Theater Watch: Aadhe Adhure is a tragic and touching play

Aadhe Adhure is a brilliant play by a brilliant author – Mohan Rakesh. You have to read some of his works to understand what you might be missing out on by not having read enough hindi literature.

The play was staged by Prime Time Theater Company and stars Mohan Agashe, Lillette Dubey, Ira Dubey, Rajeev Siddharth and Anushcka as the Nath family – Mahendra, Savitri, Binny, Ashok, and Kinny, a family torn at the seams.

Binny ran away from her home at a tender age with a man she thought she was in love with. Ashok is an aimless young man. Mahendra himself has been an unemployed man, and is a house husband. Kinni is a 14 year old girl not happy with making so many compromises in her everyday life, and crossing the threshold of being just a kid. And Savitri is the bread earner of the family, a woman with many wishes and desires from her and a woman who is perennially unhappy with the fact that the others in the family are not doing their bit. Not enough.

The first half of the play takes you through the threadbare relationships in the family, with Mahendra deciding to leave the family one day (which he does quite often apparently), and Savitri deciding to not care about anyone else’s but her own wishes. The number of times things are left half said makes the plot intriguing and you keep looking for the dirt that has been swept under the carpet. The secrets that every family has, the unexpressed emotions that often explain the expressed ones better.

The second half introduces two new characters – Jagmohan and Juneja. Jagmohan is from Savitri’s past and Juneja is a friend/mentor of Mahendra. How the endgame takes you to a very subtle understanding of human desires and how people keep looking for something more than what they have. The meaning of “Aadhe Adhure” is revealed here. That is what the play is all about.

As a cast, Mohan Agashe who plays 5-6 different characters (including Mahendra, Jagmohan, Juneja, etc.) , Lillette playing Savitri and the Rajeev playing the son are the pick of the lot. Rajeev has the angst of KayKay Menon, the way he carries himself. Lillette is the center piece of the play and is wonderful in her portrayal of a middle class woman, conservative in her life but liberal in her mind and actions. Mohan Agashe, with his subtle changes across the different characters that he plays is phenomenal. The personality swifts from the forgetful but lecherous boss to the playboyish Jagmohan, to the pedantic Juneja, and to the broken/frustrated Mahendra are extremely well played out.

It’s a two act play, and the set (which is the Nath household) is detailed but static. In fact, it is one of the more detailed sets that I have seen in recent times. Maybe, because, it must be a fairly old play. And the set is true to a low income household from a few decades back.

This one is not a comical fun play. Rather, it’s a play that makes you think too hard, and I am sure the Experimental Theater at NCPA (especially the side balcony seats) is not the best place to enjoy it from. But it’s an excellent play and must be enjoyed.

 

I would strongly recommend watching this one.

Theater Watch: Nothing Like Lear

After Hamlet, the Clown Prince, the expectations from Rajat Kapoor and Atul Kumar’s combo (Cinematograph and the Company Theater) were high. Nothing Like Lear starts with a similar setup, but hardly anything similar in execution. Unlike the theatrics, the collective effusion and humor in Hamlet, Lear depends on the brilliance of Atul, since it is, but, a monologue.

I consider myself reasonably well read, but not enlightened in equal proportions. So, yes, I had read shakespeare’s dark work quite some back, but of course, I do not remember quite a few fine details and all the underlying tragedy. So, the first fifteen minutes were tough on me. I was trying to remember just as I was trying to be in the moment. The point where I let go of this trying to remember, I drew the same conclusion as I did the last time I saw Hamlet – these guys are brilliant. What an interpretation! For Rajat and Atul to merge so many characters, right from Lear to Edward to the fool to the sisters, into one actor and so beautifully, I fail to imagine what level of intellectual and theatrical brilliance would have been required.

This play is not the funny and hilarious kinds that Hamlet was. So don’t expect a laugh riot. There are the usual pepperings of jokes and fooling around with the audience. Bu this play is tragic. And there are times when the drama gets you.

I must mention here how effortlessly the clown moves from being just a clown to being a set piece in that epic tragedy, and Atul right now, would probably rate as one of the finest theater actors we have. Right up there with a Naseer.

