It takes a while to grasp what is happening at the rehearsal of House of Shops, an experimental play that is based on Bandra’s bustling Bazaar Road. A film that features the owners of the shops that line the busy street as they go about their daily routine, is projected on a screen, enveloping the actors. As the play progresses, a number of art forms are employed — the screen turns into a stage for shadow puppetry, short dance routines are thrown in, the actors paint on stage. The crux of the play, however, lies in the stories the actors narrate, and that’s when it all starts falling into place.
Director of the play, Reshma Shetty, explains, “We wanted to bring in the flavour of the street — the sights and sounds, the ambience, the narrowness of the road. The only way to do that was by connecting with it.” In order to do this Shetty sent out her troupe to speak to people who work on Bazaar Road. “It was bizarre, but each of us started finding commonalities with the stories of their lives.”
Part of a larger project on Bazaar Road, conceived by Collage Collective, an open community of artists, House of Shops will see actors narrating personal stories, interspersed with those of the people they spoke to. The devised play was staged at Ravindra Natya Mandir recently. “I was fascinated with the street: the different communities that live so close to each other, its narrowness, how it seems like it is stuck in time, the pace of business that goes on here,” says Shetty.
Citing the example of the stories the team collected, the director recounts how Shetty found a vegetable vendor with a double major just as she does. “Both of them are hoping to go abroad soon, the vendor to Canada, and Shetty to the US. Kunal Vijaykar, an architect-turned-photographer found a masala vendor who, just like him, stumbled into the career he is currently in. Vijaykar realised that both of them are going through a similar emotional journey of self-doubt and an an uncertain future,” explains the first-time director. It is in these stories that the viewer gets a sense of the street: the struggle of the people, the kind of small businesses they run, the communities living there — a mix of Jains, Bengalis, Muslims, East Indians among others.
The play also makes a comment on the communal tension simmering below the surface. “I don’t want to mention the communities, but there is negativity brimming. It came up in our conversations. But the street is all about business, and for business to survive, they choose to co-exist,” says Shetty.