Archive for category Hindi – Bollywood Movie Reviews– Play Reviews– NAATAK– Poems– Event Reports

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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Mela at Naatak – Play Review


Currently Bay Area’s naatak company is presenting its 59th production at Cubberley Theater in Palo Alto.  This production is naatak’s annual “mela”, a sort of theater fair. There are five short plays in five Indian languages; Marathi, Tamil, Gujarati, Bengali, Hindi and Improv comedy in Hinglish. English subtitles are projected for each short play above the stage. This is an absolutely beautiful way to showcase and enjoy India’s rich linguistic and cultural heritage. After a span of 21 years, naatak can proudly claim to have broughts 55 world class plays on stage. Over 850 performers have participated in these productions and 60,000+ attendees have enjoyed these shows.

पाचव्या मजल्यावरचा वेडा  – The Mad Man On the Fifth Floor – Marathi

The script for Marathi play is written by Anil Sonar. It is produced by Adwait Joshi and brilliant direction is provided by Anannya Joshi. A madman precariously positioned on the ledge of a fifth floor window is being watched by the crowd below. Some have deep concern and others don’t want to miss the excitement and yet some others are waiting with anticipation to the gruesome climax of the show with the madman jumping to his death. But what is this man up there? What is his story?

 লোকে কি বলবে? – What will people say – Bengali

Directed by Sudipta Chatterjee and produced by Deepika Sriraman, and based on “He Said, She Said” by Alice Gerstenberg, this Bengali play is translated and adapted by Sudipta Chatterjee and Harish Agastya. This short play focuses on the favorite Indian pass time, “gossip”. Casting is beautiful. A woman shares some juicy gossip about a romantic dalliance involving some friends. So interesting is a role played by gossip specially of romantic nature, in Indian culture, that targets of such gossip are often compromised and vilified so strongly that they can’t just let it go but instead feel compelled to justify, defend and give excuses. Will the gossipy woman have finally met her match in the strong woman targeted by the gossip?

Naatak Improv Hinglish

Naatak organization has matured so phenomenally that it can boldly brag to present improv comedy that is spontaneous and creative. In this short segment directed by Neha Goyal and Abhay Paranjape, a brilliant cast of characters perform improv games based on audience suggestions.

காஞ்சியின் துயரம் – A Tragedy in Kanchi – Tamil

Based on “A Florentine Tragedy”, a never completed play by Oscar Wilde, this play is set in 1930s during the Chola period, whereby a silk merchant confronts his beautiful wife and her royal lover. Will the play have an ending that befits the crime? Tamil speaking audience members are likely to greatly enjoy Kalapathy Sundaram’s brilliant translation. The projected English subtitles give some clue but it is hard to fully enjoy Wildesque witticisms in fast projected subtitles. Directed by Soumya Agastya and produced by Archana Kamath, this short play could well be Tamil speaking literature lovers’ treat.

 खिड़की – The Window – Hindi

Based on “The Open Window” by Saki (H H Munro) and adapted for the stage by Mugdha Kulkarni, is also directed by Mugdha Kulkarni and produced by Chaitanya Godsay.  This is a mystery about a missing husband, where an open living room window comes to play a significant role. The fear experienced by a young visitor is palpable and imaginative description of the lost man gives no clue to his disappearance until…………. Well, you’ll have to see it.

સાંભળ, તું બહાર જાય છે? – Everyone loves an errand boy – Gujarati

Based on Saadat Hasan Manto’s play, “Aao baat suno” this short play is adapted by Paresh Vyas and Vikas Dhurka and is directed by Natraj Kumar and produced by Devika Ashok. A lazy Sunday is transformed gradually into a comedy of errors, err…. into a comedy of errands. O M G — it is hilarious and also features the best dialogue, “Et tu brute” errr…. “Et tu Rajesh”.

For tickets to Naatak’s 59th Mela production, go to www.naatak.com .But hurry. There are only 2 more shows and tickets are selling out fast.

 

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Badshaho – Movie Review


Image result for badshahoDirected by Milan Luthria, film Badshaho is set during India’s emergency era of 1975, about 27 years post independence, when a few laggard prince and princesses were still struggling to hide their collections of gold, silver and other precious artifacts. During that time Rani Gitanjali’s (Ileana D’Cruz) palace in Jaipur is raided and she is arrested for withholding gold without declaration.

Rani Gitanjali is a political maverick and she understands how the game is played in politics. She believes that despite government seizing her gold, it is more likely to fall in the hands of corrupt political leaders, especially the one she has spurned. She gets the news that the gold is to be transferred via road to Delhi in a truck. Gitanjali arranges with her trusted prior bodyguard Bhawani Singh (Ajay Devgan) to intercept the transfer and seize it back from Major Seher Singh (Vidyut Jamwal), the officer in charge of the transfer. Bhawani Singh recruits help from Gitanjali’s trusted friends and helpers, Sanjana (Esha Gupta) Guruji (Sanjay Mishra) and Dalia (Emraan Hashmi).

