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

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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A Journey of Raagas in Hindustani Music


 

Image may contain: 3 people, indoorDarshana Bhuta Music Academy gave its 9th annual recital at JCNC, Jain Temple in Milpitas, CA.  Darshanaben, a mother and grand-mother is a highly accomplished artist.  Her accomplishments include numerous music Bhajan albums and a Hindi album with the title “On My Own” with lyrics by Rajesh Johri and music composed, arranged, and conducted by Shree Ashit Desai. Her other albums, “Amrit Bindu” and “Mere Praan Anandghan” were distributed by Venus Records. A woman of many talents, Darshanaben runs a highly successful music academy and her 45+ students range in age from 5 years to 85 years of age. All her students together gave an outstanding performance blending information, aalap, music and songs that included bhajans, ghazals, and Bollywood songs.

A raaga consisting of at least 5 notes, refers to the melodic mood in Hindustani classical music and is a central feature of Indian classical music, providing basic musical framework. There are 36 raagas and each one has emotional significance and is considered to be associated with season, time of day, and mood and each raaga is believed to have an impact on nature and is said to impact the emotions and mood of the audience. It is complicated to talk about raagas in this way but in this event it created an atmosphere of fun anticipation and adventure for the audience.

This entire program was organized around classical raagas that are considered suitable for different hours in the day. This incredible journey of raagas began with raaga Bhatiyaar that is sung in the first “prahar” or first hours of the day, between 4 am to 6 am. This raaga is said to possess healing qualities and to calm and console a grieved mind.

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Madhviben Mehta and Asimbhai Mehta gave commentary and performed the role of MC. Wife and husband duo are immensely popular musicians in their own right and enthrall audiences with their wonderful voices in various genres including geet, ghazals, bhajans, semi-classical songs and are bay area’s beloved raas-garba singers. They both have a number of albums to their credit which are available on iTunes and on Amazon music store.

Raaga Bhairav sung during the second prahar of the day between hours of 6 am and 12 noon, depicts peaceful, serious, and serene mood. The song from this raaga that Darshanaben had chosen was “Jago Mohan Pyare” from film “Jagte Raho”.  Raaga Charukeshi also sung during these hours, is newly adapted from Karnatik music to Hindustani music and is very melodious. The audience was enthralled listening to “Syam teri bansi pukare Radha naam” from the MC duo themselves, Madhviben and Asimbhai Mehta. Raaga Ahir Bhairav, is also sung during the second prahar of 6 am to 12 noon and depicts meditative mood of early morning hours. From 1963 film, “Meri Surat, teri ankhen”, the singers sang these beautiful lyrics…
Na kahi chanda, na kahi tare
Jyot ke pyase mere, nain bichare
Bhor bhi aas ki kiran na laayi
Pucho na kaise maine rain bitai

During the next prahar, from 12 noon to 4 pm, considered 3rd prahar of the day, raaga Bhimpalasi offers mood of bhakti and the singers sang Meerabai’s bhajan, “ari me to prem diwani”.  Also sung during this prahar, is raaga Brindabani Sarang that creates romantic and mystical mood.

Fourth prahar of the day begins towards the end of the busy day, from 6 pm to 8 pm. Raaga Bhopali sung at this time, known as Mohanam in Carnatic music, tends to be among the basic raagas of Hindustani music. Singers sang beautiful, melodious “jyoti kalash chhalke”. Raaga Yaman, also one of the  basic raagas, is sung during this fourth prahar and creates mood of bhakti and shringar, when a lover looks forward to welcoming the beloved. The halls reverberated with two beautiful melodies, “jab deep jale aana” from film Chitchor and “chandan sa badan” from 1968 film Saraswatichandra.  Raaga Madhuvanti also sung in the 4th prahar of 6-8pm, expresses gentle loving sentiment and all students sang together to honor this raaga.

