Salon Supplement, Daily News and Analysis, Friday, December 29, 2006
“Aplomb on the boards”
Numerous festivals — and Marathi theatre — kept the stage alive and kicking, writes Pragya Tiwari
Theatre in Mumbai is fast becoming glitzier, and the good, bad and ugly are jumping on to the celebration bandwagon. Ramu Ramanathan’s Mahadevbhai and 3, Sakina Manzil were showcased in Frankfurt, while Lillete Dubey toured the US with her tribute to Gandhi, Sammy. Acclaimed international directors Tim Supple and Toby Gough came to India to package its theatre for discerning and not-so-discerning audiences abroad.
The Prithvi Festival celebrated the birth centenary of its founding father with the theme of Kala Desh Ki Seva Mein. While the festival had its pitfalls — not all the plays it endorsed qualified as good or even progressive theatre — its greatest victory lay in reinstating unequivocally the role that theatre has traditionally played in social and political reform. In the shadow of glittering celebrations, folk forms like tamasha continued to fight a tough battle for survival.
Following in the footsteps of Prithvi, a rash of theatre fests has sprung up in the city. If you attended any of these fests this year, you could catch up with the best of Indian theatre of the last decade, but if you were looking for something new, you would have to look elsewhere. Sunil Shanbag’s Cotton 56, Polyester 84, with its aesthetics and rigour, came as a shot in the arm for Hindi theatre that was stuck in an old rut. Gujarati theatre too is smugly churning out hackneyed bedroom/drawing room comedies.
Non-Gujarati television actors like Sudha Chandran and Smriti Irani have turned their attention to these ventures for the moolah. Even a film production company like ABCL has forayed into theatre only to produce a mainstream Gujarati comedy, Lali Lila, in Hindi.
A big ray of hope comes from a number of young practitioners from Marathi theatre, who have kept the stage alive and kicking with productions like Tu, Final Draft, Makdachya Haati Champagne and Lose Control, among others. Thespo 8 also tapped and showcased some promising new talent, with plays like Ends And Beginnings, Confessions and Retellings, and ensured that the year is ending on a high and hopeful note. Next year, may the meek inherit the theatre.