Image result for badshahoThe journey between Jaipur and Delhi is marked by many twists and turns, obstacles, and revelations of heart thumping secrets. Emran Hashmi has done a fabulous job and keeps us riveted with his banter and jokes. Esha Gupta and Sanjay Mishra also give great performance. As always, Ajay Devgan’s performance suits the role of more serious, slightly angry, goal focused hero. So focused he is in serving, he says, जुबान और जान सिर्फ एक ही बार जावे. Ileana’s performance is also good. Specifically telling is her slightly awkward, distant stance every time she interacts with her subjects. Story is fast moving and holds the interest. Unfortunately, it seems like the budget ran out before this riveting drama can be brought to a meaningful climax. The end feels abrupt and takes away from what could have been a thrilling end where not only corruption meets justice but trust and friendship are rewarded. Perhaps the waiting airplane could have been put to good use to create such an end!

On a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being excellent, I rate this movie 4.2  

 

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Punjab Nahi Jaungi – Movie Review


“Punjab Nahi Jaungi”, a beautiful film coming out of Pakistani Cinema is brilliantly directed by Nadeem Beyg. Not only the accent is lovely to listen to but the dialogues are beautiful.  Writing credits go to Khalil-ur-Rehman and Qamar.

Image result for punjab nahin jaongiSoon after Fawad Khagga (Humayun Saeed) returns home to Faisalabad after earning an MA, he plunges headlong into finding and then acquiring his “Heer”. Coincidentally, Amal (Mehwish Hayat) has also just returned to Karachi after completing her studies in London. Fawad’s mother makes the journey to welcome Amal, daughter of close family friends and instantly likes Amal and plans with her husband and father-in-law to ask for her hand for her son, Fawad.  Fawad receives Amal’s photo and instantly falls in love with her. Meanwhile his cousin Durdana (Urwa Hocane) is in love with him and unsuccessfully tries to win his love.

Here Amal rejects Fawad’s proposal as she explains to her grandmother, Bibouji that she is against feudalism.  Lest anyone imagines that this will turn into a typical feminist movie where a young woman fights the system to win her love, let me assure you that is not how the story proceeds. On the other hand it is also not a non-feminist movie. Sorry for the double negative.

Image result for punjab nahin jaongiSo you may ask, “is it a feminist movie or is it not a feminist movie”? In truth, it is a love story where a woman is stronger and smarter than any men she encounters. In fact, all women are stronger than the men around them. While there is one short moment where Amal tries to make her husband a CEO of the company she grows, she does not try to dumb down herself and no one in her immediate circles thinks any less of her. It is a story where she does not have to take on the feudal system that may seek to keep her closed behind a veil. And yet when the men in her life misbehave, they learn fast about the fury of the woman scorned.  Any attempts that are made by the family members are not to change HER but HIM. As the misbehaving man is explained that mistake is his and therefore he has to accept her decision because he can’t succeed going against her because after all.. “ महोब्बत में औरत से कोई जीता नहीं है और नफरत में औरत से कोई हारा नहीं है.”

Image result for punjab nahin jaongiWhile the message is deep and the story is poignant at times, it is also a comedy with many funny moments and fantastic dialogues, delivered at the right moments. One such dialog is about a moment of infidelity. At one point, Amal’s husband feels envious of her business success and turns to the villainess, holds her in intimate embrace and says “please help me”. It would have been the start of infidelity but it got interrupted by Amal’s entry. Amal is furious and insists that he is guilty because his intention was bad. She takes her case to her family and her husband’s family. Almost everyone rises to her defense against her husband and quotes the sentence “please help me” as evidence of the infidelity that would have happened.

Nadeem Bayg’s direction is flawless. The story of respect for women is beautifully told without over dramatization or examples of grave injustice to women.  Maywish Hayat wins over hearts with her graceful, effortless performance.

On a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being excellent, I rate this movie 4.8 .

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Toba Tek Singh: Play Review (naatak.com)


Toba Tek Singh is yet another example of NAATAK company’s efforts to bring bold and audacious plays in Indian languages or with Indian theme, on stage.  Very special credits for this amazing production go to brilliant director Sujit Saraf who adapted the original story for stage, to brilliant producer who wears multiple hats, Soumya Agastya and to brilliant music director, Nachiketa Yakkundi. Based off of the original story written by Saadat Hasan Manto, Toba Tek Singh focuses on exchange of inmates in a Lahore asylum, after the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. The ensuing conflict between India and Pakistan displaced nearly 15 million people and nearly 1 million people died during the migration, leaving behind a bloody legacy. The story of Toba Tek Singh is not only a powerful satire on the events that transpired in the aftermath of the violent division but when observed through the eyes of a madman, one can’t help but feel that he was the only sane person questioning the ridiculousness of the entire situation, in a sea of complete and utter lunacy.

