One thing Abhilasha and I regret not doing enough of is watching plays, especially with so much decent theatre activity at the India Habitat Centre, the Kamani Auditorium and other places. (Perhaps I have a deep-rooted fear that I’ll be tempted to turn it into a beat – it’s difficult enough to find time for all the books and films one wants to experience without accumulating new interests.) Anyway, as it happens I watched as many as three plays in the past three weeks – all sparse, performer-and-script-driven productions, nothing very elaborate in terms of set design. Quick, amateurish notes on them (and this is from very sketchy memory):
- Lakeerein, directed by Salim Arif: saw this at the Prithvi Theatre during a trip to Mumbai last month and enjoyed it a lot (thanks, Praba!) though it had been a rough day and I was exhausted at the time. It's a collection of vignettes based on Gulzar’s Partition-themed writing: in one, the writer/journalist Kuldip Nayar tells Gulzar about the invisible, strength-giving presence of a “Pir Sahib” in his family’s life (you can read an English translation of the story here); in another, soldiers at the Indo-Pak border mull the connections between their countries and discuss their own shared personal histories (there was a superb, show-stealing performance by Yashpal Sharma as an Armyman who gets in touch with an old friend after years); and a giddy-headed actress takes a “Border Tour” and plays around with a rifle much to the chagrin of the soldiers around. All this is interspersed with fine sutradhaari by Lubna Salim (the director’s wife) and haunting short recitals of poems and songs by Seema Sehgal. Very intimate production, perfect for the small Prithvi auditorium.
- The Sunshine Boys, directed by Percival Billimoria: corporate lawyer Billimoria adapted Neil Simon’s play to an Indian setting for the maiden production of his theatre group The Amateur Performers Bureau, and it’s been done with great verve though I thought it flagged slightly towards the end. Billimoria himself is really good as the crabby old comedian Fali Daruwala (the Indian version of Willy Clark, famously played on screen by Walter Matthau) and so is Sanjeev Johri as his former stage partner Guri Galgotia. I realised belatedly that the part of Fali’s young nephew who wants to reunite the two men was played by the writer Omair Ahmad (whose new book The Storyteller’s Tale is on my current reading list).
- The Skeleton Woman, directed by Nayantara Kotian: this was among the more high-profile productions at the Habitat recently, mainly because of the presence of Kalki Koechlin, who played Chanda in Anurag Kashyap’s Dev D. Koechlin and her co-star Prashant Prakash wrote this two-character play based loosely on an Inuit folktale – it’s about a writer who’s obsessed with the sea, and his long-suffering wife who tries to get him to snap out of his many interior worlds and finish some of his stories for a change. Meanwhile, she becomes part of those inner worlds every now and then. Nice performances and set design, including a large boat sitting incongruously in the living room (also a toy goose and a skeleton's arm). I liked the little shifts between real-world and fantasy, the poignant contrasting of the realities of the two protagonists, and the reference to Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, a story whose meaning the husband and wife disagree about (does it mean that everything is futile and meaningless in the end, or that effort is more important than the final result, or neither?).
P.S. Anurag Kashyap produced the play; I had a brief chat with him before the show began and was surprised by how relaxed and chirpy he is. Didn’t match the image of the auteur-director who makes intensely personal films and whose early work has run into a lot of trouble. Might do an interview/profile of him soon, but that’s another story. Besides I really need to watch Gulaal first – one of the many things that’s been on the to-do list forever.