I dont want to speak too much, for the real joy of the sunrise is in seeing it, and not just hearing telltales about the round burning globe of fire in some poet’s soliloquy. Go watch it. You may compare it with Hamlet, and say that Hamlet was better, but that does not make this one be nothing.

 

This, to me, is what theater should be – brilliant intrpretations, great execution, and out of this world performances.

 

4.5 on 5 for me. Hamlet was a 5, of course.

Theatre Review: Celebrating Gulzar’s Works:

Between last Thursday and Sunday, Prithvi Theatre was showcasing Essay Communication’s work, which is a set of collage woven around Gulzar’s works – Kharashein capturing communal riots and relationships around partition, Lakeerein capturing border/LoC stories, Atthaniyan capturing Mumbai snippets, and (apparently) Kacche Lamhe capturing man-woman relationships. The high point of the week, however, was the poetry reading session by Gulzar Sahab on Sunday morning.

My first distinct memory of Gulzar’s voice is an HMV tape “Fursat ke raat din” (not the two cassette/CD version which came later,  but the older single cassette version). I’ve always been a great fan of his nazms and poems ever since –

“तन्हाई खला नही होती, इसलिये खाली भी नही होती”

“tanhaaI khalaa nahI hotI, isaliye khaalI bhI nahI hotI”
<Solitude is not a bother, and hence, never empty>

“ईक रोज़ ज़िन्दगी ने हंस के कहा.. मुझ से यूं रूठा ना करो.. मैं तुम्हारि जुड्वा हूं”

“Ik roz zindagI ne haMs ke kahaa.. mujh se yUM rooThaa naa karo.. maiM tumhaari juDwaa hooM”
<Life once said to me.. don’t be so mad at me. I am your twin, after all>

In the 2 casette collection – Pancham- Gulzar Remembers RD Burman, Gulzar said –

“मैं क्या बताऊं कि ईक बेहता दरिया हूं… जब आ रहा था, तब जा रहा था”

“maiM kyaa bataaooM ki Ik behataa dariyaa hooM… jab aa rahaa thaa, tab jaa rahaa thaa”
<How do I tell you that I am a river, flowing in its stride… While I was coming hither, I was leaving too>

“तुम्हारे गम की दली उठा कर, जुबां पे रख ली है देखो मैने… वो कतरा कतरा पिघल रही है, मैं कतरा कतरा ही जी रहा हूं”

“tumhaare gam kI dalI uThaa kar, jubaaM pe rakh lI hai dekho maine… wo kataraa kataraa pighal rahI hai, maiM kataraa kataraa hI jI rahaa hooM”

<A lump of your pain, I’ve put on my tongue… it melts with every moment.. and I live with every moment>

And yesterday, he said,

“फिर किसी दर्द को सहला के सूजा लें आंखें, फिर किसी दुख्ती हुई रग से छुआ लें नश्तर”,

“आ के देख जाओ इक बार ज़रा, उस शाख पे एक फूल खिला है”

Anyways, coming back to the productions that I saw. I missed out on Kachche Lamhe. But saw, the other three.

Kharashein – was, sans the brilliant acting by Yashpal Sharma, Atul Kulkarni and Kishore Kadam, average fare. It is difficult to elevate yourself to the level of Gulzar’s poetry, and weave a narration that links them all together. Even more difficult is to portray the essence of those poems. And even more difficult it becomes, if you are obsessed with giving your incompetent relatives an important part in the narration. Salim Arif (Director) has a misplaced confidence in Lubna Salim (who happens to be the producer of the show as well). She, in a very harsh voice completely unbecoming of the curves and nuances of Urdu language, and with a deliberate desire to brutally murder the spirit of the poems, picks plum roles for herself. In certain acts, she even wants to be the narrator, taking on a responsibility which is so very dependent on understanding what is to be said, and then having the right voice modulation and expression to convey it. Alas, she has neither. That being said, the overall product was definitely watchable once. The three main guys were absolutely brilliant.

