Posts Tagged ‘reviews’

Theatre Review: “Monsters in the Dark”, Bangalore Little Theatre, Ranga Shankara, 270219

February 28, 2019


Cast and crew taking a bow after the performance.Photo: Deepa Mohan

“The Emperor of All Maladies”, a Pulitzer-winning book by Siddharth Mukherjee is an intense book about that dreaded “C” word…cancer, and looks at the dread ailment via multiple lenses…history, biography, describing the several discoveries, obstacles,triumphs and failures in humanity’s long journey with, and battle against, cancer.

To base a play on a book like this is a major challenge, and Bangalore Little Theatre rose up to that challenge with their play, which I watched at Ranga Shankara on the 27th of February, ’19. The theatre group had produced an excellent brochure, which described the play. I skimmed through it, wanting to let the theatre experience wash over me, without preconceptions.

The play was indeed as intense as the book; cancer is viewed like a kaleidoscope, from the opening scene of the “oncomice” (patented in the process of studying cancer), to how it feels to be diagnosed with the dread disease; from the scientists and doctors who made their contributions to the therapy, their right and wrong decisions; the ethics committees that sat in judgement on them, often hindering or stopping protocols; the suffering of cancer patients, the positivity and negativity they face from those around them, and the mental framework of the survivors. The references were more to leukaemia in children, which is a very emotional issue. The denouement and the climax of the play comes with a zing, and a hark-back to the beginning, that I cannot reveal without spoiling the suprise!

The stage design was well done; one area was designated as a kind of lab set up, where doctors and scientists could be seen pondering and worrying over tests and results; another, with two step-ladders (why did the two actors have to sit on different levels was never clear to me), represented the ethics committee’s sessions. A bench also became a hospital bed with the addition of a saline drip stand, and two chairs and a table at the left of the stage became an area where a friendship between two people blossoms into love, while one of them is diagnosed with cancer, though she is training to be an oncologist herself.

The costumes that the cast wore were very interesting. All of the cast, except for the character of the budding oncologist, wore very smart dungarees/overalls; the addition of coats, lab coats, or lace-edged ponchos demarcated the differentiation in the characters portrayed.

The dialogue was another very difficult part of the play, consisting, as it did, of many technical terms and names of protocols and processes. The playwrights tried to overcome this difficulty by simplifying as much as they could, and also using a blackboard to write some of the figures (such as 41,000 doctors who responded to a survey, or the names of the V.A.M.P protocol) so that they were clear to the audience. In spite of this, the jargon did tend to overwhelm us and we struggled, also, to keep up with the names of the doctors and scientists; some who wanted glory, and some who were truly dedicated. I must compliment the cast on their excellent command of these difficult lines, and the clear diction which ensured that the audience got the names well.

The music in the production was a major part of it. From the drum that heightened the tension in scenes, the music at every point underscored the narrative of the play, and the building tension of unfolding events. The eerie tune of “Three Blind Mice”m played on the harmonica, heightened the fact that not only the laboratory mice but the patients themselves, are sometimes the guinea pigs of those who try to work out a cure for this disease, trying new treatments and protocols on hapless sufferers.

The lighting was extremely effective too, highlighting the action at different parts of the stage, and picking up expressions such as Dastan’s amorous humour, Deeksha’s study-related tensions, or the sadness on Carla’s face as she realizes her illness. The darkness made space and time for the shifting of the stage props such as the benches, and stools, the positions for which were clearly marked on the floor of the stage.

The direction was one of the best parts of the production I watched; by being unseen, it was all the more effective. However, I would certainly suggest that a certain looseness in the production could be tightened up, which would also cut short the length of the play. I think, that with more stagings of the play, this may be done.

This is not a play for those who are looking for an evening of candy-floss escape from the real world; it brings the audience face to face with the enemy within us, that humanity has faced, fought, overcome and succumbed to, over time. It showed us how ambition or vainglory can sometimes trump compassion and empathy; but it also brought us the stories of those who conquered the illness, those who made breakthroughs in the treatments and ended with the statement that negated the title of the book on which it is based: “It is not the emperor of maladies”, but just the foe that must, and should, be conquered. A worthy effort by Bangalore Little Theatre, and I look forward to watching further productions of this play to see how it evolves.