The fifth prahar in the 24 hour cycle, takes us in the early  hours of the night between 8 pm and 10 pm. Raaga Kedar sung at this time, is offered in melodies to Lord Shiva and is therefore placed on a high pedestal in Indian classical music. Next, all students joined also by their Guru, Darshanaben and the MCs, together sang “Vande Mataram”, the national song of India, in Raaga Des and rightfully created a mood of compassion. Raaga Khamaj, also sung during these hours, creates light and enthralling mood and is sung in thumris, thappas, and bhajans. Singers sang Gandhiji’s favorite, Meerabai’s bhajan, “ Vaishanav jan to tene re kahiye”.

Raaga Kirvani creates a somber and romantic mood and raaga Bageshri creates a mood of “virah” or longing and are sung during the hours of 10 pm to 12 am when night is still young for lovers, especially for lonely lovers. As melodious song “Radha na bole re” was sung, it had just that effect.

The seventh prahar, between 12 am to 2 am offers two raagas.  Raaga Malkauns is one of the oldest raaga and renders serious and meditative mood, befitting the midnight hours. This raaga is believed to have calmed Lord Shiva and the group sang “pag ghungharoo bandh”. Raaga Darbari is a popular raaga sung deep in the night and is said to have therapeutic effect and to cure insomnia.  Audience revelled in the lulling melody “tora man darpan kahlaye” sung in this raaga. Literal translation of these lyrics is Your mind is the mirror. That reflects both good and bad, It watches the flow and reveals to all!

Last or eighth prahar in a 24 hour music cycle occurs between the hours of 2 am and 4 am. Raaga Kalawati is said to to create a pleasant, serene and welcoming mood for the new day, in the early hours.  The MCs sang beautiful composition “Shubh Swagatam” that was a welcoming song in recent Asian games opening ceremony. Shree Ashit Desai conducted Pandit Ravi Shankarji’s orchestral compositions for this song.  Raaga Bhairavi offered at the end of this beautiful journey of raagas is said to create an atmosphere of piety and amicability. When the group sang Zaverchand Meghani’s “kasumbino raang”, honoring the motherland, it had a truly mesmerizing effect on the audience.

img_20170204_194545123.jpgSuch an outstanding program not only speaks very highly of our beloved Darshanaben but also of the community of parents and singers in the bay area who support the academy and graced this occasion. A very special mention goes to the chief guest Shree Alap Desai who made a special journey from India, for this event. There aren’t words to describe this amazing young artist, singer, and composer. Born to artists and recipients of numerous distinctions and awards, Shree Ashit and Hema Desai, Alapji began his musical journey at a young age of 3 and has never looked back. He offers originality in his music and enthralled the audience with two beautiful songs, a bhajan, “baje muraliya baje” and a ghazal, and ended the program to a standing ovation from a packed audience.

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Mr. India (a grand musical) by NAATAK – Play Review


 

Written and directed by Sujit Saraf, this grand production, interspersed with dances and ear catching lyrics, is truly amazing.  Very special kudos to Dance Director, Niharika Mohanty and Music Director Nachiketa Yakkundi for bringing to life this grand musical in a very memorable way.  Although the dialogues and lyrics are all in Hindi, timely and apt English translation appears right above the stage so non-Hindi speaking people are not likely to miss a single dialogue.
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It starts with a story of Gopal.
कौन है ये गोपाल? उसका जवाब नाटक से ही लेते है. दिल्ली में है लाल किल्ला उसके पीछे यमुना की धार, उसकी बगल में है गोपाल पांडे की छोटी सी दुकान. छोटासा एक चाय स्टोल, आगे लगी लंबी कतार.  Half blind, bumbling tea seller, Gopal Pande is a simple man.  But he gets caught in the historical events that unfolded following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in India, in 1984.  Her assassination led to the country being thrown into chaos of anti-Sikh riots.  खून का बदला खून से लेंगे, हर सरदार के रुपये दस. wp-1474043149576.jpg

