Posts Tagged @NAATAK

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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“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.

Image result for airport insecurity, naatak
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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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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Rabbit Hole – NAATAK Play Review


Harish Sunderam Agastya has proved once again that he is an absolutely brilliant director, in “Rabbit Hole”, his 9th directorial venture with Naatak, based on a script by Pulitzer prize winning playwright, David Lindsay-Abaire.  Superb props by Savitha Samu and her team create a sterile environment, in sharp contrast to the messy affairs that are to unfold.  Every single performer has given their best, in telling of this story, centered around Indian American couple’s deep loss, heart soaking grief, and their gentle getting on with life.

RH-95-webDipika Sharma and Avinash Sharma are dealing with death of four year old boy, Dev.  Eight months after the loss, the best they are able to do is to talk at each other, rather than to each other, sidestep real issues, and argue over stuff that obfuscates real issues.  In contrast, Dipika’s sister, Ishika Kumar deals with every issue, head-on.  When she shares the news of her pregnancy from her boyfriend, with her sister, her sister feels that Ishika is too naive about the challenges of parenthood.  Ishika insists,“this is exactly the kind of thing that gives a person clarity”.  Dipika tries to give her dead son’s clothes to Ishika and Ishika tactfully denies them.

Ishika and Dipika’s mother Nandini Kumar breaks down while cleaning her grand son’s room, as she comes across his baby pictures.  However, she also gets flak from her grieving daughter, when she compares little Dev’s loss to the loss of her own son Adit, 11 years earlier, from drug overdose.

Meanwhile Dipika and Avi’s grief has enclosed them in their own distinctive shell.  Avi goes to a support group to help deal with the loss; he wants to feel his son’s presence in the home, through his pictures, his dog, his videos, and other stuff.  Avi also wants to resume physical relations with his wife.  Dipika wards off Avi’s advances saying she is not ready.  Dipika also refuses to go to the support group. She copes by becoming overly practical in her approach to life, through constant flow of activities pertaining to daily routine, and by removing all reminders of her son, from her immediate environment.  Her overwhelming grief finds an occasional outlet in outburst laced with anger and pain.

Jason Willette is the young man who was driving, when his car hit Dev.  Apparently young Dev ran after his dog on the street, and it was deemed an accident, and Jason is legally not considered to be at fault.  However, Jason is grief stricken and blames himself.  Jason wants to talk with the Sharmas, but Avi is not keen to talk with Jason.  Dipika however, decides to talk with Jason, and somehow in talking with him, her grief finds an outlet, as she breaks down sobbing.  After their little talk, a mild miracle happens.

This play is not about an earth shattering story.  This is an ordinary story of grief and loss that comes to life through absolutely superb performance.  This story of heart rending grief and loss of life, resonates with members of the audience.  The audience members were laughing with amazing Prathima Vadiraja, as Ishika Kumar, who was playful, fully self focused, and yet also totally tuned into other characters, and remarked on everything with candor that was both hilarious and endearing.  Geeta Rai gave a good performance as a grand mother saddened by the grief of her daughter and unable to stop herself from giving advice to her daughter, to get on with life.

Harish Sunderam Agastya, as a grieving father, Avinash Sharma, was simply remarkable.  His cluelessness on how to deal with his wife’s grief which is so very different from his own, was deeply moving.  Grayson Richmond in the role of Jason Willette brought such intensity in his short performance that it touched a deep chord and ignited a collective wish to somehow erase what had happened.  Every single performer gave their very best.  And yet in the end, it was Kamala Subramaniam, as Dipika Sharma, who will leave a lasting impression.  Members of the audience shared her grief so deeply, there were sniffles and attempts to find tissue to wipe the tears.  Collective tears of sadness brought on by her remarkable performance, found some solace, when in a mild, gentle way she emerged from her shell, to contemplate what life will be like without Dev.  Life must go on, and life, it seems, is after all lived one day at a time.

This is an absolutely not-to-miss performance of this theater season, in the bay area.  Get your tickets for tonight’s last show, at http://www.naatak.com .

