Last November, when Prithvi Theatre turned 40, it ensured there is enough drama as part of the birthday celebrations. The theatre — built in Mumbai’s Janki Kutir by Jennifer Kendal and Shashi Kapoor in memory of Prithviraj Kapoor — for the last four decades has been the backbone of Mumbai’s theatre culture by consistently trying to build an audience as well as nurturing talents. The celebrations kicked off at Mumbai’s Royal Opera House on November 3 with the revival of thespian Prithviraj Kapoor’s play Deewar opening the theatre’s annual festival. Sunil Shanbag reimagined Deewar, which had originally premiered in 1945 at the Opera House and talks about divisive politics. Another highlight of the festival was Ratna Pathak Shah-directed The Truth.
Saif Hyder Hasan set about providing a “spectacular and breathtaking theatrical experience” by revisiting Devdas. Puneet Issar, famous as Duryodhana of BR Chopra’s television series Mahabharat, returned to the role, with his stage production Mahabharat. Atul Satya Koushik, set the stage for a magnificent thriller — Ballygunge 1990 (pictured) painted the Kolkata neighbourhood with nostalgic romance.
The voices of women resounded through plays being staged in various languages. Hojang Taret, a Manipuri play, takes off from a Greek myth, while The Caucasian Chalk Circle revolves around a peasant who is forced to flee after a revolt. Item (pictured), which won Best Play at META, focussed on B-grade Hindi cinema through the life of an actress. Menghaobi, which premiered in Mumbai, questions the perspectives of who is included in the
nation called India.
This year, Cirque du Soleil, a company that has close to 30 productions showing across the world, broke its tradition of opening its shows in Montreal, where it is headquartered and premiered Bazzar (pictured) in Mumbai. With a heady mix of songs, dance and acrobatics, the extravagant production follows the changing relationship between a clown, who is the maestro at a circus, and his disciple, a floating woman. The 30-artiste troupe had a roster of 64 shows of Bazzar across Mumbai and Delhi. Other lavish productions, such as Disney’s Aladdin: The Musical and Geronimo Stilton played out in Mumbai and Delhi to an audience of thousands, not all of them children.
This Land of Mine
The Best Play for the Mahindra Excellence of Theatre Awards this year went to India Integrated (pictured). Actually, the name of the play was Nona. The title means “lie” in Malayalam, the language of the play, and the narrative focusses on a man who makes a map of India in a courtyard and lets his idea of nationalism destroy the social fabric of the village. Jino Joseph, who works with rural labourers and small traders in Kerala, also picked up the Best Director award. The festival, which showcases some of the best new productions, also included Abhishek Majumdar’s Muktidham. Around Independence Day, Jan Natya Manch in Delhi held shows of a play called Tathagat, where a sculptor is under trial for making a statue of Buddha with black stone and not white marble. As the debate rages about the colour of god, the play throws up questions about caste, nationalism and the power of a king and
The National School of Drama in Delhi pulled out all the stops in hosting the eighth Theatre Olympics in India. The 51-day event, which began on February 17, featured 450 shows, 600 ambiance performances and 250 youth forum productions from 30 countries in 17 cities. The first play was Shikhandi: The Story of the In-Betweens. Among the few good foreign productions was Encore, directed by Theodoros Terzopoulos. Some of the top names of Indian theatre stayed away from the festival, including Sunil Shanbag and Deepan Sivaraman.
2019: Looking ahead
With the tenure of Waman Kendre having ended, the race is on to appoint the next director of the National School of Drama (NSD). In contention are Suresh Sharma, actor and director who has headed the NSD repertory and is the acting director of NSD; Thulaseedhara Kurup, an academic from Kerala; Abdul Latif Khatana, Chief of Sanskar Rang Toli; and Kewal Dhaliwal, a stalwart from Punjab.
Talking of Tibet
In February 2018, the Royal Court Theatre in London had apologised for cancelling a play by Abhishek Majumdar, and promised to stage it in 2019. Titled Pah-La, the play based on real stories from Tibet, will open on April 3 and run till April 27.