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Ashadh ka ek din (on Kalidasa): Naatak Play Review


Ashadh ka ek din (on Kalidas) : Naatak Play Review – June, 2019

Found on principles of bringing on stage intelligent and entertaining shows pertaining to East Asian literature and arts in San Francisco bay area, Naatak has consistently surpassed expectations from a demanding audience.

In Naatak’s 69th production, writer Mohan Rakesh’s “Ashadh ka ek din”, the focus is on young love, simple and lyrical as a poem, pure and unspoilt as nature, passionate and brimming with hope as the drop of first rain, in the month of ashadh. It depicts the story of Kalidasa, classical Sanskrit writer and poet who is presumed to have created his works in the 4th century, and was a royal poet during the reigns of kings Chandragupta II and Yasodharman. Kudos to Naatak for fantastic staging. How they manage it, despite low ticket prices is a mystery. 

It is as true today as it was then that stupendous achievements often come from heart-wrenching personal sacrifices. Kalidas (Anush Moorthy) was ahead of his times and his talents went unnoticed, in his little village. However the king in Ujjain was impressed by his work and sent him royal invitation to go to the capital, Ujjain and adorn the royal court as a national poet. Kalidas is reluctant to leave his beloved, Mallika (Preeti Bhat) who is the inspiration behind many of his works. But Mallika insists that he should not pass up this opportunity which will help bloom his talent.

Kalidas: nayi bhumi sukhi bhi to ho sakto hai

Mallika: koi bhumi aisi nahi jiske antar me komalta na ho, tumhari pratibha us komalta ka sparsh awashya pa legi.

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At the insistence of Mallika, Kalidas leaves his village, not to return for several years. With the force of royal sponsorship, Kalidas writes many epics like medghdootam, kumarsambhawa and raghuwans, all the while his beloved Mallika continues to be his muse. While Mallika pines for Kalidasa in the village. Mallika’s mother Ambika (Anshu Johri) curses Kalidasa and refuses to be drawn into the flow of emotions that have gripped her young daughter.  

Ambika: “ma ka jivan bhavna nahi, karm hai”.

Behind every successful man, there is a great sacrifice of a woman (of course, in the present times, opposite is also true). Produced by Alka Sippy and directed by brilliant, Manish Sabu, “ashadh ka ek din” is a story of love that is eternal, of time which stops for noone, and of sacrifice from which are born great works of art. One thing the play is not and I would have loved more of is Kalidasa’s work itself. The play does not focus as much on his poetry. Kalidasa had written Rutusamhara before he went to Ujjain. If the play included many lyrics from there which spoke of the beauty of the mountains, clouds and rains that appeared even more beautiful to the poet, in the company of his beloved, then it would have enhanced our joy. Nonetheless, it is a tender love story, with beautiful prose and heart-touching dialogues.

 

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De De Pyar De – Bollywood Movie Review


In Akiv Ali’s Bollywood film, “De De Pyar De”, finally we have a chick flick for men. Fret not; you will see the reason behind this oxymoron very soon.  Movie starts off as a romantic sex comedy between 50 something calm and confident alpha man, Ashish (Ajay Devgn) and about half his age hottie, Ayesha (Rakul Preet Singh). Ashish and Ayesha confidently flirt with each other, then fall in love, and then briefly discuss that gossipers in the community will judge that she is into him for his bottomless wealth (he is an investor in London) and he is into her for her youth and beauty (yes, she is hot) and thus the issue is put to rest.

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Lest we still become judgmental, their flirty tête-à-tête includes sweet caring (she makes dal for him, he says he does not like dal so as to not hurt her feelings) that indicates they are truly into each other and despite deciding to stay away from one another, they just could not. Singh is sexy but also expressive and caring. But that’s not where the film ends with 50 something guy romping with a young hottie. That is just the beginning. The movie wants us to give a stamp of moral approval on this relationship. And that is where the film takes a turn from romantic comedy to family drama. Ashish takes Ayesha from London to India to meet his ex wife and kids and parents.