This play is a hard hitting satire on democracy.  Churchill once argued that democracy “was the worst system except for all the others.”   Churchill also said, “the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter”.  Indeed in the current election season in the US, we can see how divisive the country has become and how easy it is to sway the public, so that the polls tip the balance in favor of one candidate one week and the next week, numbers are reversed.

wp-1474043149572.jpgSo how does a humble tea seller get caught in the momentous events unfolding in India, after the assassination of Mrs. Gandhi.  There was a need for a strong political leader to unite the country and bring calm but instead the election resulted in a hung parliament in 1989.  Set during that turbulent period in history, the play depicts, ultra right BJP and left leaning Congress in bitter rivalry.  BJP is spreading lies about Congress and vice versa.  हम करते इंदिरा विरोध , समझे उसको मूर्ख अबोध, मुसलमान को देती किरपा, हिंदू मर्दों को निरोध.  Forces on the left and right are seeking to find a right leader to back, who could be manipulated and also who would be most easily acceptable to the public.

naatakThis foolish, uneducated simple man, Gopal becomes their object of attention.  We can see some parallels with the current elections where someone widely deemed unfit has become nominee of one party.  Sujit Saraf is undoubtedly one of the most brilliant directors.  Natraj Kumar in the role of Gopal is outstanding.  Also very special mention to Production Designer, Snigdha Jain for her vision in depicting the set as one big mural.  And kudos to Props Director, Savitha Samu and Sets Director, Ashish Divetia.  It is one of the best and one of the most complicated set I have seen on stage at Cubberly.  With a huge cast, complex set, big music and dance teams, the performance was flawless.  Shows are playing to sold out audiences.  If you don’t have your tickets then get them fast at www.naatak.com .

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August: Osage County – Play Review


 

San Francisco Bay Area’s Naatak theater company recently produced Tracy Lett’s Pulitzer Prize winning family drama, “August: Osage County”.  There are three more shows of this production, in the coming weekend.  For tickets, go to http://www.naatak.com

Naatak company was started in 1995, by a group of students and has since grown into the most prominent and largest Indian theater company, in the United States.  Naatak produces intelligent and entertaining plays and does not shy away from experimenting and bringing bold productions on stage, always expanding the perspective or largely Indian audience.  Naatak plays has increasingly become popular among non-Indian theatergoers as well.

Directed by brilliant Mukund Marathe, this play focuses on insanities and complexities of a highly and off the charts dysfunctional family.  Soon after Beverly Weston (Mukund Marathe) hires a live-in cook and caregiver, Johnna (Juhi Mohan), for his cancer afflicted, chain smoker and pills addicted, contentious wife, Violet (Ekta Brahmkshatri), he disappears.   Violet is then joined by her sister, Mattie Fae (Mughda Kulkarni) and her husband Charles (Zishan Mohammad) soon to be joined by their son, Little Charles (Ashish Divetia).

Complexity and dysfunctionality multiplies after Violet’s three daughters Ivy (Savitha Sami), living locally, Barbara (Suchitra Bose), and Karen (Sowmya Padmanabhan) appear, at her home.  While Ivy is constantly rebuked by her mother for having little taste in adopting ladylike dressing and mannerisms, and for not having a man in her life, Barbara is joined by her estranged husband, Bill (Rajiv Nema), and her teenage daughter, Jean (Emelyn Das), and Karen is joined by her fiance, Steve,(Varun Maker).  The stage is set for each person bringing his or her own eccentricity and baggage to this complex family drama.    

Original play received several awards including Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Tony Award for Best Play, New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award and Theatre World Award.  It was later produced as a movie by the same name, with a high power cast, but only received a modest commercial success, with mixed to positive reviews and seen by some to be too dark and lacking in humor.

Generally, I love Naatak productions.  However, the theme and subject matter of this play were simply not to my liking.  The family dysfunctionality exceeded all bounds and was not contained at all, in any kind of meaningful way.  Lacking purpose or direction, secrets kept coming out of the shadows, in a curtain drawn house, until it left you exhausted and devastated.  Considering that nearly 50% of the cast, was first time on stage, I would give high points to the cast, but story lacks direction, and in the end, it leaves you feeling too drained to care for anything but to wait for the end.