Lakeerein – I have already complained about Salim’s obsession with Lubna, OR, Lubna’s obsession with herself. Next, lets add a random lady (Seema Sehgal) who’d be walking in and out of the stage trying to give notes to the poetry, and in many cases, forgetting that poetry is more about expression, and less about aalaap. In between acts, a lady walking on to the stage with a full aalaap (which on many occasions, was not even in sur) is a huge distraction. And she seemed more inclined to prove her shastriya sangeet skills, then doing justice to the poetry. Add to that, a sub-standard starcast (today, the load was being carried by Yashpal alone), and you have a really really bad narration. A friend of mine, for whom I had booked tickets for the subsequent show of Atthaniyaan as well, refused to watch the other acts after seeing this one. That bad, yes. No more comments.

Atthaniyaan – Please take Lubna Salim out of the acting side of this troupe. Please add someone half as good as Yashpal, and you would have had a watchable play. Please work on the diction of the actors. Those who do not even understand what they are mouthing, and cannot feel the pain, the joy, the agony, the frustrations of the characters they are portraying, and the language they are using, can NEVER do justice to the character. You don’t need to become a method actor, but a certain level of understanding is expected. The narration/play had at least 5 people consuming limited stage space, who were not used for anything specific, but to sing in Chorus all the time. They even had a dimwit recite an English translation of a Gulzar poem, with a perfect deadpan expression. She wouldn’t have a standard four elocution competition, and you are putting her in front of 250 odd people in a play??? And why the translation, when you have an audience which is expecting to hear the original. And when the legend is sitting as part of the audience. Why?

So, the plays, in general, did not work for me. I would not recommend them to anyone.

This brings me to the last part. The part that worked – the poetry reading session with Gulzar Sahab. The first session was a Q&A with Bhawna Somaya, who is a pretty well known journalist herself. During the conversation, it seemed like  she wasn’t really prepared with a lot of research/questions on what to ask and expect. Javed Siddiqui, who was also on stage, and Gulzar took quite a trip on Mrs. Somaya.  It was fun, the conversation, that is. The audience got its chance to ask questions, and barring a couple, the average intelligence of the masses being below average was proved again, beyond doubt.

However, the moment, Gulzar Sahab took to the podium to recite some of his Nazms and Trivenis, it was like watching a sunset on bandstand. People found their corners in the rocky beaches of understanding, and settled down to let the beauty unfold. The imagery was perfect, the rendition flawless and the voice magical. If someone wants to learn what diction should be like, they should listen to Gulzar. The right weight, the right modulation, the exact emphasis, the perfect volume – there is absolutely nothing that he misses. Just listening to him talk is a tutorial by itself. The same poems that were massacred by Lubna Salim and co, were brought back to life by Gulzar. Such beauty.. In that one hour, there was no-one else, and nothing more important. If I had to imitate his style of poetry, I would say something like –

जाने कैसी बात थी
जब तुम्हारे लफ़्ज़ों ने मेरी आंखों पर
सफ़ेद इक पट्टी बांध के
आहिस्ता से मेरे कानों में कहा

ज़रा ठहरो, अभी शाम बाकी है…

गुलज़ार सहिब, हम एक बार फिर आप के कायल हो गये!

Movie Review: Khoya Khoya Chand

I watched Khoya Khoya Chand on Friday. Its a different matter that I am writing the review now.

 To me, its a brilliant movie that would fail to make its mark. Reasons – to be honest, I dont want to dissect the this and that of the movie and kill a dream in the process. I see KKC as Sudhir Mishra’s tribute to his time in the Hindi Film Industry (pardon me for not referring to it as Bollywood yet). And I can tell you what I liked about the movie. Its brilliant in its canvas, cinematography, characterization. The music is quite awesome.the thought behind the movie is quite profound. The imagination vivid. The use of cinema within cinema is a novel way of showing the reality that cinema is supposed to present. And for that, I would like to give full marks to Mishra.