The problem is —- ok there are many problems that can’t but make us feel a tad judgmental.  First of all, the problem is the girl. She drinks hard, parties hard, doesn’t blink an eye when she passes out and finds herself (undressed) in the morning, in a man’s house. In fact, she is incredulous (perhaps also mildly disappointed) that he passed up on rape and did not take advantage of her. While it is supposed to make the audience look with awe at Devgn’s character, one wonders about Singh’s character and her lack of readiness for a serious relationship with a man with a past. Then the problem is the boy. He does no planning and shows no confidence in any of his past or present relationship decisions and they are all marked by irresponsibility, half truths, hypocrisy and deceit. He takes a girl the age of his daughter to India, without adequately preparing everyone, embarrassing them all.

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The beauty of the movie that makes it all worthwhile emerges in the few short scenes with Tabu (Ashish’s ex-wife). I am sure her dialogs touch the heart of every woman, when she speaks of being tired of always having to be the responsible one and mend relationships. Tabu as a mature mom who listens to all sides and resolves key issues with her daughter’s in-laws, the glue that keeps the family together, admonishing her kids when they get bratty are all beautiful knockout scenes. But it is Tabu’s short speech to her family to stop being judgmental and take responsibility for their decisions, asking them to stop blaming her ex-husband, is phenomenal.  And finally, Tabu’s dialog with Ayesha, her rival for her ex’s attentions, is an absolute gem; although one wonders how realistic it is to expect a wife who is still into her husband, to be so very generous and understanding and go out of her way literally, to bring them together; especially a husband who has been so irresponsible and his girl-friend who is simply too young to grasp all the complexities of a blended family with children her age. But in this movie, after a few speeches, such familial complexities are quickly and conveniently resolved, so Ashish can have his cake and eat it too, without any repercussions. So here it is, finally a chick flick for guys.

De De Pyaar De reviews

If you are willing to ignore complex realities of stormy, messy relationships, simplistic moralizing, and long term lack of wisdom of the characters, overall the film is entertaining and fun.  Tabu and Singh both put on stellar acts. I rate the movie 3.2 on a scale of 1 to 5 (with 5 being excellent).

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Mahabharat – NAATAK Play Review


Image may contain: 1 person, dancingThe story of Mahabharat has been repeated among Indians, over and over in various ways, even via TV series. Why would you bring it on stage, and why say it again, and how could you say it better or do greater justice to one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India, also known as the longest epic poem ever written? Therein lies the brilliance of Sujit Saraf who adapted it for the stage for NAATAK and is currently playing at Cubberley Theater in Palo Alto.

Image may contain: 6 people, people smiling, people standing and weddingThe Mahabharat, believed to be written by Vyasa, is a narrative of the Kurukshetra war, a deadly war among cousins, sparked by greed and fueled by lies, cheating, deceit, turncoats, and perhaps misplaced assumptions of right and wrong, good and evil. With Mahabharat being recited several times in history, with details and stories added or deleted and with the epic employing “story within a story structure” known as framelets, it is a mind-bogglingly complex story to tell, described by Hermann Oldenberg as a “horrible chaos”.

It is to great credit that NAATAK’s team, with director Saraf, producer Soumya Agastya, music director Nachiketa Yakkundi, choreographers, sets team and many volunteers and a huge cast of performers managed to bring this story on stage; not just to tell but in the form of the musical, with awesome dances and music, focusing on key dialogues and stories and with recreating the most impactful stories befitting the grandeur of the time, without overdoing any of it.

Image may contain: 5 people, people standingSticking to the core of the epic, NAATAK’s Mahabharat traces the story of Kaurava and Pandava from Brahma, the Hindu God of creation and through their earliest ancestors known to us (Yayati, Dushyant, Shakuntala, Ganga, Shantanu, Nishad, Chitraghandha, Veechitravirya,  Dhritrashtra, Pandu, Kunti, Gandhari and more) and brings us to the center of their conflict. When Shantanu was seeking to marry Satyavati (whose father Nishad had misgivings since her sons would not inherit the throne) Shantanu’s first born son, Bhishma made a strongest vow known to humankind, to never have children, never marry and never inherit the throne. But his step mother Satyvati’s two sons Chitrangadha and Vichitravirya died leaving behind no issues. Satyvati then asked her illegitimate son Vyasa to father children with Vichitravirya’s widows, in order to get heirs for the throne. Thus were born blind, Dhritrashtra and weak and sickly, Pandu. Vyasa also fathered a son with a maid servant, Vidur. Dhritrashtra with his wife Gandhari, fathered 100 sons who came to be known as Kauravas. Pandu, with Kunti and Madri fathered 5 sons, who came to be known as Pandavas.  