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“Taming of the Shrew” by NAATAK Co. (in Bundelkhandi) – Play Review


How to make a comedy written in 1590, come alive in 2015?  Actually that is not even the full challenge tackled in this production by Manish Sabu and Juhi Mohan.  The main challenge here is how to adapt a Shakespearean comedy to a community at the other end of the world and still retain its beauty, its sharp wit, and colorful dialogs.

wpid-img_0971-1920x1280.jpg.jpegBay area’s NAATAK company rose to the challenge and exceeded all expectations in its theatrical production of “Taming of the Shrew”!  There are absolutely no other words to describe but to say KUDOS for such a fabulous adaptation of Shakespearean comedy to Bundelkhandi, set in India.  Don’t balk if you did not even know such a language existed in India.  The language is a close cousin of Hindi and appropriately coordinated translation in English appears on two close circuit monitors on both sides of the stage.  I can guarantee that the audience could not have enjoyed as fully this production in Hindi, as they can enjoy it in Bhundelkhandi.  It is the difference in watching Shakespeare’s play in regular English versus watching it in Shakespearean English.  Somehow this play in Bundelkhandi feels like it was originally written in Bundelkhandi.  Yes, it feels that natural!!  The production in fact begins with couple of little challenges thrown at the audience, to get them thinking in Bundelkhandi – which is also awesome!

Bundelkhandi dialect is earthy, rich, and beautiful.  

Consider how rich this dialog feels in Shakespeare’s English.  Gremio is questioning Baptista about his quieting his good and patient daughter Bianca and making her bear the penance of his “fiend” of a daughter Kathrina.wpid-img_0940-1920x1280.jpg.jpeg
Why will you mew her up,
Signior Baptista, for this fiend of hell,
And make her bear the penance of her tongue?
In Bundelkhandi, Kathrina, the shrew, fiendish, evil, wicked one is referred to as “karkasa”.

Petruchio marries Kathrina and then insists they leave, without partaking in the feast.  Kathrina resists and seeks help from others and Petruchio says
She is my goods, my chattels; she is my house,
My household stuff, my field, my barn,
My horse, my ox, my ass, my any thing;
And here she stands,
Kathrina is now Petruchio’s “amanat”.

Petruchio then lovingly manipulates Kathrina, and masterfully takes on the nearly impossible task of taming his new bride, as Tranio explains to Bianca
Petruchio is the master;
That teacheth tricks eleven and twenty long,
To tame a shrew and charm her chattering tongue.
and Petruchio himself boasts
hum jo padhat hai, vo hi hum sikhaut hai, pirem ki kala

Finally, Petruchio succeeds in taming his shrew, and Kate learns not to argue with him, and she says,
And be it moon, or sun, or what you please:
An if you please to call it a rush-candle,
Henceforth I vow it shall be so for me.
In Bundelkhandi, Kathrina says,
Chahe to suraj he, chahe chandrama, aur tum kaho to mombatti.

Some Shakespeare’s plays depart moral messages, whereas some are just humorous ones to be enjoyed for the sharp wit.  Obviously, there is not moral message that would be applicable in this century, in Taming of the Shrew.  But in regular English or in Hindi, it would seem preachy.  Whereas in Bundelkhandi, this is a beautiful production, with marvelously talented cast, and perfectly suited staging.  This play is full of sharp wit, performed in an Indian language that is ancient and earthy, yet easily accessible and enjoyed by all.

Every theater season, I share for my readers, not-to-miss-play of the season in South Bay area.  For my Hindi speaking readers, without hesitation, I choose this NAATAK production as not-to-miss-play in this theater season.  Please get your tickets before it is too late at www.naatak.org .

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Andhera Hone Tak – (Wait Until Dark) – Hindi Play Review


NAATAK company has exceeded all expectations in its production of “Andhera Hone Tak”, hindi version of Frederick Knott’s classic thriller, “Wait Until Dark”.  The play is performed with English subtitles projected above the stage, and that makes it a must-see play, for a wider range of  audience.

Stage versions of thrillers are rare because suspense and elements of a thriller, including murder, robbery etc. are hard to create on stage.  Producer Surender Singh has made a bold attempt in bringing this production and the suspense filled thriller does not disappoint on any count.  Clearly, Mukund Marathe has once again proved that he is simply one of the most brilliant directors.