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The place where the movie fails is its editing. Its too slow and too disjoint at times. Everything makes sense, everything fits, and yet, you are fidgety in your seat at times. At times you wonder, for how long has this thing being going on? And then, the twist happens. The twist in the personality, emotions bring you back to whats happening on the screen. Its a wait and bait game that the movie plays with you. If you fish for fun, waiting can be too boring. If its your bread and butter, you know that for a bigger catch, you may have to wait longer. The movie will not appeal to people who prefer spending 150 bucks on an Om Shanti Om, where every minute of the movie is supposed to be explicit, entertaining, and exciting. The movie will appeal to theatre enthusiasts who like the use of sets, dialogues, imagery, limited words, multiple interpretations, the play between characters, the way the story buildds for 10 minutes to give you an ephemeral kick. None of the characters is a “hero”. None of them is a villain either. They are all playing their part in the gray zone. The shot where Zafar (Shiney) is mad at Nikhat (Soha) for not having tried her best in getting his way with a producer is an exquisite display of the real side of people. We all lose it at times, say things that we dont mean in general, but we do mean them in the spur of the moment. The shot where Prem Kumar (Rajat Kapoor) asks Zafar and Shyamul (Vinay Pathak) “sirf main hi itna haraamzaada hoon? ya sab aise hote hain?” is again a reality check. In another shot, zafar asks Nikhat – “hum to yahin hain. aap kahan hain? aap kahan they?’  and in another zafar tells shyamul – ise chod ke jeena bhi to mumkin nahi hai! The movie is a gem. Its a gem that some people will appreaciate on DVDs. But its bound to bomb at the box office. It may get an award somewhere, but most likely, it wont get any financial rewards. I live with a hope to be proven wrong on this.

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Shiney, Soha, Rajat, Sonya,  Vinay, et al shine. And you can see the effort. At times, shiney does go slightly overboard, but only slightly. Soha is a find. There are shots where she looks exquisitely beautiful, and there are shots where she looks like an ordinary girl. Isnt that what cinema is? A make believe world.

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And thats why you should see it. Its abotu all the things that make Cinema what it is. Glamorous, yet painful! Inviting, yet indifferent!!

Theatre Review: Munshiji Ki Gudgudi

I watched Munshiji ki Gudgudi, a play based on stories written by Munshi Premchand, performed by Ekjute – Nadira Babbar’s Theatre Group. Now, as an author, Munshiji needs no introduction as one of the greatest writers of Hindi Literature, one of the biggest proponents of Progressive Literature of his times, a man with rock-solid hold on the nerves of Indian society, especially the middle class and rural families. What we often miss while reading his serious satirical works, is the immensely witty and humorous side of his personality, as can be seen in some of his stories.

This play is a set of four short stories – Darogaji, Bade Bhai Saheb, Rasik Sampadak and Aansu ki Holi. With the exception of the last one, the first three can be put in the genre of comedy. The last is a quintessential Munshiji story with sarcasm, messages, comedy and a dash of rustic brilliance.

Darogaji – It’s the story of a daroga (inspector’s) encounter with the husband of her ex-lover, when the old flames are being reignited at her house. This particular story had five major characters, of which the protagonist (Darogaji) performed average, while most of the other characters (barring the lover’s husband) were below average. The performances seemed very loud at times. However, the narrative and the underlying plot are quite hilarious, which saves the play. And this can be considered true of almost all the stories – average performances, some hilarious moments, good narrative.

Bade Bhai Saheb – This particular story will always suffer with the problem of comparision. The last I saw, it was a part of Katha Collage-I, where Naseeruddin Shah and team performed this story. The performances of Jameel and Imaad, under the direction of Naseer had taken the play to glorious heights. However, this particular version, directed by Sanjay, was hugely influenced by Naseer’s version. The body language, the histrionics, the actor’s way, the narrative – it all seemed to be a desperate attempt to ape the protagonists of Naseer’s version. While the lead actors did put in a good show, the younger brother seemed out of place, since he did not look younger than the older brother. More importantly, when a 13-14 year old is narrating the story from his viewpoint, his playfulness and body language go hand-in-hand with the way he looks. This is why cast selection is extremely important to the success of a play, movie, sitcom.