In the greed and evil plots of the Kauravas, under the helm of the eldest brothers Duryodhan and Dushasan, and in their maternal uncle Shakuni’s evil machinations and in the gambling addiction of the righteous and truthful but incurable gambling addict, elder Pandava brother, Yudhishthir lies the seeds of the epic war in Bharat, which ended in Kali Yug.Image may contain: 4 people, people smiling

Image may contain: 10 people, people smiling, people standingImage may contain: 1 person, standing and childNAATAK’s Mahabharat takes us through all the main plots and sub plots, major twists and turns (Guru Dron asking Eklavya to cut his thumb and give it as Guru Dakshina so that no one can contest his disciple Arjun; Kaurava’s plot to kill the cousins after hosting them in a palace of flammable materials and how they managed to survive; Draupadi’s wedding to the most able warrior; Kunti asking all brothers to share whatever they had brought and thus Draupadi came to be shared between the 5 Pandava brothers; Pandava’s loss of everything in gambling and Yudhishsthir putting his wife on the line and losing her; Kaurava’s attempt to disrobe and humiliate her and Krishna coming to her rescue; Pandava’s 13 years of vanvas; Kaurava’s adamant refusal to give them the smallest piece of land; and the war that was as inevitable as it was extensive and drew in all the surrounding kingdoms. Arjuna had a moment of remorse and refuses to fight his brothers on the other side and received updesh in the form of Geeta, from his charioteer, Krishna. The bloodiest war of the time soon descended into dishonourable tactics on both sides (where Arjuna’s young son is sent into a Chakravyuh though he only knew his way in and not out; Bhisma is mortally wounded when Pandavas use his principle to not pick up weapons against a woman and send in Shikhandi who is half woman, half man — all this and more). Image may contain: 1 personBhima the strongest of the five Pandavas killed all 100 Kaurava brothers that evoked heart-rending cries of soulful mourning, followed by a curse, from Gandhari, the grief-stricken mother.

Mahabharat is overwhelmingly a story of men with women existing on the periphery; (consider the fact that among 100 Kaurava sons, there is no mention of a daughter) in tracing the entire ancestry, daughters are rarely mentioned. But it is women who experience and display raw emotions other than anger. It is Gandhari whose soulful tears at the loss of all her sons pierce one’s heart; it is Draupadi who suffers the humiliation in open court of men when her husband loses her in gambling; and it is Kunti who dutifully gives up her life in the palace to follow her husband to live in the forest.

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In Mahabharat, NAATAK takes the audience through this spellbinding journey.  With excellent staging, sound and awesome performance, it transports the audience to another era and retains the spell to the very end. In fact, the dialog at the end is most amazingly brilliant, distilling the essence of this epic event, a dark time brought by flawed humans and a tale of cruelty and sadness, thwarted ambition and greed, amidst small acts of courage and kindness. I loved the fact that this gripping tale is not told yet again from a traditional, routine, religious perspective but from the perspective of a historical event, values of the time, moral subtlety and ambiguity and human flaws. This incredible performance by NAATAK above all speaks to incredible and undisputed brilliance of Sujit Saraf.

Image may contain: 1 person, sitting and dancingI haven’t seen but I have heard that during the airing of the TV series, some people were inspired to perform pujas and garland the TV before airing of each episode. NAATAK’s performance will likely inspire the audience to find entertainment and perhaps engage in quiet reflection about values, principles, and moral code of ethics.  This is a not-to-miss show of this theater season in the bay area. It retains the original flavor with Hindi dialogues but English supertitles are projected on the screen above. Tickets can be obtained at www.naatak.org .
PS: Thank you Kyle for Pictures by kyleadlerphotography

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Rashomon – Play Review (Naatak.org show)


Image result for naatak, rashomonDirector Savitha Samu exceeded all expectations in direction of psychological thriller Rashomon in NAATAK.org production. The story centers around human tendency to embellish the transpired events where facts take on different hues in each narrator’s mind.

