Posts Tagged Alka Sippy

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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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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Party – Play Review


Naatak company is formed by a group of theater enthusiasts of Indian origin, in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Since it’s founding in 1995, Naatak company has made huge strides in prominence and stature by bringing quality live theater, with Indian and Indian-American themes, on stage, in the bay area.  Naatak has now introduced season passes to enable regular theatergoers the convenience and price deal, for its outstanding performances.

The current play “Party” is based on original Marathi play, written by Mahesh Elkunchwar, in 1976.  Directed by Ravi Bhatnagar and Alka Sippy, the play is meant as a satire, aimed at India’s urban elite.  Based on some comments from my friends who have seen the original play in Marathi and/or the Hindi movie that came out in 1984, it was a highly intelligent satire of the pseudo-elite, the patrons of the arts and literature who nevertheless lived hypocritical lifestyles and held conflicting values.

The acting by a big cast of almost a dozen people in this play is fantastic, as has been typical in all Naatak plays.  The scene is the party hosted by  Damyanti Rane, in honor of a well known playwright, Diwakar Barwe, who is at the pinnacle of his success. Basab Pradhan, as doctor who is attending the party because he is Rane’s friend, has done a beautiful job of delivering his satirical lines, with a straight face.  Referring to Rane’s guests, he tells Rane at the beginning of her party, “why must you go on collecting these nut cases?” Sindu Singh and Vijay Rajvaidya are fabulous as Rane and Barve, respectively.  Only as the party progresses, the skeletons and the hidden agendas, the fears, and the disillusions harbored by these party-goers become apparent.   Barwe confesses to Rane that his work has not had much originality and he has held his top spot only because he defends his turf and discourages other budding writers.  His gorgeous live-in girlfriend, Mohini, a former actress (nicely played by Priya Satia), is in fact, addicted to alcohol and lives in the imaginary world of being deeply in love with Barwe, though he does not love her any more.

Snigdha Jain has done a great job with superb set design.  Manish Sabu and Anubha Prakash’s work with English sub titles is excellent. If you are not well versed in Hindi, you won’t miss the fun because English sub titles appear in a timely way, right above the stage.  Asheesh Divetia is perfect in his role as Bharat, a budding writer, who is plagued by insecurities, interspersed with moments of great insights and clarity.  Nandita Kant, in the role of Vrinda (Rane’s plain looking daughter and an unwed mother) seems to be the only genuine person at the party.  She spurns unwanted advances from her mother’s friend and suitor, Agashe, played by Puneet, before she confronts her mother about her superficial world that feels so alien to her.

The problem however, is that none of these interactions seem like extraordinary events that make a great story.  They also don’t feel like immensely ordinary events that the audience would deeply identify with and would move the audience.  They sort of just hang in there.  The satire in this play seems to fall flat, the dialogs are not supremely witty, jokes are not rip-roaringly hilarious, and none of the characters display huge depth or intensity.  I went to see the play with my friend and her smart, literature enthusiastic daughter, Sonia Mahajan, who is a freshman at a local high school.   After the play, I asked her what she thought of the play.  “Nothing happened”, she said.  I think that about sums up how this play came through.

The only things that happen of any consequence, were with a character who is absent from the stage, and whom we hear about  from Joginder (Ishmeet Singh), a local reporter.  Amrit, a promising writer-poet, is concerned with the plight of the tribal people and in stark contrast to these elitist party-goers, he indicates his commitment to the society through his actions, residing and fighting on behalf of the tribal people, seeking justice for them.  Despite fabulous acting by a brilliant cast, the play is not riveting.  Perhaps some brilliance was lost in translation.  More specifically however, these pseudo-intellectuals or elites in 1970s India, just seem like ordinary people, with ordinary concerns, and ordinary hypocrisies, in the 21st century, America.  At best, “Party” feels like an annoying party one is attending out of obligation and can’t wait to go home.  

I want to give credit to the NAATAK company for bringing a wide variety of topics, on stage.  Not every topic or theme can be perfect and resonate with every member of the audience.  The diversity and variation of subject matter serves to enhance the perspectives of Bay Area theater-goers, particularly those interested in themes related to the Indian sub-continent.  I have seen the play “Disconnect”  when it was performed at San Jose Rep, that will be presented by NAATAK in June.  Here is a link to my review –http://bit.ly/14uuKgm and I would absolutely highly recommend it.  With NAATAK casting and direction, it is likely to be absolutely brilliant.   There will be one or two more shows of “Party” and tickets and/or season passes can be purchased at www.naatak.comPARTY

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Night of January 16th – (Adaptation of Ayn Rand’s original play) by Bay Area Naatak Company – Play Review


 

 

Night of January 16th, presented by Naatak company www.naatak.com, of Bay area, is an adaptation of Ayn Rand’s original play, by the same name.   Director Ravi Bhatnagar and Producer Alka Sippy has done a brilliant job in staging this challenging murder mistery, with complex plot and challenging twists.  And like the original play, Naatak has adapted the twist of seating jurors from the audience on the stage, who at the end, decide the final verdict.

 

Ravishing Sunaina Karanwal (as Radhika Roy), is accused of murder of her boss and lover, the financier and swindler, Jai Walia.   Karanwal gives a brilliant performance as irreverent and straight shooting Roy who maintains her innocence, despite mounting evidence, to the contrary.  When asked, how did Walia die on the night of January, 16th, “that”, she says, “is a mystery”, and when asked what Walia did was right or wrong, she says, “with Walia, it is not about right or wrong” but it is about whether “he could or could not”.  In few dialogues of this type, we see glimpses of Rand’s philosophy that embodies heroic individualism.

 

Anubha Prakash, in the role of Pooja Walia (Walia’s wife) who persuaded Walia to marry her with a promise to help him out of his financial mess and Mukund Marathe in the role of her father, Hari Singhania give excellent performance, at first, as victims of Walia’s mistress turned murderess and as the plot thicken, as victimized by Walia’s adultery and reckless disregard for other people’s money.  The performance of the judges, Sonia Saini and Aditya Thakur, while driving the trial forward and in grilling a long lineup of witnesses, is fabulous.  The performance of many witnesses, Sriram Iyer, Gaurav Baone, Dhanjay Motwani, Surender Singh, Rantija Chakravary, Pratiksha Rao, Sathish Sattanathan, and Ashesh Divetia was both exemplary and at times, funny and kept the play moving along at a good speed.

 

My disappointment was with the story line.  While it tangentially brought out the individuality of the protagonists and their conflict with the socialist, the philosophy of “that which is good for all”, was not explored in any depth.  But this was Rand’s first play and her philosophy might not have much developed, at that point.  Her philosophy of “Your life, your achievements, your happiness, your person are of paramount importance;  Live up to your highest vision of yourself no matter what the circumstances you might encounter;” is  clearly evident in the characters of Roy as well as her lover, D’Silva, and particularly in the character Jai Walia, despite his absence on the stage.  So how would you render a verdict?  Would societal notions of right and wrong have an influence, when you consider the evidence?

 

Don’t miss the opportunity to see Naatak company’s beautiful adaptation of Ayn Rand’s, “The Night of January 16th”.  Buy your tickets at www.naatak.com .  And who knows, with some luck, you too might be the star of the show, as a member of the jury!

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