Rasik Sampadak – Good one. About an old magazine editor, who is a widower finding solace in the company of women. It’s about the editor stretching his imaginations to such extent where he paints the picture of a woman in his mind based on some mindlessly sensuous poetry written by her, only to find himself in a rather embarrassing situation once she actually lands at his office. In this particular play, the protagonists were quite good in terms of performance.

Aansuon ki Holi – The last one, probably the best (but the least comic) was a story dripping with Munshiji’s style and substance. A strong satire on the people who stretch festivities to such level where they forget what real occasions in life are. They forget the values that they stand for and the reason these festivities exist in our lives. The story is about a certain individual who does not celebrate any festivity (such as Diwali, Holi, etc.). However, now that he is married and his brother-in-laws are visiting him on Holi, he has a tough time warding off the threat of being submerged in the holi colors. The story takes a sudden towards the climax where Srivilas (the protagonist) explains why he stopped celebrating festivals. Good performances overall in this play as well.

Few global comments about the play(s) – I think the cast selection could have been better. There were places where you could see the role of protagonist being played better by one of the other guys. In almost all the plays, the directors chose to be the lead themselves, which I think is a serious mistake when you are young and amateur. My guess is that it becomes increasingly difficult to monitor the overall setup unless you stand outside and have a look.

The second flaw was the lighting and stage setups, which was far from being optimally utilized in many cases. Even in a play like Bade Bhai Saheb, where the distinctions between the older and the younger brother are quite clear, a stage contrast should/can be created to highlight the difference in people/ideologies. But then, what do I know about theater after from being a loyal visitor.

The third flaw was the duration – Unless you are sure why a story should be a 20 minute story or a 30 minute story, you should not stretch. One got a feeling at times that the play could have been shortened a bit at certain places, and delved deeper into at certain places.

The biggest positive – it’s a play directed and enacted by young theater enthusiasts who are still learning the trade. If they are able to do this good a job so early in their learning curve, I am sure they will become good theater personalities.

The other big positive is the choice of stories. Its difficult to find stories that fit your sensibility as well as your style of narration. To that extent, I think the team had done a good job.

Theatre Review: Katha Collage – II

I had seen Katha Collage-I a couple of years back in Delhi, and goes without saying that I was mighty impressed with the play (directed by Naseeruddin Shah, and enacted by an ensemble cast of Naseer himself, Jameel Khan, and Naseer’s son, Imaad Shah).

Katha Collage-I was based on a set of three stories (two written by Premchand – Shatranj ke Khiladi and Bade Bhai Saheb, and one written by Kamta Prasad – Sankraman – about peculiarities of a an aging father, and his fetish with switching off lights).

With the same set of great expectations, I went to see Katha Collage-II (at Prithvi Theatre, Mumbai), expecting Naseer to weave his directorial magic there as well. This one, was a set of seven relatively smaller stories (adaptation of satirical articles written by Harishankar Parsai, who is known for his wit and humor in Hindi literature), pretty much carried out as one act plays. The star cast was recognizable, appropriate, but not the greatest. [Cast: Rakesh Chaturvedi, Arvind Pandey, Heeba Shah, Vishwajeet Pradhan, Ankur Vikal]

It’s a great play. But not in the same league as KC-I. However, the reason I am writing this post is not really to critique what I saw. I just want all the readers of this blog to definitely definitely watch KC-I as well as KC-II

The first story – Telephone (about the all pervasive telephone) is a disappointment. A little too loud, a little too vague, and the actors a little out of sorts. While the sarcasm is alive, not the impact.

Second – Bechara Bhala Aadmi (Pitiable nice men) is about how people take benefits of simpletons by calling them nice over and over again! This one was good both in terms of performance as well as adaptation. However, the length could be shortened a bit.

As we move towards the intermission, the tempo, the ease and the quality of performance improves, and refreshingly.

Third – (Private College ka Ghoshna Patra) The story around a Private College’s manifesto has some very subtle humor around the quality of education and the ulterior motifs behind the sprouting good-for-nothing private educational institutions. Not that I am against private educational institutions per se, but don’t we have a plethora of them that talk more than they deliver. Gaurav Sabnis became a big name in the blogosphere when he attacked one of them (wink, wink!)