Originally, Rashomon was written as a short story by Akutagawa. In 1950, it came out as a film, directed by renowned Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa. It won several awards and is considered among the greatest films ever made and brought Japanese cinema on world stage. Incredibly challenging to produce live on stage, Naatak’s superb cast did a fabulous job. The story centers around various characters narrating harrowing incident that involves a murder.  Set in Mumbai, everyone involved, directly or indirectly, offers an account of the events that transpired on that fateful stormy day.

Image result for naatak, rashomonEach and every single member of the cast including Rohit Dube, Kukund Marathe, Natraj Kumar, Vineet Mishra, Maunic Dharia, Ranjita Chakravary, and those playing as shadows and dhol players did complete justice to their challenging roles. But truly memorable were Ekta Brahmkshatri and Rajiv Nema in some of the most challenging roles I have ever seen on Naatak’s stage.

This story speaks to  amazing capabilities of human mind that four different people offer detailed descriptive report of what transpired. Each narrator embellishes the report from their perspective, providing subjective, alternative, self-serving and often contradictory versions of the same incident, that renders their version unique and unlike any other. Five contrasting accounts of the same murder by five different individuals is enough to shake up from the core, anyone’s faith in pure and unadulterated truth with all its rawness and holds deep and profound implications for credibility of eyewitness accounts, role of perceptions and biases, and basic human right of justice for all. (see my book review on “American Marriage http://bit.ly/2Kzewz1 ).  Tickets for Naatak shows are available at www.naatak.org and don’t forget to get a season pass to enjoy the shows at discounted price.

 

 

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Book Club – Movie Review


Inspired by the steamy bestseller “Fifty Shades of Grey”, the movie “Book Club” offers for the fainthearted, the best comedy, minus any actual S&M action. A group of senior women, Vivian (Jane Fonda), Diane (Diane Keaton), Sharon (Candice Bergen) and Carol  (Mary Steenburgen) choose to read the steamy bestseller and the result is a superbly funny comedy. These women are not the only high profile star cast. The men who enter their lives also make a fine cast and also deserve a special mention; they are, Mitchell (Andy Garcia), Bruce (Craig T. Nelson), Arthur (Don Johnson), George (Richard Dreyfuss), Tom (Ed Begley Jr.).
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The desire for intimate companionship for seniors and perhaps for women more than men, is often relegated to the trash heap, in the channels of intimacy. While in some cultures, desire for intimacy among women may be a matter of amusement or may be discouraged in the espoused interest of safety, in others, it is actively frowned upon, banned and even punished.. (Watch my review of a similar Bollywood movie “Lipstick Under My Burkha” http://bit.ly/2p5b2Xm ). Cold showers is a remedy often prescribed in India, for any “wayward thoughts of intimacy”.

Image result for book club, movieBut it is not just in the realm of physical intimacy that this film delivers. Loneliness and craving for a companion who may be at similar stage in life, is often one of the most significant need among senior citizens. The film scores on addressing both of these issues, the significance of companionship and the need for physical intimacy, and shows how they sometimes (but not always) go hand in hand.  Very likely these women have been doing book club for years. Maybe the right impetus, right circumstances did not arrive until this moment when all of them are intrigued with the thought of exploring the idea of intimacy and provide mutual encouragement. It matters but little, as long as they seized the moment.

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Using the steamy book as a stepping stone, these women explore the aspect of physical intimacy; and at first kicking and screaming and later gently, glide into the cozy realm of emotional intimacy. They all at first, seem to concur with Vivian that “emotional connection is highly overrated” and make a pact “we shall not go gentle into the good night”. Brilliant and witty use of metaphors supplies an endless stream of humor. These feisty, fearless, independent women who provide companionship, solace and support to each other, fight the focus on softer, gentler aspects of intimacy with the opposite sex, for as long as they could. But in the end they find that physical intimacy is that much more satisfying and joyous when they are or if they are also able to find emotional connection.  Even those among this feisty group, who can’t find intimacy, get it. Sharon sums up about love (and it is rephrased here), love does not happen because the person is intelligent or pretty and it’s not the sun or the moon or all the meaning we load onto it; love is just a word, until someone gives it meaning, and you find that someone when you put yourself out there.  \

It is a beautiful movie and on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being excellent, I rate it 4.7 – in theaters now.

