Posts Tagged ‘reviews’

Theatre Review: Squirrel Stole My Underpants, Ranga Shankara, 150719

July 16, 2019

Do adults go to watch children’s plays? Or to be more precise, do adults go to watch children’s puppet theatre…without children accompanying them? The answer, for me, was a resounding yes. I had been hoping to take my grandchildren to at least some of the puppet theatre festival be at Ranga Shankara, under the AHA! banner.


The “Same-Same” theme of the festival.

Language and music classes in the evenings prevented my grandchildren from coming along with me, but when a friend, Harini Srinivasa Rao, told me that she could not utilize her three tickets, I jumped at the chance, and converted my evening walk into an evening, watching “Squirrel Stole My Underpants”, staged by

The Gottabees

a Boston-based ensemble. It was a show for “children above 4 years”, and since I counted myself in, I settled in amongst the full house of children, parents, grandparents and family.


The queue (it was a full house).

The 45-minute performance was carried by Bonnie Duncan, with auburn curls, a printed frock with a gingham apron, with preppy socks and shoes. Two musicians, Brendan Burns & Tony Leva , kept up the tempo and mood of the show on the electronic cello and guitar. These instruments, which were very slim, shaved-down versions of the traditional ones, were as interesting to me as the rest of the show.


The musicians on the left of the stage.

Though the stage setting was very simple — a clothes stand of two poles with lines! What “Sylive”, the main character, brought to the narrative was, like Baa Baa Black Sheep’s wool, three bags full of props. She started with putting out a large bedsheet, which served later as the screen for the hand puppets. She then added the laundry, and showed especial happiness when putting out the pink underpants to dry. Almost immediately, the squirrel turned up, and off he went, after several hilarious attempts, with that article of underclothing. As Sylvie chased him, out came a smorgasbord of articles and clothing f from those three bags…including a blue-curtain sea, a bag that she could step into and create a boat out of, a sun, a cloud to hide the sun, and so on….in sunny weather and rain, she chased the naughty squirrel.


Sylvie and her clothesline.

It was delightful to see that both the performer and the squirrel had smaller-size puppets to represent them; reality and fantasy flowed into one another with great ease, in just the way it does in childhood. Several times, the audience applauded spontaneously, cheering on the performer and her narrative.


Some papiermaiche puppets in the foyer.

The two musicians, producing a variety of sounds, evoked different moods and enhanced the production very well. The cello was tuned frequently; I did not know whether it just fell out of tune or the accompanying music required the re-tuning. But it was obvious that the musicians, too, were enjoying the spectacle playing out in front of them! At several points, the audience joined in the rhythm of the music, clapping along.

Three-quarters of an hour slipped by fast, and once the show was done and the performers had taken their bows, Bonnie gave a delightful Mime 101, inviting the entire audience to mime taking a cupful of “the most yucky thing” imaginable, trying to drink it, and spitting it out. The audience, even the adults, followed the instructions gleefully. This involvement caused another round of applause at the end.

The innovative use of props (I never knew that a pair of brown trousers and several green underpants could become a tree!) was a highlight of the show.

Speaking of highlights, the light design also added considerably to the visual appeal of the show. Now bright, now dimmed, they followed Sylvie on her adventure of search. Alas, we were not told who handled the lights!

It was a delightful show, simple without being cloying, and it was very obvious that the children and the children-at-heart enjoyed it very much. I am sure many in the audience would follow Bonnie’s suggestion and try their hands at puppetry or mime.

The

AHA! Children’s Puppet Theatre Festival

continues until 20th July,2019.

Squirrel Stole My Underpants
July 15, 2019, at Ranga Shankara
45 min.
No language; puppetry and mime.
Created and performed by Bonnie Duncan
Music by Brendan Burns & Tony Leva
Directed by Dan Milstein
Costumes by Penney Pinette
Set by Hamideh Rezaei-Kamalabad
Tickets: Rs.200

As an aside: Ranga Shankara needs to either update or close down its FaceBook page, which only gives details of the AHA! Festival from 2017.