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Bajirao Mastani – Movie Review


Scattered among pomp and circumstance, palaces and palkhins, jewels and rose petals, is a romantic tale of love and loss, religious disharmony and scenes of gruesome military battles, excellent dialogs and typical Bollywood songs. But lest you are expecting a historical saga, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film does not deliver much of history.  In fact, Shiv Sena took a huge objection to “distorting of facts” including of Bajirao dancing to the Bollywood song “Vaat Lavli” and they appealed to hold the release until some scenes were cut from the movie, to no avail.

 Jumping off of the historical character, the film focuses on Peshwa Bajirao Ballad (Ranveer Singh), a brave warrior of the 18th century Maratha regime, and his relationship with the warrior princess Mastani, (Deepika Padukone).  History attests to the fact that Bajirao’s second wife Mastani never found acceptance in her new home because she had a Muslim mother, and her chief opponent was Bajirao’s widowed mother (played by Tanvi Azmi).  

Lest we are too quick to judge that despite his rock solid relationship with his first wife Kashibai (Priyanka Chopra), Bajirao not only fell in love but exchanged oath of marriage with Mastani, marriages with several women were not uncommon among the 18th century royals.  (Also as per historical facts, Mastani did not just come on her own seeking the love of a man who had touched her heart, but instead was promised in marriage, by her father to Bajirao, as his appreciation for the help Bajirao gave in saving his kingdom).  Mastani was a brave and courageous woman in her own right and her dialogues “मस्तानी ने अपनी तक़दीर खुद लिखी है”, “इश्क़ की इबादत के लिए इजाजत की जरुरत नहीं है” and tongue in cheek response to her mother-in-law sending her Ghunghroo to establish her reputation as a courtesan “हमें तो आपकी हर चीज़ अज़ीज़ है, चाहे घुंघरू हो या आपका बेटा” do great justice to her character.   

Religious tolerance and acceptance had also existed and relationships existed between Hindu and Muslim families.  Emperor Akbar’s marriage to Jodhabai and also Mastani’s own Musalman mother’s marriage to her Rajput father (and the mother’s willingness to become sati on the funeral pyre with other women of her husband’s janana, if he would be killed in a battle), are examples of such relationships.  However, as Moghal kingdom’s differential treatment of Hindu subjects and their ambitions were on the rise, Hindu kings also aspired to unite and consolidate a Hindu India.  It is unfortunate that women not only bear the brunt of communal divisions, religious discord, and prejudices but often do so at the hands of other women, a fact that still rings true today..

Overall, I give an A+ for the dialogues “हमने मस्तानीसे महोबत की है, अईयाशी नहीं”, जो महबूब को देखे और खुदा को भूल जाये वोह है इश्क़”, “पराये से क्या शिकायल करनी, घाव तो अपने के चुभते है “, “अगर हमने उन्हें जाते हुए देख लिया तो हमारी जान भी चली जाएगी उनके साथ “, “हम देखना चाहते है दिल्ली के तख़्त पर मराठा का लहराता ध्वज”.  Kudos to script and dialog writers, Nagnath S. Inamdar, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, and Prakash Kapadia.  But in the end, Bajirao is not a phenomenal historical story as it could have been, but yet another Bollywood film in the mold of  lovers being kept away by villains.  I rate the movie as 3.8 on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being excellent.  This is a movie that you will enjoy, if you go in with the right expectations.      

 

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“Mela” – Play Review


Naatak theater company was started in 1995, by a bunch of students at the University of California, Berkeley and Stanford University.  Naatak has grown into the largest India and Indian themed theater company in the US and has brought bold and exciting performances on stage for 20+ years.