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Razi – Bollywood Movie Review


Directed by Meghna Gulzar, Razi is a spy thriller mixed with personal relationship drama. It is a fictitious adaptation of Harinder Sikka’s “Calling Sehmat”, a novel he was inspired to write after he tracked the woman who spied on Pakistan, during the 1971, Indo Pak war.

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Sehmat (incredible Aliya Bhatt) was born to a Kashimiri Muslim father Idayat Khan (Rajit Kapur) and a Hindu mother Tej (Soni Razdan). From her parents from an early age, Sehmat not only imbibed the lessons of patriotism towards her mother nation India, but was also a devoted daughter and felt compelled to continue in her father’s legacy of intelligence gathering for India. She was unaware of the vital role her father had played in establishing a spy network and gaining trusted close relationship within Pakistani military’s inner circle.  When she learned of her father’s activities, at the same time, she and her mother also learned about his illness and how it remained upto Sehmat to help her mother country and take her father’s place in the spy network.

Image result for razi movieSehmat is young, determined, devotedly patriotic and unafraid to take on the challenges. Alia Bhat truly shines in her role and does full and complete justice to her character.  She is at an age where she may be as yet unable to comprehend the deep and devastating impact of what she was about to do on herself and others, embedding herself with the enemy in a much deeper way than her father. Also other characters including her Pakistani husband Iqbal Syed (Vicky Kaushal) and father in law Brigadier Syed (Shishir Sharma) are fantastic and give a memorable performance to make this a gripping film.

My dissatisfaction is not with superb performance of the cast and Gulzar’s direction to bring the story to life. It is undeniable that the indispensable information received from a young woman, at great risk to her own life, helped India save lives, and ultimately control seas around both sides of Pakistan and save INS Vikrant, that was Indian pride. In the end, Indian Navy’s superiority on the seas allowed a naval blockade that was vital and led to the liberation of East Pakistan, now Bangladesh.

So why does the storyline and Sehmat’s role and character as they are portrayed gnaw at me?  Here are all the reasons. This is a conflicting film and I have conflicting perspectives. See below.

  1. First of all, I cannot come to terms that her own father enabled his innocent  young daughter to put herself in such perilous harm and that her mother would not put up a strong fight against it. As Sikka himself had once said in an interview, “I am yet to fathom how Sehmat’s father, a rich businessman in Kashmir then, could push his daughter to do such a dangerous thing”. Remember it was not the same goal as gaining independence and throwing the enemy out of the country, this was done to gain military superiority in a war.
  2. Secondly, I feel this is a human story with multiple perspectives but this is not primarily a patriotism story. This movie is different from movies like Chak De! India, Bhag Milkha Bhag, Lagaan, Mary Kom etc. where we don’t know anything about characters on the other side. In this movie, we see characters on the Pakistani side and learn about them and are touched by their own dedication for their country and their extreme kindness to Sehmat. Once a director does that then there is a responsibility to make it a human story where audience walks away with compassion for all, not just for one side. After all everyone was doing what was best for their country.
  3. Image result for razi movieCrucially, while intelligence gathering is a significant mission for any country, it is one thing to establish some trusted relationships to get the intelligence from. The complexity of this business of trust building and then crushing is goes up when it is between two trusted friends but it multiples when a person gets involved in an intimate relationship, gains access and lives within the family and spies on the members who shower the individual with infinite kindness and love. The best dialog I liked was a simple one. When General Syed learned of his own daughter-in-law’s role, he was berating her and his son said one simple sentence that whatever she did, she was doing for her country. If he can try to understand her, we have the same responsibility to feel empathy for them.
  4. Image result for razi movieAnd that brings me to my most important point. While as an Indian, I am proud and grateful for Sehmat’s role in the war, as a character in the movie, it is the character of her husband Iqbal Syed that I admire most. He was infinitely kind to her, respectful to her, was mindful of the different circumstance she grew up in, made efforts to make her feel at home, tried to understand her ties to her birth place and understood that she could be hurt if anything negative was mentioned about her birth place. He was a patriotic man who was also a good husband and son to his parents. Sehmat, on the other hand, like a snake, destroyed the lives and happiness of those most kind and closest to her and yet at the end, she audaciously engaged in a tirade accusing her mentor of doing unscrupulous things while beseeching him to take her back to India, before she became like them. Really? Her character had already proven to be worse.
  5. Lastly, this is infact a human story with great significance. And anyone who is put in a position or chooses to do what Sehmat did, does take an enormous toll. In real life, she suffered from severe PTSD.