Monsters in the Dark, by Bangalore Little Theatre
Ranga Shankara, 27 Feb ’19
75 min
Playwrights: Ravi Chari, Kavya Srinivasan
Directors: Murtuza Khetty, Deepak Mote
Costumes and Set: Aruna Nori
Cast: Abhishek Sundaravadanan, Deepthi Adappa, Disha Mittal, Khyati Raja, Meera Girijan, Minti Jain, Paawan Mukker, Prabha Venkatesh, Ratneshwar Bannerghaee, Shreekant Road, Shreya Sen, Sneha Sridhar, Vignesh Suresh
Backstage: B N Rangashre, Vinay Kambappa, Vaidya Ojha
Music: Aniruddh G, Harmonica
Tickets: Rs.200

Production supported by a grant from Kusum and Mohandas Pai and contributions from Bangalore Little Theatre, Health and Humanities, St. John's Research Institute, and Tata Memorial Centre, Mumbai.

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“Bali” at Ranga Shankara, 230219, by Adishakti

February 26, 2019

It had been quite a while since I went to Ranga Shankara for a play, and the blurb about “Bali” was interesting enough to pull me in. Here’s the quotation from the excellent brochure that was handed out before the play:

“Adishakti’s Bali is a retelling of the various events that lead up to the battle between Bali and Ram and eventually, the death of Bali. The play explores the notion of right and wrong, and how it may change when each and every character is given an opportuntiy to voice their thoughts and opinions.”

With this intriguing introduction, I went in to watch the play, and it did not disappoint. From the very first scene, the intensity of the tension was kept up. The play did not always proceed in a linear fashion, but used a pastiche of scenes to put over the premise, that what is right or wrong changes according to who is telling the story…Bali, Tara, Sugriva, Angadha, Ram…or Ravan.

bali, RS, 230219
The cast and crew take a bow after the performance.

Let me discuss the technical aspects of the production first. The actors were all very lithe and some of the choreography reminded me of Kalaripayattu move in the agility. This contributed a lot to the denouement of the narrative.

The actors were all quite word perfect, and there was not a single “flub” in the production I watched.Since no masks were used (I was wondering if they would be), facial expressions came across clearly, and indeed, in several scenes, were intensified to nearly a mime effect.

The music was excellent throughout. The audience responded to the music as much as to the action on stage, and it heightened the intensity to a great degree. When the music stopped, the silences were quite as eloquent.

The costumes were what I call “contemporary ethnic”. While not precisely ethnic, they were in the flowing, easy lines, enabling easy mobility; a couple of “filmy” costumes notwithstanding, they felt quite authentic. The little tableau of Vali and Sugriva twitching up the ends of their dhotis to tie up at the waist was very entertaining, and one of the few times I have seen costumes form a part of the action!

The stage was, intriguingly, completely bare, and apart from a kind of stand in the “theru koothu” presentation scenes, continued so. This put more pressure on the cast to take forward the play without the help of props…another unusual feature, in a play set on a mythological figure. The few props that were used, such as stones,rolling balls, and ropes, were sometimes understandable, sometimes (as in the scene of two women alternately reaching for the stones and fighting over them) a little obscure.

The lighting was also of a very high order. Characters were highlighted, the colours changed with the mood in the action, and the lighting enhanced the mood of the play at every scene.

The play alternated between a “regular” stage and a “theru koothu” (street plays of Tamil Nadu”) format. In the latter, more exaggeration was permitted, to convey the ideas and emotions. The cast, too, were dressed in more allegorical costumes.

Given all these technical inputs, the play effectively put across its message. Though some parts were still a little puzzling ( I never worked out the character of the female companion of Tara…who was she, what did she represent?) in the main, the high energy of the play sustained throughout the performance, and set the audience to introspecting….what is right or wrong? Who is an enemy, who is a friend? Can someone be slain in secret? Can another man’s wife be taken as one’s own, as part of victory? (Rama’s hidden slaying of Vali is, through the centuries, one of the most controversial part of the Ramayana.) We, as an audience, felt, in fact, drained at the end of the performance, having sustained an emotional and energy high through the 70-minute performance.

I am also intrigued by calling the play “Bali” instead of “Vali”. The wiki entry on Vali tells me that the name is often spelt Bali in many Indian languages, but to me, the name is Vali, so I am still wondering if there was a specific reason to spell it in the Bengali/Assamese/Oriya way.

I was very impressed by the direction. Such high-energy productions can easily run away with the narrative or the emotions, and to guide the performance and yet not be seen to be obviously doing so, is quite a feat!

All in all, not one of the light-entertainment plays that one goes to, to get away from the stresses and strains of the everyday world, but one that made me feel, and think, intensely. Hats off to Adishakti, and I hope I will get the chance fo watch more of their work!