Suneeta Saxena (Sareeka Malhotra) is a housewife, who is also blind, and is married to Sameer Saxena (Puneet) and they live in Shivaji Park, Mumbai.  Sameer becomes an innocent transporter of a doll stuffed with contraband, when he brought it home, at the request of a woman, who is now surfaced as dead.  Soon thereafter, Sameer is traveling again for business and Suneeta becomes target of three con-men, looking for heroin hidden in a doll.  The doll is nowhere to be found because unbeknownst to anyone, a little girl, Aneesha, living in the apartment upstairs, has stolen the doll. The trio play initially manage to get Suneeta worried that her husband will be suspected of murdering the woman and the only way to protect him would be to enable them to have the possession of the doll.

Wait Until Dark

Wait Until Dark (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sareeka Malhotra’s performance as a blind heroine, is brilliant, both vulnerable and at the same time courageous and determined.  The three con men, played by Varun Dua, Sanjay Apte, and Amit Sharma are so good at being bad that their performance holds you at the edge of your seats.  Aneesha Nema, the little child star gives a phenomenal performance as a bratty but precocious kid.  The set design is superb, easy for a supposedly blind person to navigate and yet complex for her to figure out the movements of the intruders.  Juhi Mohan has done a great job with lights, helping create the perfect “dark”, that would give Suneeta an edge against the intruders.

Every theater season, I give my recommendation of a “must-watch play of the season” from among South Bay Theater companies, including (NAATAK – www,naatak.org, CityLights – http://www.cltc.org, San Jose Stage – http://www.thestage.org, Theatreworks – http://www.theatreworks.org, EnActe Arts – http://www.enacte.org etc.) and this season, unequivocally, I recommend NAATAK’s “Andhera Hone Tak”, as the “must-watch play of the season”.  While the play is performed in Hindi, the English sub-titles, projected above the stage, make it easy for all to enjoy.  So remember, you don’t need to understand Hindi to enjoy the suspense, heart stopping tension, spooky lighting, and climactic end, all delivered by flawless performance, in real time.

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God of Carnage – Play Review (Bay Area, CA – NAATAK Co. Production)


God of Carnage, a play written by Yasmina Reza (in French) and translated by Christopher Hampton, has been beautifully adapted to competitive Indian parents, meeting to resolve a playground altercation between their two young kids, in this production, by Bay Area’s prominent NAATAK company.  It is produced by Soumya Agastya.  In his debut in NAATAK, as a director, Mukund Marathe has done a splendid job, that couldn’t be far from perfect.

In this 90 minute play, two couples, Anita and Anil Srivastav visit Renuka and Mukul Desai, at the Desai home, to discuss the playground fight between their two children, in which Anita and Anil’s son’ knocked out two teeth of Renuka and Mukul’s son.  At first, the couples observe the civilities, mind their manners, and amicably discuss how to deal with the situation.  Acknowledging his son’s behavior to be aggressive, Anil says “our son is a maniac” and in a spirit of cooperation and to not assign blame, Renuka accedes “we try to fill the gap in the education system, take the kids on field trips and museums but there is violence in the system”.

However, soon the hidden ugliness appears.  As the meeting progresses from coffee to rum, as the masks come off, the gloves too come off, not just between one couple and another but at times between men against the women.  And yet these people are not criminals or psychopaths.  In these people, we can see us.  Some character we identify more with, and some less.  In some we see our neurotic friends, and in some our foes.  The complex mix of characters and their ordinary zanyness is what gives this play, depth and poignancy.  Satirical dialogs make you laugh uncontrollably.