 

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October: Bollywood Movie Review


In the movie “October”, there are no head spinning dance moves or villain trying to seduce the heroine or evil mother-in-law fomenting trouble. Without any over dramatization, Juhi Chaturvedi’s writing and Shoojit Sircar’s direction has created a masterpiece about love and humanity that isn’t cognitively complex but on the contrary, it’s simplicity stirs your soul.

Image result for October movieDan (Varun Dhawan), a hotel management student is an intern at a top notch hotel. While his batch mates are serious about their careers, Dan seems to be fumbling his way through. He certainly has no passion for his chosen career, shows little focus and dedication and plays many pranks that constantly gets him in trouble with his superiors. His batch mates try and cover for him but also tire of it and lecture him to shape up. Dan has simply not found his life’s purpose.

Image result for October movieIn a freak accident, one of his colleagues, Shiuli (Banita Sandhu) falls from the height of 30 feet and lands up at the hospital, in a coma. To the writer and director’s enormous credit, nothing that happens is overly dramatized. There isn’t overly complicated medical diagnosis, doctors are kind and humane, recovery progresses slowly. Banita Sandhu has given a fantastic performance as a comatose patient, from blank and stoic stares to gradual eye movements to emerging into consciousness with just few simple words, over a period of weeks and months.

Image result for October movie, Rachica OswalBut it is Dan’s reaction to the sudden incident that the story centers around. For some unknown reason, Dan is deeply affected by his colleague’s medical emergency. His involvement in her medical care and his soul stirring emotional journey, the gentle development of his character and characters of those around him including Shiuli’s mother, Vidya Iyer (incredibly well played by Gitanjali Rao), as well as that of the doctor and the nurse treating Shiuli and many of her friends is all seamless and graceful.

There is a short scene that tugs at your heartstrings where Dan’s mother (Rachica Oswal) visits Shiuli and there meets her mother, Vidya. This short scene is a tribute to mothers, who never give up, no matter how challenging the journey. Dan’s mother is not happy with Dan lacking career focus, wasting his fees that the the family has scrambled to pay, but despite noting his failures, she does not get judgemental about her son or give up on her son. Dan’s mother wants to continue to be a part of his life and understand for herself what moves him. And then there is Shiuli’s incredible mother who refuses to give up on her comatose daughter, despite many pressures of being a sole breadwinner and single parent to three children. Despite her life turning upside down by overwhelming medical emergency of her daughter, she finds solace and grace to be a pillar of strength and security for her two other children. She understands that life will always go on, if not for her own joy, at least for their sake, for their future.

This is a beautiful, gentle, graceful movie about love and humanity, and on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being excellent, I rate it a 4.8.

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Unicorns by NAATAK – Play Review


“How can we make user experience like flushing a toilet”, rhetorically questions Silicon Valley startup CEO, Mike Jordan (Barnaby Falls), in Anush Moorthy’s play “Unicorns”, a satire on modern era startups. It’s a perfect script to be presented without the elaborate set, costumes, or lights, to a small, intimate gathering of Silicon Valley audience. The play was performed on second stage at Mountain View Center for Performing Arts, by NAATAK company which has won for three years in a row in 2015, 2016, and 2017, the San Jose Mercury News Reader’s Choice Award, for “Best Live Theatre in Silicon Valley”.

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Unicorns traces an engineer’s journey as he joins Oberherr, a high valuation startup. Paranoid Silicon Valley culture has made it imperative for Oberherr, to be extremely secretive regarding their products and offerings. In the absence of talking about their products, in order to get noticed before the big launch and the IPO, the company banks on heavy use of buzzwords. Mike often says, “at Oberherr, we imaginate, innovate, ideate”. Dressed in the style made fashionable among high achievers by  Apple’s former boss, Steve Jobs, in black turtleneck and blue jeans, Mike insists, their engineers “create things from nothingness”.