Small workshops and performances by and for the children also taking place in the foyer area.

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Theatre Review: “Robi’s Garden” by Bangalore Little Theatre, RS,140619

June 20, 2019

It is always interesting to revisit a play I have watched before, and see how the production has evolved. This was the spirit in which I went to watch “Robi’s Garden” by Bangalore Little Theatre, which I had reviewed in 2011.

(You can read the review

here )

But I was in for a major surprise! The earlier play was definitely one for children, with many children and BLT volunteers participating, with both the cast and the audience having a merry time, rollicking through a selection of Rabindranath Tagore’s short stories. It was an occasion to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the Association for the Mentally Challenged (AMC) as well as the 150th year of Tagore.

This time, the occasion was equally memorable. BLT is celebrating the fact that

Vijay Padaki

vijaypadaki140619

turned 80 a few days ago, and BLT is putting up a series of events to celebrate this landmark of the doyen of theatre in Bangalore. So the focus was now Vijay Padaki, and the play took on an entirely new look.

Instead of the big cast of characters, we had just two on the stage: Minty Jain and Vijay Padaki himself; a table and two chairs, with some images being projected on a screen at the back of the stage, where all the props, the stage design being minimal in the extreme. The table was creatively used; it was, by turns, an operation table, and a deathbed!

The theatre experience was also completely different. Instead of a hall full of families and children, it was intimate story-telling theatre, in the small auditorium of Alliance Francaise, with a small audience sitting close to the stage ( I sat further back in order to be able to take photographs). The children who went to Jorasanko and met Robi da were now created in our imagination, as Minty and Vijay took the audience, once again, through a selection of Rabindranath’s work.

The experience of watching Vijay on stage is very different from seeing Vijay’s work as a director, or reading his work. His mastery of stagecraft was immediately apparent. He garnered the audience’s minds effortlessly and took them off to Robi’s Garden, populated by so many different people (not always human…for example, there is the tiger who wants to wash his black stripes off!). A clap of the hands brought on a new vignette, a look into another story, and the audience went on this roller coaster ride with the two actors on stage. Touches of humour, of satire, or gentle poking at blind customs and rituals…all of Tagore’s view points were well elicited in the smorgasbord of tableaus.

The costumes were simple: pyjamas and kurtas, with colourful waistcoats, that added bright dashes of colour to the stage, and brought the audience’s visual focus to the actors. The narrative was interactive in that at one point, two children were called up to the stage and included in the performace.

robi'sgdn.

Vijay and Minty with the children from the audience.

The lighting and the sound contributed well to the effects of the play, but it was definitely the cast who carried the burden of the performance on their shoulders. A few lines were fluffed, but the action quickly carried on. A ten-minute interval was declared.

It was at this point that I clearly understood how an external factor can affect the playgoers’ experience. My friends and I had left south Bangalore before 5 pm to battle the traffic and reach Alliance Francaise; when the interval was announced, we realized the there was no canteen and that we could not get anything to eat. We waited through the interval, and enjoyed Vijay’s reading of the play, “Anklet”, where he single-handedly brought the story of Malati, Damodar, and Devi alive.

But when, at 8.45pm, he asked the audience if he could do another reading and then a short piece from Tagore, we just could not wait any longer, as we also had a long drive back home through the traffic. We had to walk out, a piece of disrespect to the theatre and the artiste that we regret deeply. I personally wish Vijay had done the short piece first and the long story afterwards, at least we could have watched that. But those in the front rows opted for the long story and we had no say in the matter. As it was, it took us more than an hour to get home.

I think that every theatre venue should defintely ensure that there is some food available for theatregoers who come spending a lot of time and effort in the evening traffic, as otherwise, the evening is compromised. I have written before on the pathetic food situation at Chowdiah, with a few samosas and chai getting over too fast…it was one of the many reasons I stopped attending theatre events there.