The four actors have done a marvelous job of playing their semi-neurotic roles.  Divya Satia plays the role of Renuka, a writer who works part-time in a museum.  She is an activist whose life is defined by causes.  First, her forthright, authentic approach sucks the audience in and then her “holier than thou” tone is both hilarious and annoying.  Her husband, played by Puneet, is a wholesale business trader and at first he is infinitely accommodating, but he soon emerges as cavalier (who tires of his daughter’s hamster and just releases it in the wild), easily looses his temper, is racist, and says “child rearing is wasteful”.  Pooja Srivastava plays the role of Anita, a “wealth manager” attired in trendy suit, stilettos, branded purse and appears very cultured.  However, soon she can’t handle the tension, begins to get ill, throws up all over on the hosts’ coffee table, and laughs like a child, when she manages to grab her husband’s cell phone and throw it in a vase filled with water.  Harish Agastya is playing the role of Anil, a fascinating character of a smart but slimy corporate lawyer who is preoccupied with his pharmaceutical client dealing with problems of side effects of blood pressure medicine and is constantly getting calls from the client.  He comes to the meeting with the attitude of observing niceties, get it over with, and move on to tackle the problems of his client.

As the gloves come off, Anita calls Mukund a killer (for releasing the hamster in the wild and allowing it to fall prey to other creatures).  After defending himself, wiping off the soiled coffee table, cleaning the soiled books, Mukund pours himself a drink and says “I am starting to feel serene”.  His wife Renuka is bewildered that only she is concerned about what trespassed between the children and says, “I am the only one not feeling serene.  In fact I’ve never been so unhappy”.  Meanwhile, Atul who felt from the beginning that it was much hoopla about nothing, explains that Desai’s son refused to allow his son to be in his gang and therefore, he says, “my son did good to beat the shit out of yours”.  It is apparent that as parents, all four have their blind spots and they are hardly looking for someone else to tell them how to do their job of parenting.

These are four actors on top of their sport and they have done a fabulous job with good acting, of behaving badly.  Yasmina Reza once said, “Theater is a sharp reflection of society” and in this play, the mirror is held close.  While providing the philosophical depth, the play provides great entertainment with razor sharp humor.  Opening night performance was sold out and two remaining shows this weekend are expected to be sold out.  Go to www.naatak.com for more information.

God of Carnage

God of Carnage (Photo credit: angela n.)

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Vande Mataram – Play Review


Flag adopted by the Indian National Congress i...

Flag adopted by the Indian National Congress in 1931. First hoisted on 1931-10-31 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Let me take you back to the year, 1942”, thus begins the play, taking the audience back to August 8, 1942, the day when Gandhi launched the “Quit India” movement, against the British.  Based on real events, the story of Keezhariyur Bomb Case in Malabar, Kerala is adapted for stage by brilliant playwright and director, Sujit Saraf and produced by Gopi Rangan.

 

India, in 1942, was a diverse nation, divided by languages, dialects, caste, class, religion, and loyalties, and divided by the lack of infrastructure, in the analog age.  India’s struggle to rid itself of the colonialism has to be as complex and multifaceted, as its people.  It is even a marvel that Gandhiji managed to unite the nation and helped achieve India’s independence, spearheading the struggle under the banner of non-violence.  But there were various rebel groups and leaders, with their own brand of nationalism, their own value system, their own worldview, and their own interest in future independence of India, that resulted in multitude of little struggles.  Some of these ended in small scale violence, only to ignite a sizeable imperialistic response, some puttered and fizzled out, some joined forces with others, and eventually most gave their support to Gadhi’s non-violent struggle for independence.

 

The characters of this play, tell the story of one group of Indian rebels, in the 1940s, in the backward state of Bihar (at the time), and the superb cast makes them truly memorable.  Led by a Colorado trained professor, brilliantly played by Salil Singh, a small group of rebels discuss the plan to shake up the Brits, with some strategic bomb blasts.  Sujit Saraf, in the role of a renegade Congressman, is equally superb, as he straddles the issue between allegiance to Gandhi’s perspectives and participation in the Professor’s activist stance.  Mukund Marathe and Amol Deshmane, in the role of two brothers at odds with each other, coming together to finance the rebel project, are also fantastic.  Their participation in the project, heals their earlier wounds and they are both in agreement that that their businesses not suffer any harm on account of their participation in this project.  Surender Singh, also fantastic, in the role of the restaurantor, provides the space for the project.  Soumya Chakravorty, plays the role of Banwari, recruited to build and detonate the bombs.  Banwari refuses to work alongside Muslims, he is in equal measure prejudiced, fanatic, stupid, and a victim of his circumstances, who looses his land to land owners but feels compelled to do something, against injustice.  Chakravorty is absolutely brilliant in this role.