The company has eliminated desks to enable free flow of thinking and interaction and employees are forbidden to talk about the company, outside its premises. And then there is a palpable omnipresence of the board (Havish Ravipati) keeping a tight focus on the impending IPO. All this paranoia and cutthroat mentality has created interesting dynamics at Oberherr. While Radhika (Tannistha Mukherjee) is highly territorial and least helpful to newbies, her accomplishments go unnoticed in supposedly “egalitarian” workplace, dominated by men.  Ramanathan (Natraj Kumar) has learned to get noticed by sucking up to Mike, and Robin (Rohit Mukherjee) stays out of trouble by staying focused on his laptop. Sahil (Varghese Muthalaly) is fabulous in his role as a new engineer joining Oberherr whose fortune rises and tumbles at the blink of an eye. Sahil shares a healthy camaraderie with a fellow software engineer, Joyce (Aparna Warrier) but couldn’t explain even to his wife Priya (Preeti Bhat) about company’s products.

As seen from a few recent debacles, (one of the prominent one being Theranos) there are interesting shortcomings in the hyped up Silicon Valley startup culture.  The focus on speed and short term gains, at the expense of long term vision and value-add of its offerings is often proportionately correlated with diminishing concern for people, true teamwork and quality of life. People become pawns in a system when stretching the truth isn’t just overlooked but sometimes admired, in quest for world domination and mad rush to IPOs.  Unicorns by NAATAK is a fantastic spoof on the Silicon Valley startup culture. This is a not-to-miss play of this theater season in the bay area. Tickets may be available at www.naatak.com .

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Lipstick Under My Burkha – Movie Review


Directed by Alankrita Shrivastava, 2017 Bollywood film, “Lipstick Under My Burkha” gives an intimate, powerful glimpse into the lives of four women; Rihana (Plabita Borthakur) draped in burkha at home, helps her parents in sewing burkhas, but outside she does a quick identity change and steps into her jeans and sings Led Zeppelin songs; Shireen (Konkona Sen Sharma) lives the story of a submissive wife with her chauvinistic husband at home and excels at her secret job as a saleswoman during the day,  Leela (Aahana Kumra) works as a beautician and finds solace in sex, and Usha (Ratna Pathak Shah) is the respected Buaji to her family but in the lonely hours of the night, dreams of men and has clandestine phone sex.

Image result for lipstick under my burkha movieStories of these women unfold in the midst of a background narrative of Rozi, a fictional heroine in one of the racy romance novels that Buaji hides in her religious tomes and reads in her spare time. These four women live their lives on the the thin line between reality and dreams. They have to routinely lie, cheat and steal to rob few moments of joy from their unbearable lives.

Their stories are poignant and touching and at the same time, ordinary. For the most part, Indian society exhibits a great deal of hipocrisy. While hipocrisy in Indian society extends to practices and observances around religious rituals, behavior around elders, and observance of class and caste, most prominent and often shocking hipocritical norms and double standards are observed in expectations and prescribed rules of behavior specific to each gender. While a man lusting after a younger woman or having an affair outside his marriage may be looked down upon, it is considered much less severe than if a woman may have committed these offences; and how a society punishes a woman for the same offense if often far more harsh. Similarly, while most boys and men have freedom to wear clothes they choose, and have wide degrees of professional freedom, it is simply not so for women.

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This movie offers a window into the lives of ordinary women who strike deals with societal restrictions on a daily basis with alternating periods of acquiescing to the norms and restrictions and determinedly enjoying periods of bliss when they can. But the beauty in this movie is that it is also poignant in where this journey ends for these women, in the movie. While it is unclear how life will eventually unfold for each of these women, these ostracized women come together as comrades; they talk, laugh, and read and discuss Rozi’s fictional story. What is abundantly clear is that it is not the system that will change to accommodate them. The change will have to come from them and from their greater understanding and support of each other; that change only begins with dreams but it will take enormous commitment and courage on the path to greater fulfillment of the promise.

