Posts Tagged Soumya Agastya

Mahabharat – NAATAK Play Review


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image may contain: 6 people, people dancing, child, outdoor and nature

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

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

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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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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.

Image result for partition, india, pakistan
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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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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