Fourth (last before interval), which was about the whole fuss around taking bath (Snan), is the pick of the lot. The funniest of the plays, it features some of the most funny moments of KC-II, especially the comments about the vitality and energy shown by some people while taking bath in winters being utilized for some higher motives and national benefit!

 

After the interval, the fifth act is around the insecurities people have about their wives being exposed to other men (Vo Zara Wife Hain Na!). Quite subtle and a good dig on the Indian men, who are always caught in the dilemma of women’s equality and their own insecurity, it’s a nicely done play where the protagonist is a blind man (I could see this highest form of pun getting lost on many– you need to close your eyes to see what the world really is!)

Sixth act – (Samay Pe Milne Wale) around the demerits of being on time is again a timeless piece on the importance many people attach to the timing of their actions.

The finale – Prem Prasang mein Father (the role of a quintessential Indian dad in a love story) is a hilarious take on the double edged sword that impressing your girlfriend’s father can become!

 

The biggest drawback of the play, as I see it, in the metro circuits is the pure hindi language used (Klisht Hindi Bhasha), which I am sure goes over the head of many, who would like to look and feel intellectual, but have adopted Hin-glish as their mother tongue. That probably explains why “Vagina Monologues” is a bigger better sell-out play than plays like “Katha Collage”, “Jinne Lahore Ni Vekhya”, “Anaamdas Ka Potha”, et al.

The best thing about the play is that its a great writer’s work directed by one of the best in the industry (Naseer’s other works such as Waiting for Godot, The Prophet, Ismat Aapa Ke Naam, etc. are all acclaimed plays). It surely belongs to the “cannot be missed” list of plays!

Well.. I haven’t stopped watching movies, or plays…

Well.. I haven’t stopped watching movies, or plays, or listening to music that I want to talk about, or books that I have read that I want to let you know about. and its not that I have been totally deprived of time either! Yes, life has been a bit of this and that, but I think its more of outright laziness lately that has stopped me from writing!

So… Wassup? Me? Watched Shrek3, Cheeni Kum, Shootout at Lokhandwala and n number of Naruto episodes lately. [ Remind me to start writing about animation series like Naruto and Avatar-The Last Airbender as well]

Shrek 3 was neat, not as neat as 1 or 2, but neat nevertheless! Time well spent. Watched it at Eros, Nariman Point. It was a pleasant change to watch a movie from balcony for 60 bucks, in a really downtown location (people tell me that it doesnt get more posh than that in mumbai – South mumbai is “the” place!). I guess one of these days I would stop watching movies so frequently because I don’t think a movie like Shootout deserves even 25 bucks, leave aside 250 bucks! The movie was pathetic, to say the list. Rediff was right in commenting about the idiots who fund such movies. Cheeni Kum would have been a perfect movie if the length was shortened and Paresh Raval muted a bit! Tabu and Amitabh are cool, and its surprising to notice that they had a pretty cool chemistry! Its a good movie to watch!

At one time I really wanted to blast movies like Tara Rum Pum having watched the early shows. But thats some less blood on my hands! 😉

Watched a play – “Flowers” at NCPA. Its a monologue enacted by Rajit Kapur (Of Byomkesh Bakshi fame). (Here is a review that I largely agree with) . Same problem as Cheeni Kum. The length, though short by the standards of usual plays (90 mins), could have been shortened further. More so, because there was no change in scene, no pause, no other character but the protagonist, and no movements. Its about a priest who’s torn between his duties as a priest, his love for his wife and his lust for a courtesan. Its a 90 minute narration where the priest walks through the course of events, his emotions, his agony and conflict, paints images using his words, and makes us all visualize the drama! Rajit Kapoor managed to be ok. But the play was just not my kind. I don’t want to take the credit away from Rajit, but c’mon – I have a low attention span. I can’t concentrate on something for 90 minutes on the trot! Not a lecture from the greatest of professors, not the same song even if I am in love with it, nothing!

My analytics blog is still waiting for the remaining articles and a response to Amit’s comment.

There is a blogger meet on 9th June in Mumbai. I am still debating within myself if I want to attend! Should be fun. Lets see!

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