Image may contain: 10 people, people smiling, people standingPerformed with live music and phenomenal dances by women in colorful costumes, the lunacy of the bloody events feels even more stark. Toba Tek Singh is the largest production in Naatak’s 22 year history.  It is amazing and delightful to see the huge entire cast perform their roles flawlessly. But it is the live musicians, under the leadership of Yakkundi and amazing dancers under the leadership of choreographers, Shaira Bhan and Snigdha Singh that this special story was transformed into a grand musical.

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When the British
left India divided and splintered, clear borders were not announced until after the division, throwing millions of people into chaos and confusion. In an immediate aftermath, there began one of the greatest migrations in human history, as millions of Hindus and Sikhs began the trek towards India and millions of Muslims in the opposite direction towards Pakistan in the West and East. While millions and millions were displaced and left homeless, nearly a million never made it as people were massacred during migration, some were abducted and many were raped, forced into sexual slavery, and left disfigured and dismembered. But lunetics housed in the mental asylums were safe from this madness.

Image may contain: 3 people, people sittingThe story of Toba Tek Singh begins in 1948, a year after the partition, when the governments of India and Pakistan decide that the lunatics living in the mental asylums must also be exchanged so that Muslim lunatics in India may be sent to Pakistan, while Hindu and Sikh lunatics in Pakistan may be sent to India.  One of the lunatics is a Sikh inmate named Bishan Singh who is to be sent under police escort to India from Lahore. Bishan Singh wants to remain in a country where his home village Toba Tek Singh remains and he asks several people where Toba Tek Singh is.  He is alternately told it is in India and then told it is in Pakistan. When he finally believes that his hometown Toba Tek Singh will be part of the new Pakistan, he refuses to go to India and lies down right in the middle, in the no man’s land.

When you watch the play, you somehow feel that Bishan Singh is the only man true to his feelings, unlike Naidu or Jinnah or Gandhi or Nehru or Mountbatten or Edwina or Godse who are all caught up in their own self serving versions and visions of the event.  Each one of the other characters use multiple tactics and strategies, plot and craft to manipulate and maneuver the events to fit their vision. Bishan Singh simply wants to live in a place he has known as home because home is where the heart is and to get uprooted from homeland is like getting  your heart ripped out.

Toba Tek Singh will be running in Woodside, CA till July 29, 2017. Get your tickets at www.naatak.com .

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Soundwaves: The Passion of Noor Inayat Khan – Play Review


Image result for noor inayat khanEnActe Arts recently produced Soundwaves: The Passion of Noor Inayat Khan.  

Stories of India inextricably linked with that of its neighbors, the collective that makes South Asia, have always been fascinating and generate universal interest. En Acte Arts company founded by Vinita Sud Belani focuses on bringing these fascinating tales on stage, with multi ethnic cast and crew. Their recent production, Soundwaves: The passion of Noor Inayat Khan told the story of Noor who was born from a union of Indian father and American mother, in January, 1914.  

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 Noor imbibed lessons of sufi tradition and during her formative years she focused on music and writing children’s stories. However, the rise of fascism and Nazi invasion of France altered her focus and she became a British spy in occupied France. Given Noor’s interest in music, the play’s heavy theme is beautifully blended with music and dance. This inspirational story is written for stage by Joe Martin. The play is beautifully directed by Vinita Sud Belani and Music composer was Randy Armstrong. Akaina Ghosh is clearly very talented actress and did an awesome job in bringing Noor’s character to life.

EnActe Arts has grown in stature and influence in the bay area. This was a bold production of telling an inspirational story with many twists and turns.  The play featured a large cast and EnActe did a fabulous job.  I will be watching for future plays from this theater company.  For tickets, go to www.enacte.org .

 

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“Airport Insecurity” – Play Review


Current play “Airport Insecurity” written and directed  by Vikas Dhurka is NAATAK company’s (www.naatak.org, Twitter @naatak) 56th production and features a comedic yet horrifying tale of an Indian immigrant on work visa, who loses his passport, wallet, and mobile phone at the airport, in a foreign, unfamiliar country, while in transit.

