On World Theatre Day,a new generation of playwrights talk about how their immediate surroundings scripts their stories.
Delhi-based playwright Neel Chaudhuri is captivated by the Delhi Metro. It is a strange place,an intimate setting that brings strangers together,nurturing fragments of relationships, he says. The Metro gets character and purpose in Chaudhuri’s new play,Still and Still Moving,about two men who meet on the Metro. It is a far cry from the award-winning playwright’s former offerings ? about actors,directors and wannabe stars on the margins of the entertainment industry.
Like Chaudhuri,a growing number of new-generation playwrights are looking closely at their own surroundings for stories. Adapted works by stalwarts like William Shakespeare,Henrik Ibsen,Rabindranath Tagore and Vijay Tendulkar may still rule but new scripts bring up our contemporary concerns. Playwrights have recently realised that we must tell our own stories in our own voices, says Mumbai-based director Q,otherwise known as Quasar Padamsee,Moreover,if we want a play about modern India,or in Indian English,we have to write it ourselves.
This new oeuvre has narratives that belong to our immediate milieus and social dilemmas of playwrights. They are like subsidiaries feeding into the bigger picture of gender politics,sociopolitical upheavals and nostalgia. To be true,a play has to belong to a world we are intimate with, says Purva Naresh,whose Aaj Rang Hai won multiple awards at Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards 2011.
Music has a powerful presence in Naresh’s plays as she is a classical dancer and a percussionist. For Aaj Rang Hai ,she delved into memories of her grandmother,Beni Bai,a baithak singer of erstwhile times. As the lead protagonist,Beni Bai is an ageing classical singer who counsel her neighbours with music. Nostalgic musings almost always become a tool to decode the present. My new play,Ok Tata Bye Bye,for instance,talks about picking up relationships on the go. In our fast-moving,globalised society,even relationships have become a part of takeaway values, says Naresh.
Social commentary,however,is wrapped in taut storyline and humour. Humour is a powerful tool in confronting the truth, says Chennai-based mediaperson and playwright Anupama Chandrasekhar,who calls herself a socially reactive person. One of her successful plays,Free Outgoing,at the the Royal Court Theatre in the UK,becoming an instant hit,before being staged at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It recalls the case of a teenage student filmed while having sex and the MMS goes viral. Another play,Disconnect,is set in a call centre and highlights the clash between the traditional and globalised worlds.
Inevitably,it is the macrocosm that finds echoes in personal stories. News media stirs Mumbai-based Akash Mohimen whose Mahua ,which premiered in January,deals with tribal displacement and Maoism. I was 11 or 12 and my parents found that not many landlords wanted to rent out to Muslims, he says. When he read a piece by noted journalist P Sainath several years ago about tribals losing homes,the painful memory homelessness stirred in him. Directed by Rajit Kapur,Mahua opened at the Writers’ Bloc Festival in Mumbai,and has been noted for its thought-provoking take on death and danger that lurks at every twist and turn.