Besides the international productions discussed last week, the two most artistically-involved foreign cultural centres in Calcutta continued the projects they had initiated successfully. Max Mueller Bhavan’s Parallel Cities developed upon its earlier Call-Cutta — Stefan Kaegi the common curator — inviting viewers to specific non-theatrical venues where they were directed along chosen routes and met preselected professionals. The concept goes back to such 1960s American experiments as Happenings, where Allan Kaprow attracted curious passers-by at public sites with spontaneous activities, then handed them paper instructions to follow. In both, spectators became participants in partly-planned, partly-impromptu actions, to discover “performance” in real-life situations.
British Council carried on with its Annual Inter-School Drama Festival, now upgraded from local to national level, the finals of which took place in Calcutta this time. The schools in the last eight had to stage plays on “Indo-UK: A Modern Fairytale”, and had guidance from theatre educators of Manchester Metropolitan University. Despite the large number of entries submitted, I found two recurrent weaknesses among the qualifiers: a tendency to take the topic literally, revisiting familiar fairy tales, most of them European (thus exposing our skewed education), and a predilection to characterize the British as villainous (again, an inability to think beyond the stereotypes learnt in History class).
Among the most creative ideas, St Mark’s (Delhi) had a scientist father whose time machine inadvertently transported, from the same period, both Akbar and Shakespeare to meet his son’s prospective bride; Birla High (Boys) reworked Red Riding Hood in a multinational corporate context, culminating with her slaying the Wolf of corruption in a stunning Durga tableau (picture); and Kejriwal Vidyapeeth (Liluah) scripted a more sincere film arising out of an Indo-British film about Robert Clive and Siraj-ud-daula. On the subject of politics, Future Hope gave its comic tale of imperialistic tyranny a near-revolutionary ending.
The south Indian schools incorporated more traditional indigenous material. Adhyapana (Madurai) brought in four bereaved lovers, including Savitri and Kannagi, wanting their husbands restored to life, much to the consternation of Yama, Narada and even St Peter. Christnagar International (Thiruvananthapuram) performed in Kerala folk style, with live chenda drumming, a Travancore Cinderella duped by a Britpop star. The youngest team, St Mary’s (Udipi), showed Princess Radha and Prince Crystal forming a friendship — a theme repeated by Springdales (Delhi) in a more contemporary setting of equal exchange. Across the board, though, the acting did not match standards set in the festival’s previous editions.