“Bali”, by Adishakti Laboratory for Theatre Arts Research
Written and directed by Nimmy Raphael
Cast: Vinay Kumar, Arvind Rane, Ashiqa Salvan, Kiyomi Mehta, Rijul Ray
Music arragned and composed by Vinay Kumar and played by Meedhu Miriyam
Music for the Tara/Bali scene composed by Kirtana Krishna and Vinay Kumar
Lights designed by Vinay Kumar, executed by Anand Satheendran
Creative Guidance: Anmol Vellani and Vinay Kumar
Prodcution Managers: Apoorva Arthur and Bhairavi
Costumes designed by Viji Roy
Duration: 75 min.

Book review: The Last White Hunter, Reminiscences of a Colonial Shikari

April 26, 2018

The Last White Hunter, Reminiscences of a Colonial Shikari

By Donald Anderson, as told to Joshua Mathew
265 pp.
Rs.650

Indus Source Books
PO Box 6194
Malabar Hill PO
Mumbai 400 006
INDIA
Email: info@indussource.com
http://www.indussource.com

Readers who are interested in the wildlife history of India, and in particular, of the Melagiri and Bannerghatta forests near Bangalore, will be familiar with the name of Kenneth Anderson, a “shikari” (hunter) of the old school. The series of books that he wrote, on his various wildlife encounters, were very popular reading at one time.

His son, Donald Anderson, was brought up in the same tradition as his father, and grew up to be a hunter. But he differed from his father in two important respects: Kenneth Anderson, even in those days, slowly turned from hunting to conservation, and was also a widely celebrated author. Donald, by his own admission in this book, says that he could not hold the interest of a reader.

But since Joshua Mathew found that the life of Donald Anderson (with the line of Scotsmen dying with him when he passed away in 2014) was interesting enough for him to write this book, giving a voice and a narrative to Donald.

This task was no easy one. As Joshua recounts at the end of the book, Donald had become a recluse, not wanting to meet anyone; or he would agree to meet them only if they would take him on a “hunt” (or at least, to the locations where he used to hunt.) A parsimonious nature and a spendthrift tendency combined to make Donald perpetually hard up, depending on others’ help and scorning it at the same time.

Joshua got past these defences and allowed Donald to talk about his life. He also sifted through unimaginable amounts of pack-rat junk to sort out photographsand other material that he could use for the book.

This biography is not a linear book; Depending on what is being talked about,the book jumps backward and forward over the span of Donald’s life, However, the narrative is always clear, and as one moves through the pages, one learns of Donald’s life and times…his education, the places he stayed in, his family, friends, his own leanings and beliefs (or lack of them), his great love for the outdoors, the jungles, and for shikar.

It is not easy to adopt the voice of another person (especially one whose views one may not share) but Joshua does this with remarkable felicity. There is an absolute lack of a judgemental attitude throughout the book. When Donald himself repents something, that is conveyed; but there is no moralistic tone adopted about Donald’s actions, whether it is his extensive hunting, or his varied love life.

The book is like a bamboo basket; various incidents and interludes are woven together loosely, without the need to make a close-knit whole. In this way, a reader can dip into the book at odd points, and not have to “follow the narrative” as one would have to do with conventional books.

The language of the book is lucid and simple. Very often,Joshua uses Donald’s own words;at other times, words are carefully chosen so that the writer’s thoughts and opinions do not colour the character’s, in the narration. At the same time, descriptions of jungles, of the homes that Donald lived and grew up in, are detailed and extremely interesting. it takes one back to days when the culture, the mores and the lifestyles of those in Bangalore were very different from those of today.

And the differences are striking indeed. “There was no concept of traffic”, says Donald, and adds that he could travere across the length and breadth of what is today’s Bangalore, travel up to Ramnagara or to other parts of Bannerghatta. The life of the white (and “Anglo-Indian” _communities were very different from the Indian communities made up on the people who served them. Indeed, the book underscores a fact that holds true even today; there are two discrete Bangalores; the one of the Cantonment area, and the one of the traditional Kannadigas, and they rarely touch each other. Dances, drinking parties, convent schools and excursions..these constitute a life far different from that of the Kannadiga communities.

The incidents and anecdotes are neatly docketed into eight chapters, and they make very interesting reading. As a person who lived in the Cantonment area (Convent Road in Richmond Town) before moving to Kannadiga Bangalore, and seen the city transform from a sleepy, leisurely hamlet to today’s frenetic, groaning-at-the-seams metropolis, I can relate to a lot of things and places that Joshua mentions, in Donald’s voice. The amazing thing is that some of these places, and customs are there, in that part of Bangalore, even today.

