Thursday, July 28, 2011

All the World's a Stage...

When the third bell rings and backstage murmurs fade, theatre lights are dimmed and the curtain is raised. In Stage Utopia, the life of an actor begins with conjuring a tale that persuades you to laugh and cry with him in the next few hours, and ends with bringing you on your feet in a rush of applause or sending you home with a lingering thought to ponder upon much after the applauds have faded into silence.

However, in today’s i-centric social context, (and I don’t just mean iPods, iPhones and iPads), the power, impact or success of theatre as a tool of any socio-political revolution is debatable.

“Although the primary purpose of theatre is to engage an audience with their imagination through a shared time and space, once that has been achieved it is possible to draw their attention to pressing
socio-political issues. At that time of performance it is possible to evoke strong feelings among the audience. But once they leave the theatre, how much of what they experienced they will carry forward into their lives is hugely speculative,” Mahesh Dattani, Indian director, actor and playwright, observes.
Mahesh, who has many successful and popular plays like Final Solutions, Dance Like a Man, Bravely Fought the Queen, On a Muggy Night in Mumbai, Tara, and 30 Days in September to his credit also feels that Indian theatre is at a crossroad at the moment.  “We are at crossroads with our form-heavily borrowed from western models and yet, self-consciously aware of our roots.”
However, the first playwright in English in the country to be recognised with the Sahitya Akademi Award, quickly adds that he is optimistic about the future of theatre in India and sees a great deal of talent amongst young theatre practitioners. 
“I am confident they will create a theatre that is alive and relevant to our times. I find more and more youngsters are aware that theatre gives them training and discipline. They can also do cinema or television which is definitely more paying. Yes, there are thousands and thousands who would love to do cinema or television under the misguided assumption that is more rewarding in outreach and money, but these are the ones who rarely make it. Not on their own steam, at least” Mahesh says.
So where does its future lie in the hands of those who are truly passionate about it? “Theatre eventually would go in smaller spaces as cities get more and more unwieldy, offering an intimacy between the performer and the spectator, and that is where its power will lie,” he predicts.
Mahesh ends our conversation by sharing an interesting anecdote, one of the many rewarding experiences he has had in many years as a playwright: “I remember once after my play Final Solutions on the Hindu-Muslim divide, a young man came up to me and said he was Bobby but his name was Babban. After watching the play he found pride in who he was and was thinking of changing it back to Babban. A character in my play has the same name and issue.”
Mahesh’s personal experience only corroborates my belief that theatre, no matter how “unprofitable” in terms of numbers on a cheque might be, is that powerful instrument of performing arts that can change perceptions, alter lives or provoke you to think what may have escaped your rationale otherwise. Theatre is not about deception. It’s simply about presenting a tale that relates to you and me, the portrayal of a truth that often might go unnoticed in the ordinary business of life.  

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, I have watched Final Solutions too-it is a very powerful play. In these days of multiplexes and song and dance nonsense it is only plays that keeps the dialogue alive between the actors and the audience! Very reflective!