Friday, January 08, 2016

Playing your part

I watched the play ‘Wooster and Jeeves - Perfect Nonsense’ at NCPA earlier this evening. The newspapers report this is the first time a ‘major West End production’ is touring Mumbai.

Well, I am guessing that is for two important reasons:

1. P G Wodehouse still enjoys a cult following in India.
2. This production rests on the able shoulders of just 3 actors playing 9 different characters.

The piece de resistance was the scene where the same chap performs as a man and a woman simultaneously (imagine a Victorian style Ardhanarishwara).

I quite liked the play though I think you would enjoy in 2X if you were a Wodehouse junkie in college. There are 4 more performances at the NCPA this weekend - though tickets are expensive (starting at Rs 2000) it is certainly cheaper than going to the West End :)

Years ago, when I was in London for 2 months on a fellowship, I used to buy the cheapest tickets available and watch one show every week. Many of these productions were big-budget, high-end musicals. A couple of years ago I also visited New York and saw some Broadway shows glitzier and more spectacular than anything in London!)

Over the last 6 months I finally got around to watching several plays, right here in Mumbai. I realised the trick is to
1. Buy the ticket on ‘Book My Show’ in advance (then you feel, I must go!)
2. Do not wait for company - a good play can easily be enjoyed alone.

Unlike Broadway or West End, where theatre is an organised industry, in India it’s a ‘trial by fire’. Tickets at Prithvi theatre sell for as little as Rs 150 so it’s clearly not something people are doing for the money. What we lack in spectacle we make up for with sheer passion and acting talent.

In fact, I find some of the plays I like best are the ones where one actor plays several parts, or even all parts. Here are some such productions which I recommend highly:

1. 9 Parts of Desire directed by Lilette Dubey
- a play about the effect of the Gulf war on the lives of Iraqi women. Ira Dubey is brilliant in this one-woman show where she plays 9 different characters. These characters are women who actually existed, from Layal, the artist who survived by painting portraits of Saddam Hussein to Umm Ghada (mother of Ghada) stays in a deserted bomb shelter where her entire family perished. It is a hard-hitting play but not ‘heavy’.

15th & 16th Jan at NCPA Experimental Theatre, 730 pm

2. Kambhakt Bilkul Aurat by Naseeruddin Shah’s Motley Productions - Again, you will see just one actor on stage performing an entire story, with minimal props and sets. That takes real talent! The actors are Heeba Shah, Loveless Mishra (chhutki from Hum Log) and Seema Pahwa (badki from Hum Log)

Of course, the stories themselves are so good - coming from the pen of famed Urdu writer Ismat Chughtai. One of the stories was ‘Lihaaf, for which Ismat was charged with obscenity (she successfully fought and won the case back in 1942!). I do think the story is quite radical even for today - hats off to her!

Keep checking BookMyShow as performances keep happening. If you are lucky you might even catch part 1 of this production called ‘Ismat Aapa ke Naam’ where Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak perform a story each.

3. Einstein by Motley Productions
- Naseeruddin Shah plays Albert Einstein as an old man, reflecting on his life, work and legacy. This play can be quite inspiring for kids, as the stage Einstein talks about how he had speech difficulties and teachers thought he was a difficult child for asking too many questions. In fact, his father was quite keen that he become an electrician!

You also get a glimpse of how tiring it was in later years for Einstein to play the part of a ‘celebrity’. Constantly invited to give interviews and makes speeches - by people who scarcely understood science. It also looks into the guilt which the scientist felt because his work contributed to the making of the atom bomb.

Naseeruddin Shah actually looks like Einstein and only an actor of his calibre could carry off a 75 minute long solo performance. It felt a little bit long but still worth a watch. No show scheduled at present but I am sure it will come back.

While movies get reviewed by hundreds of people, it’s hard to find out which play is worth watching. If you’ve seen something you liked please do share :)

For every 2 movies you watch, I suggest you also watch 1 play. If more of us do that, we might actually have a viable theatre ‘industry’ - right here in Mumbai. Though sometimes I feel we already have a thriving film and television industry. Perhaps theatre should remain that last bastion where passion rules over commerce.

Disqus for Youth Curry - Insight on Indian Youth