Remarkable though Joshua’s achievement is, I do have apprehensions that the times, and values, that are described in Donald’s voice, have completely passed away, and there exist, now, at least two generations who think very differently. Since our wildlife is now decimated, today’s values make it a crime to hunt our wild creatures; and a resurgence of prudish Victorian morality would make several readers click their tongues over the accounts of Donald’s prolific romatic encounters, which were all short-termed, by his own admission.We certainly seem to be less tolerant of what we perceive to be aberrations, today, and an account of how to skin and animal and stuff it, I am afraid, will not be very popular with the majority of today’s reading public.

But if one is willing to look into history without being judgemental, and read details about how life was lived in this city in the days around the time of Indian Independence, both in terms of wildlife and lifestyles, then this book would be a great read….which is what I found it to be. I salute Joshua Mathew on a job very well done; it is Donald Anderson, and Donald alone, who speaks from the book. It is only at the end that we hear Joshua’s voice, and even then, he sets down the quirks of the shikari’s personality, warts and all, allowing us to see the man as he was..a product of his times, with unique talents….a person who was true to himself, and did not whitewash his own shortcomings. On another level, anyone interested in how the wildlife scenario was in Bangalore and its environs, nearly a century ago, would find this both a fascinating (seeing the abundance of wildlife) and depressing (seeing the hunting/shooting culture) read…but a compelling one in any case.

A good job well done, Joshua..and I wish you would reconsider your decision to make this your last book!

How the day gets hijacked…mostly MY fault!

August 27, 2011

Today…was supposed to be a day of intense writing. Having watched the play, “Amrita, A Sublime Love Story”, at Ranga Shankara, I am supposed to do the research on Amrita Pritam (and her abiding love for the lyricist, Sahir Ludhianvi) and write the review for City Buzz. (I typed City Buss…!) Then, for Citizen Matters, I am writing about Priya Venkatesh’s trip to the South Pole…the first woman from Bangalore to have visited this continent.

So what happens? I go for a walk with KM and two of our friends who live in Muscat. Then I go to the garage to give in the car for tinkering and painting and get back by bus. The power, and the UPS, both fail throughout the morning and I cannot use my laptop after the battery fails. I get a call from the Bank that my internet activation kit has arrived, and rush to pick it up. I realize that I must send the acknowledgement form by post, so it’s off to the Post Office. Then I realize I’d better try and activate AM’s account, for which I’ve sent off the acknowledgement form about 10 days ago (presumably they’ve got it now…they won’t deign to let me know, of course!)

So it’s 3.15 pm now, and instead of getting started on the review, at least (oh yes, I’ve just *opened* the wiki about Amrita Pritam:

read the wiki, her life is fascinating!

and then, instead of going ahead with the task, I am, of course, writing this! I definitely am a citizen of a different nation….Procrasti Nation.

OK, let me crack the whip over myself, and get to the salt mines now…

Bangalore Mirror, play reviews, and experimental theatre

September 9, 2007

I got a call sometime ago from the Bangalore Mirror , a tabloid which the Times of India launched ( One rupee a paper!) asking me if they could use one of my Metroblogs posts…I said yes and said I would also send them articles which were Bangalore-specific. They seem to have taken the yes for a single post as a blanket permission, and apparently, more of my metblogs posts have been used in the paper…oh well, since it’s on the public domain, I guess it’s OK, but…for a paper to use a not very widely-read blogpost…

Well, anyway, today someone called me and asked me if I could do a review of a play The Flame of the Forest by Gowri Ramnarayanan (the granddaughter of “Kalki” R.Krishnamurthi , who wrote the novel she has adapted ..she writes very well indeed)..it happened that I had just come back from the play, and seven of us were sitting and discussing it right then.

We all had, the previous day, also seen a play about Iranian women who are living in Germany, which none of us liked very much (as one friend said, what deprivation are they talking about if they are living in Germany??)…and I said I would write that review too. Our discussion formed the basis of one review…but when I reached for the brochure which I normally bring back from every play (providing they give one)…it just wasn’t there! Then I remembered having given it to one of the friends, and I had to call him up at a not-very-earthly hour to get it out and read it; I was hoping that it would give important information like the names of cast members, set designer, and so forth. No such luck! It was the friend who summoned up the SEG (Search Engine Genie) and got me a lot of info.

Writing a review of a play one doesn’t like is much more difficult than of one that’s liked. It’s quite tough to stand back, look objectively at what it is in a play one doesn’t like and articulate it so that it doesn’t seem as if prejudice or preconception are driving one’s words. And with many experimental plays, there is always this element of emperor’s-new-clothism , where people feel they MUST appreciate it as it IS experimental theatre. You see people getting up around you to give a standing ovation, while a big question mark is hovering over your head and YOU feel that the emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes, but you don’t quite like to say so and bring down the wrath of your appreciative fellow-watchers. I need to understand the symbolisms or the metaphors or the whatever, and am totally mystified if I can’t. I think I am symbolically challenged.

