spoke with great humility about the struggle and journey of the play or character. In fact Trikon… shared how none of them were actually movement based actors, and the entire physical vocabulary had been developed and designed through the course of rehearsals.
There was one award, however, that was awarded by the festival management, rather than the jury. This was the “Spirit of Thespo” Award. It’s a new initiative, and is given to an individual or team who best embodies what the entire movement is all about.
This year the team of Mrig-Trishna received it, because of their cooperation in making theatre happen, supporting other groups who were performing, and essentially being ‘good guys’. An award like this is significant, because it is plotted on a different kind of quality axis: a human being.
Irrespective of how good your work is, if you are a prima donna then you are not a team player, your contribution to theatre will be limited.
Some of the strongest names in Indian Theatre have been able to see past just their own individual needs and kept in mind the needs of the form and the nation. And that’s how they’ve made a difference. Just like Dr. Mohan Agashe.
The writer is a Bombay based theatre-holic. He works primarily as a theatre-director for arts management company QTP, who also manage the youth theatre movement Thespo.