This theater season, Naatak brought exciting works of prominent writers like Satyajit Ray, Anton Chekhov, Dorothy Parker, A. R. Gurney Jr., Susan Glaspell, Lucille Fletcher, Tina Howe, and Slawomir Mrozek, wrapped in the flavor of India’s linguistic and cultural diversity, in the marathon performance, “Mela”.  

Mela features short skits by classic writers, and yet it is a bold new experiment because each short riveting performance is staged in quick succession, in one of India’s several regional languages.   The audience can keep up with beautifully timed supertitles.  

“Sorry, wrong number” is performed in Tamil where a disabled woman stumbles upon a murder plot through crossed phone lines, and tries to get help.  “Here we are”, performed in English shows the hilarious absurdity of a young couple’s fight, on their wedding day”.  While college students’ prank goes horribly wrong in “1 April”, performed in Marathi; a thief comes face to face with the man he stole from years ago, in Barin Bhoumiker Beram, performed in Bengali.

In Punjabi language skit, “The Problem”, a wife tells her husband she is pregnant with another man’s child”, where in “Trifles” performed in Hindi, wife is the prime suspect of a man strangled to death.  In “Teeth”, performed in Telugu, hilarious situation unfolds as NTR obsessed dentist meets a hysterical patient.  I enjoyed greatly “The Problem”, performed in Gujarati, where a young man attempts to propose marriage with a feisty young girl.  In “Out at Sea” performed in Haryanvi, three men struggle to identify the parameters on the basis of which they seek to determine the one who might become dinner for the other two, as they are all starving in a life raft, in the ocean.    

Producer Alka Sippy deserves major kudos for this fantastic production.  Veteran Directors Sujit Saraf and Harish Agastya mentored and guided the regional shows.  Scenic designer Snigdha Jain, and Sets team have done a marvellous job of making the set suitable for each performance, using innovative and creative arrangement and re-arrangement of several blocks.  Each of the nine short plays are expertly performed and keep the audience engaged and riveted through the marathon performance.

I would say “Mela” is a not-to-miss play, whether you are from India or not, whether you speak any of the regional languages it features, or not.  This is truly a gala of classic and contemporary, bold and beautiful, literature and linguistic diversity; a true mela of murder plots and mystery, fun and frolic, reflection on values and relief through comedy.  Only four more shows remain.  Get your tickets from www.naatak.org .

 

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Vrindavan: A Grand Musical — Play Review


How does one take a known and tragic tale of the widows in Vrindavan, and transform it into a splendid work of art, full of humor, fun, mischief, and devotional songs in colorful costumes?  But that is not all.  The brilliance of “Vrindavan” show by NAATAK (awarded “Best Live Theater in Silicon Valley” by San Jose Mercury News), is that the playwright and director Sujit Saraf has created the show, without losing the grim reality of the widows’ dire existence.  “Vrindavan – A grand musical” is BRILLIANT, BOLD, and BEAUTIFUL.

Thousands of widows cast out by their families in India, or simply finding themselves alone in the world, have for centuries, been making their way to Vrindavan, childhood home of Lord Krishna.  Some travel hundreds of miles (a vast majority from Bengal), to get to Vrindavan, leaving behind whatever ties they had, in the land they had known, and make their home in this foreign place.  They devote themselves to singing Mira and Radha-Krishna’s devotional songs, and get paid some coins for their effort.  Gradually they forge new ties, not just with the divine, but also with fellow devotees.  As they live with each other, they form friendships and watch out for one another.  Their memories of old home fades, as they begin to see this new place as their home, where they find acceptance, camaraderie, and warmth, which the society denied them.   

Every now and then, shakeup ensues from society, because these ostracized widows are an eyesore, they live in extreme poverty, and are often considered inauspicious.  Sometimes government may want to clean up the city or enable the widows to live in less crowded and cleaner space, or a politician may come in with a grand vision of sending the widows to their original home cities, to be closer to their families.  They don’t see that these widows, cast out by society, in Vrindavan, have found their home, and their family.  With one another, they laugh, engage in pranks and make the best out of the card life dealt them.  