I have, I am afraid, been seeing too many of these question-mark (the one that manifests itself over my uncomprehending head) plays lately, about eight of them to every good (imo) play…

And another grouse: when Ranga Shankara committed itself to charging only Rs.49 for plays at its inception (it will be putting on its thousandth performance shortly,on Sept 12), the ticket cost going up to Rs.150 and, day before yesterday, Rs.200, is not something I think of with pleasure. I still cannot understand why Kannada plays should still be the same rate and English plays so much more expensive..what is the logic behind it?

Oh well, I am generally with at least one friend, and whether we agree or disagree about the play, the discussion is interesting..much more so, to me, than discussing the neighbours, their jewellery, or their maids…that WAS a value judgement, I am sorry; but yes, I do find that kind of conversation boring after a short while.

I am also hoping that Bangalore Mirror won’t do a Suvarna TV Channel on me…they said they wouldn’t pay for stuff they took from Metroblogs, but will pay for stuff I send them directly…and since they asked for the review…I Am Opeful…I am oping to get, at least, bigger peanuts than the Deccan Herald pays!

My sincere sympathies to everyone who tries to make a living out of freelance journalism….what a tough,rocky, impecunious path they tread.

Bangalore Mirror, play reviews, and experimental theatre

September 9, 2007

I got a call sometime ago from the Bangalore Mirror , a tabloid which the Times of India launched ( One rupee a paper!) asking me if they could use one of my Metroblogs posts…I said yes and said I would also send them articles which were Bangalore-specific. They seem to have taken the yes for a single post as a blanket permission, and apparently, more of my metblogs posts have been used in the paper…oh well, since it’s on the public domain, I guess it’s OK, but…for a paper to use a not very widely-read blogpost…

Well, anyway, today someone called me and asked me if I could do a review of a play The Flame of the Forest by Gowri Ramnarayanan (the granddaughter of “Kalki” R.Krishnamurthi , who wrote the novel she has adapted ..she writes very well indeed)..it happened that I had just come back from the play, and seven of us were sitting and discussing it right then.

We all had, the previous day, also seen a play about Iranian women who are living in Germany, which none of us liked very much (as one friend said, what deprivation are they talking about if they are living in Germany??)…and I said I would write that review too. Our discussion formed the basis of one review…but when I reached for the brochure which I normally bring back from every play (providing they give one)…it just wasn’t there! Then I remembered having given it to one of the friends, and I had to call him up at a not-very-earthly hour to get it out and read it; I was hoping that it would give important information like the names of cast members, set designer, and so forth. No such luck! It was the friend who summoned up the SEG (Search Engine Genie) and got me a lot of info.

Writing a review of a play one doesn’t like is much more difficult than of one that’s liked. It’s quite tough to stand back, look objectively at what it is in a play one doesn’t like and articulate it so that it doesn’t seem as if prejudice or preconception are driving one’s words. And with many experimental plays, there is always this element of emperor’s-new-clothism , where people feel they MUST appreciate it as it IS experimental theatre. You see people getting up around you to give a standing ovation, while a big question mark is hovering over your head and YOU feel that the emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes, but you don’t quite like to say so and bring down the wrath of your appreciative fellow-watchers. I need to understand the symbolisms or the metaphors or the whatever, and am totally mystified if I can’t. I think I am symbolically challenged.

I have, I am afraid, been seeing too many of these question-mark (the one that manifests itself over my uncomprehending head) plays lately, about eight of them to every good (imo) play…

And another grouse: when Ranga Shankara committed itself to charging only Rs.49 for plays at its inception (it will be putting on its thousandth performance shortly,on Sept 12), the ticket cost going up to Rs.150 and, day before yesterday, Rs.200, is not something I think of with pleasure. I still cannot understand why Kannada plays should still be the same rate and English plays so much more expensive..what is the logic behind it?

Oh well, I am generally with at least one friend, and whether we agree or disagree about the play, the discussion is interesting..much more so, to me, than discussing the neighbours, their jewellery, or their maids…that WAS a value judgement, I am sorry; but yes, I do find that kind of conversation boring after a short while.

I am also hoping that Bangalore Mirror won’t do a Suvarna TV Channel on me…they said they wouldn’t pay for stuff they took from Metroblogs, but will pay for stuff I send them directly…and since they asked for the review…I Am Opeful…I am oping to get, at least, bigger peanuts than the Deccan Herald pays!

My sincere sympathies to everyone who tries to make a living out of freelance journalism….what a tough,rocky, impecunious path they tread.