I also wish that BLT had made the sequence of events clear to us earlier.There was no brochure available, and we had no idea how long the play, or the performance, would go on.

Another point which all theatre groups must observe is that of punctuality. The play started 15 minutes late; I find that all theatre venues except Ranga Shankara are not punctual at all, and seem to penalize the punctual members of the audience. Let me take this opportunity to thank Ranga Shankara for sticking staunchly to punctuality, in spite of often being reviled for it.

The net result was that we could not watch the evening of theatre (which we all came so far to enjoy) beyond a certain time, in spite of the excellent acting and production values, and the chance of watching a noted thespian performing. And if felt very bad indeed, to have to leave a performance before it was over, but we had no other option.

But we liked what we watched, and I am hoping that the rest of the celebration, “VP80” will have much more in store for theatre-going audiences of Bangalore.

“Robi’s Garden” by Bangalore Little Theatre
A play followed by severa readings, with a 10 min interval.
2 hours approx.

Cast: Vijay Padaki and Minty Jain
Crew: Unknown
Tickets: Rs.200
Alliance Francaise de Bangalore, Fri, June 14, 2019

Theatre Review: “Ultimate Kurukshetra” by Actors Ensemble, Ranga Shankara, 060619

June 10, 2019

The two Hindu epics are majestic pieces of literature, grand in their sweep of space and time; they stand as beacons of moral and ethical values, and we generally hold them in awe and reverence. We certainly do not associate them with humour, or light-heartedness.

So, when I got an email from Ram Ganesh Kamatham about his award-winning play, “Ultimate Kurkshetra” which deals not with the forefront, and the heroes of the Mahabharata, but of the very ordinary people who populate the fringes of the army on the eve of the great war of Kurukshetra, I was intrigued and rushed off to watch.

Ultimate Kurukshetra, RS, 060619, Citizen Matters

The first attraction was the sumptuous “ratha” (chariot) that stood on the stage, with several weapons such as the mace, spears and so on. When the play started, Yuyutsu, that single Kaurava who suffered pangs of conscience before the war, appeared, and took the trip to bathos with his announcement that he was called “Yuyu” for short! The other characters then took the stage: Sudarshana the warrior and Adi, his charioteer, who have been issued a chariot but no horses (Adi has been given a token and a promise of payment after the war!). Daksha, the mahout, who is busy calculating just how much poop and dung all those horses and elephants on the battlefield will generate. Maya, the courtesan, who wants to be paid for her work last night…and whose relationships with other men are slowly revealed, the last one being the high point or climax on which the interval happens. And most delightful of all, just as Adi says, “This is a battlefield, I don’t see people wandering around”…there comes Vyasa himself, in a hilarious camp version, prancing through the battlefield as if it were a field of lilies, making observations that had the audience in splits, sporting a peacock-feather pen and a palm-leaf to write on.

Incident follows hilarious incident. Daksha has devised an elephant-head mask (it’s that of a young elephant) that will prevent the war elephants from trampling on the warrior wearing them, even though the elephants themselves seem to have been conscripted from various other callings in temples and zoos! The mask is too small, and gets stuck on Sudarshana’s head, prompting Vyasa, in one of his numerous appearances, to say that he’s been looking for a scribe to write the epic (or as he calls it in true Malayali style, “yepick”!) and (with a sideways look at the so-called elephant) that he seems to have found one. Some important incidents from the epic are referred to, such as the lacquer house built by Purochana for the Pandavas, which is burnt to the ground to kill them off; Bheeshma’s “iccha mrithyu” or death at his own wish; But through all the comedy runs the thread of deep philosophy: “When elephants fight, it is the grass that gets hurt” is one line that has stayed with me well after the play. Another beautiful and moving sequence is when Sudarshana describes how he, too, heard Krishna giving the Geetopadesha to Arjuna.The words showed the playwright’s prose rising to poetry.