As Rihana reads last few pages of Rozi’s story, she comments
ye story bhi juth bolti hai, hamari life kharab ka deti hai
Translation: this fictional story also tells us lies
and Usha responds ……………
juth bolti hai shayad sapne dekhne ki himmat deti hai
Translation: It tells lies but gives us courage to dream
And  narration continues……….
Khidki ki salakhe ab rozi ko rok nahi sakti. Rozi ne bar savare, aansu ponche aur chokhat ke bahar kud padi.  pinjde me bandh sapno ki chabi akhir rozi ke dil ke andar hi thi.
Translation: Bars on the window can’t stop Rozi any more. Rozi combs her hair, dries her tears and jumps out. Photo of dreams locked inside the cage was after all inside Rozi’s heart.

Sometimes dream is a genie that is hard to push back in a bottle. As Dr. Martin Luther King famously said, “I have a dream” that started the process of change in the American society. Dreams help us imagine the possibilities and pave the path for courage and commitment required to change what has been until then normal.  This is a beautiful movie and on a scale of 1 to 5 (with 5 being excellent), I rate it 4.8. This review is slightly late for women’s day but still in the window of women’s history month :).  Wishing all warrior women who drive the change on a daily basis and all courageous men who dare to dream of fair and inclusive society, a very happy women’s month.

 

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Muavze – NAATAK Play Review


Set in an unnamed city in India, Naatak’s current play Muavze gives a peak in the world of Indian politics where everything has a price; everyone has a price and everyone have learned to extract whatever they can when the cards are played. Written by Bhisham Sahni and directed by Harish Agastya this play is a witty and hilarious satire on how everyone begins to plot ways of benefiting from the communal riots when it looks as if the riots are imminent. Interspersed with colorful Bollywood type songs and dances and brilliant set, the play keeps the audience riveted. Kudos to Ritwik Verma and Harish Agastya for very apt lyrics, Rajesesh Tripathi and Saurabh Jain and team for absolutely incredible sets and props,  Anitha Dixit and Srikar Srinath for fantastic music, Manish Sabu for English supertitles, and entire large cast for excellent acting. Photo credit to Kyle Adler at kadlerphotography.com/events/naatak-muavze/

The word “Muavze”, meaning compensation is a relieving word and it is an irony that everyone is eyeing for ways to distill some form of personal advantage from what is expected to be most bloody communal fighting. Apparently a dead horse is an instigation for entire community to go into riot prep mode. While no one thinks of ways to prevent the riots, everyone is preparing for them from politicians who are keeping prepared speeches to be given at the beginning and end of the riot, to speech writers, to police team going on high alert ready to intervene after the riot begins, but not before, to arms and knives sellers hawking their wares to the highest bidders. Even some brave individuals are preparing to sacrifice the men in their families so that the remaining members of the family can benefit from the compensation that the government has announced, for anyone killed during the riots.  It is such an irony that value of life and limb is predetermined and therefore the riot is now looked at by everyone as a mere fact of life to deal with and benefit in ways they can. It is absolute genius of Bhisham Sahni that he has taken most terrifying subject of communal bloodshed and expressed it as a comedy, without losing sight of the intensity and impact of the riots in a community.

It is also absolute genius of brilliant director Agastya that he has managed to transform the play into an amusing musical through catchy lyrics and parody music, without losing the seriousness of the subject. Starting with juxtaposition of opposing words like riots and compensation, the entire play offers a medley of opposing ideas, characters, actions, settings, and phrases. For instance, a contract killer adheres to strict code of ethics and also does not drink alcohol so he can go home, drink milk, and forget about the killings and sleep happily. There is juxtaposition of settings and also of lyrics in songs, for instance, parody of song, “Some of my favorite things” in film Sound of Music has become “Muavza jo de de humko” and song “Vaada tera vaada” of film Dushman has become “Yeh hai mera neta”.

While the play is a window into the world of the communal fighting and the toll it extracts in a community, it also speaks to immense resilience of human beings. When extremely heart-rending situations become a way of life and get ingrained in the system, when human beings are mere cogs in a gigantic wheel, unable to stop or challenge, then their choices are to get crushed by the gigantic wheel or become part of running it and extract personal benefit.  The ultimate irony is that when masses pick up the call to propagate the system then the system gets more entrenched and the play ends in a nightmare when contract killer is popularly chosen to become the political leader. Kudos to NAATAK for such a timely play. This is an absolutely brilliant and not-to-miss play of this theater season in the bay area. For tickets, go to www.naatak.com .

 

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