Saraf tells their story with such deep respect and empathy, not just giving them a voice but giving their imagination, a colorful outlet.   The widows have come to Vrindavan, to give themselves to living a life of devotion, and see themselves as Krishna’s devotees, Mira and Radha.  Juxtaposition of widows attired in white, with Mira and Radha’s colorful devotional “bhajans” is mesmerizing, both in terms of the contrast, and in seamless blending of the two.  

Saraf manages to pack the punch about the grim life of the widows in the five concluding minutes of the play, and that too without dramatics or fanfare.  The low key ending is loaded with such depth and substance that it hits you in the gut.  While Saraf brings the grimness of the widows’ lives front and center, towards the end of the show, he also gives the widows such courage, strength and dignity, that members of our society (where widows are accorded such treatment) are gently but surely nudged towards introspection, and may feel inclined to hang their heads in shame.

This massive production is a result of dedicated effort from a huge cast and crew, all giving their best.   Sets director, Asheesh Divetia, and props designer, Savitha Samu, with their teams, have helped Saraf create this magic, with amazing attention to detail, and superb engineering.  Kudos to production designer Snigdha Jain, and producer and consumes director, Soumya Agastya, and their teams, for their efforts in this bold performance.  Finally, hats off to dance director, Guru Bandana Sen, assistant dance director, Dipanwita Sengupta, and music director, Nachiketa Yakkundi, and their teams, for beautiful songs and dances that make this show come alive.  Get your tickets for this not-to-miss show, seeped in Indian culture, traditions, music, and dances, with superbly timed and beautiful supertitles (thanks to Vineeta Singh), at www.naatak.com .

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“Dum Laga Ke Haisha” – Bollywood Movie Review


Dum Laga Ke Haisha is a beautiful romantic comedy that offers the laughs amid touching, tender moments, as a young couple, forced into a marriage by the family elders, tries to find what is in their own heart, and in the process finds a way to each other’s heart.  Brilliantly written and directed by Sharat Katariya, the scenes flow seamlessly, without appearing excessive or contrived.

Insecure young man, Prem Prakash Tiwari (Ayushmann Khurrana) has nurtured his own version of a perfect life partner, a beautiful slim girl.  His family, led by his overbearing father (Sanjay Mishra), chooses a girl for him, based on reasons that are purely practical.  An educated girl from a good family would help uplift the family economically by bringing in an extra source of income.  After all, Prem is deemed a failure by his father.  Their attention is drawn to Sandhya Tiwari (Bhumi Pednekar), who is educated and aspires to be a teacher.  Sandhya is also plump but then looks are often relegated to the least useful category, when arranging a marriage.  

Tiwaris and Vermas get together, through an intermediary, and arrange a marriage between their children, Prem and Sandhya.  Prem throws a fit and refuses to marry a girl who is plump.  His father scorns his lack of educational success and admonishes him that he is no better, “dasvi to nikal na paya, juhi chawla ke sapne dekh raha hai”.   In the end, the unwilling groom is compelled to acquiesce to the marriage.  Thus begins an awkward relationship, between a reluctant husband who despises being forced into the marriage and the girl who dreamed of love.  Prem laments to his friends “mere ghodu baap ne zindagi barbad kar di meri” and later resolves, “mein kuch karunga aur apna astitv banaunga”.

Sandhya is educated and has plenty of spunk.  When she found her husband mocking her in public, she leaves Prem and his family, and files for divorce.  The clever girl, appropriately defines the problem for the judge, “ji prem ka vivah tha sandhya ke saath, lekin prem to tha hi nahin”.  As the bitterness between the couple has reached the breaking point, much to the chagrin of the families, the couple is forced to look for deeper, more lasting meaning of love.  After all beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, and sometimes, in the well groomed muscles, as you will find out :).  

It is a fun, light-hearted comedy.  Khuraana and Pednekar are fantastic, in their roles.  Their life appears to evolve naturally, without feeling contrived.  I rate the movie 3.7 on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being excellent.

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