The play winds on to a very satisfactory conclusion, with Maya also entering the battle as a warrior, equal to the men she has been dealing with. As the conch of war sounds, Vyaas in his batik top and pista-green dhoti sums up the premise of the play, and Yuyutsu reappars to state it: the ultimate Kurukshetra is not a battle in the distant past, it is a battle in every day of our lives, with the choices we make.

Enjoying and laughing my way through the performance did not prevent me from noticing and appreciating the technical aspects of the production. First of all, even before we entered the theatre, the excellent three-page brochure gave us an introduction to the cast and crew, and what we should expect in the two hours ahead. The play won the Sultan Padamsee Award for Playwriting in 2011. Apart from the information about the cast and crew of the play and about the group itself, I enjoyed the director’s note about the rasas to be found in the Mahabharata, and how he came to write the play, with a “notable absence of grandstanding champions, and a surfeit of flawed, under-equipped and everyday heroes doing their best to get by in a very challenging situation”.

The stage design was done so that the cast could move backwards and forwards, to the side and centre of the stage, easily. The properties and production values were lavish and unstinted: the weapons, the golden chariot (alas, no horses to move it!) all added to the effect.

The costumes, too, showed that a lot of thought had gone into them…the photograph I have posted here, of the cast taking their bow after the performance, shows the spectrum of colours which made the costumes a visual spectacle.The dhotis, the courtesan’s robes, the armour…all were well-designed and added to the eye appeal while not hindering the movements of the artistes.

Indeed, movement was something there was a lot of. Well-choreographed fight sequences (and most of the fights except perhaps the sequence of Arjuna and his bow, Gandiva, were not of the great war, but skirmishes amongst the characters, as personal frictions came in the way of being united as a part of the Kaurava army), the amorous moments between Maya, Sudarshana and Adi, they all flowed smoothly.

I must say that in the performance I watched, there was some fluffing of dialogues by the characters who played Daksha and Sudarshana; my daughter and son-in-law, who watched the play the next evening, reported much less of such glitches. In the main, though, the dialogues and the punch lines were well-delivered, and the audience’s laughter showed their enjoyment.

The sound design, and the music, added to heighten the denouement of the play, and were very effective indeed, without resorting to the usual noises that sometimes accompany comedy on the stage.

The lighting was also excellent. Highlighting and general lighting, some strobe effects and other areas were handled very well, evoking the battlefield in both its majesty, and its bathos.

I must,however, add that not everyone in the audience liked the play equally; my daughter’s friend,it appears, was “quite disgusted” and said that she did not like the great epic being thus parodied. Different opinions for different people, of course… I must say that I enjoyed the humour and the dialogue very much! I happen to think that a good satire pays its own tribute to the majesty of the original.

All in all, a rollicking run through the prelude to the great war of Kurukshetra, which yet showed up human frailties, egos and the interplay of personalities, and put forward, at the end, the truth that with every choice we make, we fight our own Kurukshetras every day.

Looking forward to the next play from the pen of this talented playwright!

“Ultimate Kurukshetra” by Actors Ensemble
Duration: 120 min with a 10 min interval
Written and directed by Ram Ganesh Kamatham
Designed and Produced by Mallika Prasad Sinha
Language: English
6 and 7 June, 2019, Ranga Shankara

Cast:
Vyasa: Anil Abraham
Adi: Harish Seshadri
Sudarshana: Karn Malhotra
Daksha: Anirudh Acharya
Maya: Mallika Prasad Sinha
Yuyutsu: Ram Ganesh Kamatham

Costumes: Sankeerthi Aipanjiguly
Backdrop and Daksha’s house: Prasanna D
Chariot and Floor: Sridhar Murthy
Tracks: Aman Anand, Snehal Pinto
Sound: Shashank
Make-up: Uma Maheshwar
Props: Ullas Hydoor
Lights: Naveen M G
Front of House: Vinay Shastri
Stage Manager: Lekha Naidu

Poster Design and Illustrations: Sachin Jadhav
Stills and Video: Cletus Rebello
Backstage Crew: Disha Rao, Srinivas Gowda, Prashanth M, Lakshyaraj Rathod
Venkatraman Balakrishna and Meera Sitaraman provided “Gandiva”

Patrons: Dr Vibha Prasad, Mrs Pratibha Prasad, Rahul Raghuram, Shantanu Prabhu, Swaroop Srinath.