 

This group of individuals could not be more different, in terms of their interests and affiliations, their cynicism, idealism, and ambition, and are coming together and uniting in one cause, independence of the nation.  Will this group, so flimsily connected, stay true to the cause and hold together or will it fall apart by betrayal, stupidity, or other self-interests?  Irrespective of whether they will succeed or fail, this is a fantastic play about human endeavors to be free, at the very basic level.  It is a play that brings out the complexity inherent in the task of nation building.  Saraf moved the story to Bihar (from the real life incident, that took place in Kerala), so that it can be produced in Hindi.  Eventual language is a beautiful mix of Hindi, Bhojpuri, and Marwari.  Excellent set design is by Siva Kollipara.  Vineeta Singh and crew have done great job in set building.  Sowmya Ballakur has provided supertitles, so the play can be enjoyed by non-Hindi speaking audience members as well.   And once again, I will say the entire cast is brilliant and the acting is flawless.

 

Vande Mataram is playing to sold out audiences.  Book your tickets early.  For registration, go to www.naatak.com .

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Death in San Francisco – (NAATAK co.) Play Review


Once again NAATAK company of Indian theater enthusiasts, enthralled the audience with the amazing performance of the play, “Death in San Francisco”, written and directed by Sujit Saraf and produced by Asheesh Divetia.

The play opens with the scene where Naveen Chandra Gupta, resident of San Francisco, has died, leaving behind an unusual request for last rites. His wife is committed to fulfilling his last wish, despite all the challenges, and she gets possession of the body, from the hospital. Despite the disagreements with the odd request of Gupta, and some internal conflicts, her friends oblige and commit themselves to helping her. Her mother-in-law who lived with them, also wishes to see her son’s last wish fulfilled. Gupta’s young son, despite having grown up in the US, does not question the rationality of his father’s last wish.

The family seeks the permission from the city and that is being delayed. Also, it is a memorial day weekend and many places are closed. Additionally, the air conditioner breaks down and due to oppressive heat, the body begins to decompose and smell. Some of the friends really begin to question the logic behind such a decision. Also the dead man Gupta’s brother arrives from India and he questions this decision as well. They question the dead man’s love for his own country. If he in fact loved his own country so much then why did he not return back to India; why did he always complain of dirt, noise, corruption, and pollution in India; why did he not go often to the temple, etc. Gupta and his brother were estranged and had not spoken with each other for 20 years and Gupta had not visited India often. The brother scoffs at the ignorance of his brother’s outdated request, saying that things have changed even in India.

On the other hand, Gupta’s wife is increasingly certain about her intention to fulfill his request.  She also asserts that having lived in this country, it is their right to choose to do death rites according to their faith. She also tells their lawyer that Gupta’s decision about living in the US, changed the course of her own life. Even though Gupta himself did not achieve huge success that he had dreamed of, she got certain freedom and independence in this country, that she never could have enjoyed in India.  She felt therefore obliged to fulfill her husband’s last wishes. On the other hand, the friends also question her devotion to her husband because she does not break down and is not hysteric over the death of her husband. But they all pledge their help. They run around to get the permission, people, and materials to fulfill this odd last request. Almost towards the end, before the body is taken, the wife learns some new details about her husband’s life.

Sometimes sad and sometimes hilarious, this quirky comedy is Sujit Saraf’s 9th play. It raises many questions. What does love for one’s country of origin mean? How does one show the love for one’s own country? Is it by sending donations, teaching Bharatnatyam (Indian classical dance) to the kids (like one of Gupta’s friend asserts), is it by choosing rites and rituals at different stages of life and death, is it by returning back to the homeland? How does one show the love for one’s adopted homeland? What can one expect in one’s adopted homeland? How do people preserve their identity?

As is typical of NAATAK plays, the set was well done, with complete attention to detail.  Additionally, the director has indeed gone to great lengths to obtain some unusual props. The cast, including Ranjita Chakravarthy, Aruna Sheth, Phill Wiseman, Arnav Gautam and others, gave a brilliant performance.  This is a not to miss play with very few remaining seats for only some of the performances. The play is being performed at the Theater on San Pedro Square, in San Jose, CA.

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