Two new festivals this month of non-conventional non-proscenium theatre opened with participants from western India presenting contemporary Western hits, both of them familiar to our mainstream audiences from the 1990s, when Padatik and Nandipat had translated Nobel Prize-winner Dario Fo’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist, and Nandikar indigenized Willy Russell’s Shirley Valentine.
On their second trip to Calcutta, Budhan Theatre (Ahmedabad) adapted Fo’s classic farce in Hindi condensation for The Arshinagar Project’s Bordersongs festival of alternative performances. There cannot be a more suitable company for this madcap political satire than Budhan, existing literally on the edge of society as they do. All from the Chhara tribe, they routinely get picked up by the police for the flimsiest of reasons. If you don’t belong to the majority community in Gujarat, and don’t possess monetary clout, you could face certain difficulties in that supposed success-story of a state. The cast had a whale of a time basically enacting their own lives in the thana sanctified by a Gandhi portrait, under which the subversive antihero in disguise wove circles round the cops and exposed their cover-up.
In the context of theatre-for-development groups fighting against all odds to survive, I must recount the trauma that Theatre Zone (Khardaha) suffered recently. Antisocials torched their lovingly-built clubhouse to ashes, though they work with the most disadvantaged populations there. Ironically, their new play, Prabir Ghosh’s Latai directed by Tapan Das, narrates the tragedy of a homeless boy who imagines himself free as a kite. He somehow ekes out a living off the street until run over by a tram. The kite, its string cut, drifts away.
Monologues, a festival of solo acts conceptualized by Sujoy Prosad Chatterjee, commenced with Mahabanoo Mody Kotwal’s Shirley Valentine (picture), which the veteran Mumbai actress staged many years ago, but had never come to our city. Russell became famous for drama with Liverpudlian content, like John, Paul, George, Ringo … and Bert, as well as ordinary women, in Educating Rita and Shirley Valentine, both of which trace their flight to self-realization from their humdrum grind. Mody Kotwal stays faithful to the text, which entertains as it liberates, more so in our patriarchal setup. Unfortunately, her effective deadpan acting showed signs of inadequate rehearsal, sputtering through imperfectly-remembered lines and an uneven accent. The organizers also need to think out of the box for such an event, by discarding normal seating plans and arranging the viewers in the round, for instance, to facilitate the intimate experience.