You can see the trailer

here

Suitable for audiences over 13 years
Tickets: Rs.200.

Tansen: Theatre Review from the Hindu

May 31, 2019

Watch a play covering the various aspects of this 16th Century musician’s life

In a little less than two years, The Trialogue Company has had 30 shows of its Hindi play Tansen. It was first staged in July 2017 at NSD, in New Delhi. It took playwrights Sudheer Rikhari and Mohammad Faheem six months to hone the script and meticulously sew classical melodies into this period musical that portrays Tansen in a novel light.

“I was inspired by Girish Chaturvedi’s 1973 novel Tansen which revealed many unknown facets of this 16th Century musician’s life in the court of Mughal Emperor Akbar. It speaks of several aspects of his persona and life, and to present it on stage became my dream,” says Sudheer Rikhari, who is also behind the design, direction, music and production of the play.

The play has three lead actors — Mohammad Faheem, Sudheer Rikhari and Ridhima Bagga — apart from musicians singing live. “We will have the pakhawaj maestro Roman Das, a student of Gundecha Brothers, and Daksh Raj Sharma on the harmonium, travelling to Bengaluru for this show. We believe in live instruments and live voices on stage for this play,” shares Sudheer, a science graduate with a Masters in Hindustani classical and a passion for theatre.

Tansen, born in a Hindu family as Ramtanu to Parvati and Makarand in Behab near Gwalior, is brought up by Gaus Baba, a fakir who sent him to Brindavan to learn music from Swami Haridas. Even as Tansen’s first love Taani makes poignant entries into his life often, he journeys into the forests for a musical riyaaz before being spotted by the King of Rewa Raja Ramchandra Singh, where his musical expertise gains widespread fame. His music gains the attention of Emperor Akbar and Raja Ramchandra is forced to send him to the Moghul court where his melodious aptitude earns him the title ‘Mia Tansen.’ “How he marries Hussaini and his high appraisal of his self-worth sees him lose to the young musician Baiju Bawra, closes on a story infused with worldly lessons,” says Sudheer, who adds the play would also have an audience interaction.

As many as 16 songs will be presented in the course of the play, which has a duration of nearly 110 minutes and an almost continuous background score. “We have compositions by Gundecha Brothers, Pravesh Mallick and Vinay Chandra Mudgal sung by singer-actors Sudheer and Mohammad. It also includes melodies ranging from Dhrupad, Qawwali and Hori to Khayal Gaayaki accompanied by instruments,” says Ridhima, a Kathak artiste, who curated the choreography and costumes for Tansen.

“Although we have performed at the Theatre Olympics at Kalagram in Bengaluru in 2018, we are looking forward to the theatrical performance at Ranga Shankara on June 1 where we have two shows slotted,” she adds.

The play is a ruminative and absorbing journey of an artiste. “A portryal of the see-saw of emotions in the life of Tansen,” says Sudheer, going back to his dialogues in the play which are an introspection of what made Tansen great. What was the musician’s life-long quest — worship of his art or the ever-elusive emotional bond of true love? “The play begins with a dilemma over ‘Ibadat’ and ‘Ishq’ – what is worship and what is love?” he adds.

There are a few historical accounts of Tansen’s life on record. “We culled facts from Chaturvedi’s book for this musical. Many are not aware of his affair with his teenage muse Taani and subsequent marriage to Hussaini. This gripping tale mirrors Tansen’s persona,” says Sudheer, adding that the play is a metaphor on the rigours of life.

(Hindi musical ‘Tansen’ June 1, Ranga Shankara, 3.30pm and 7.30 pm, tickets at the venue and bookmyshow)

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.

“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.