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No one wants to be stuck in an indefinite limbo in transit, but Vijay (
Varun Dua) has especially urgent need to return home to the US where his wife Priya (Devika Ashok) is about to deliver in what is turning out to be a high risk pregnancy.  Vijay gets caught in a complex bureaucratic labyrinth where he cannot travel anywhere without a passport, US is not responsible for his “situation” since he is not a US passport holder, Germany will not allow him entry since he does not have a passport on which a temporary visa can be stamped, and his home country India requires that he travel to India where a new passport can be issued to him. In order to travel to India without a passport, he has to jump through multitude of forms and submit to background checks that can take upwards of 30 days or more, while spending days in Lufthansa lounge at the airport and spending nights in the airport travel area.  

As Vijay makes several calls to the Consulate General of India offices in various cities and while he encounters usual tactics of evasiveness, comments regarding inconvenient timing, Vijay then encounters a kindly Indian official from the CGI who meets Vijay at the airport and explains to him, “here are some forms to fill out; most of them are necessary but not important”. India has inherited such a stupendous bureaucratic procedural system, a legacy of the British rule, that navigating one’s way through the system can be a nightmare but also creates a comedy of errors and that regaled the audience. Indeed, India has made a huge progress but we still have ways to go. I will describe my own experience of losing my passport below.

Meanwhile, Vijay also meets kindness and compassion along the way.  In the end, the solution comes from his own ingenuity and from a country that relies on fairness and swift solutions, where you don’t need to know someone important to get a resolution, where compassion is built into the system, where no one needs to suffer endlessly without reason. I may have misspoken — err solution came from a country that was all that and more but in its quest to make itself “great”, it may lose the status of being the best; a country where an Indian immigrant techie caught in the current hate rhetoric is now more likely to lose his life in a little bar in Kansas, and incredulous Indian parents may be less likely to enable their children to go a country where struggle may not be about climbing the ladder of success but about staying alive and finding tolerance.

This comedic tragic tale is also relevant in the context of what happened to many hundreds of people caught in wake of the current administration travel ban. Caught off guard, caught in transit, caught at airports that denied them entry after draining long journeys, many people encountered a surreal situation of being neither here nor there, of not belonging, unable to hug and find comfort and solace with their loved ones. Nation that evoked and inspired the best, left splintered families in a state of “airport insecurity” limbo.  NPR has discussed this not-to -miss play, relevant in the current context. See link https://ww2.kqed.org/arts/2017/02/24/silicon-valley-theatre-scene-bristles-with-political-edge-in-the-age-of-trump/ 

Great kudos to playwright and director Dhurka for showing one man’s incredible and true story with an appropriate dose of humor; kudos also to producer, Gopi Rangan and to NAATAK company for bringing 56 incredible plays relevant to the South East Asian community in the bay area. Over 60,000 attendees have enjoyed their shows, performed by over 850 artists. Get your season passes at www.naatak.org .  See below my own short story of loss of passport.

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The time when I lost my passport in India

I had meant to write a blog but it never happened. Here is a short saga of my own loss of passport. I had my passport and my purse stolen while traveling in India. It is a great  blessing to be an American citizen, if this were to happen to you. I traveled overnight to Mumbai and as I entered the American consulate, I stepped into an incredibly efficient and welcoming zone. I told them I wanted quickly a temporary passport that would enable me to travel back home. They issued a passport within 2 hours, while I waited in their comfy room. They also handed me a letter addressed to the Indian commissioner of Police stating that I had lost my visa with my passport and that India should immediately grant me a visa to leave the country and beseeched  them to “extend all cooperation for speedy permit to enable this American citizen to return home”.

That is where my saga begins. I was informed by the Indian office of police that they needed to do background check and it could take up to 30 days. I had to fill in all the forms online and then go to the office with forms printed in triplicate and wait for hours to get an appointment. When I asked why they needed forms online and in print and whether they followed automated system or manual system then I was informed that they followed “automated manual system). 

I was asked to first go to the police station in the locality where theft happened. When they said there was no one who can write a report, I requested that they give me the typewriter and I offered to write it up on their behalf and they allowed me to do that. Then I had to go the local police office in the area where I resided for 15 days as a tourist. Local office asked me to produce electricity bill where I resided. I had to request that from the owner of the property who took his own time to produce it. When I was asked to pay Rs. 3,000 in cash, I handed over a big bunch of Rs. 100 notes. They brought out a foolscap sheet of paper and asked me to write down the number of each note before standing in a line where they received payment. It took 7 days of going back and forth between police stations and offices before I was issued a small note that said it was okay for me to leave the country. Later at the airport, I noticed that the validity of this little document was expiring that very day. If for any reason I were to miss my flight or weather or technical or some other delay would occur than that little note obtained after such hard work would be invalid.

But then there were two things in my favor. I was an American citizen (brown skinned or not) at a time when America was still the best AND I wasn’t in transit, but rather in my home country, a country that I love and am proud that every day it is progressing in its quest to be better, more efficient, and more compassionate.

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