Category Archives: theatre

Lekhana: Day One

(This should actually be titled “Lekhana: A Literary Weekend – bits of Day One”, but that looks weird.)

The events started at 5 pm, but I walked in at 6 (or so), thus missing the inauguration and the recitations. I did catch most of the panel discussion:

“The City in Literature”

with MK Raghavendra moderating for KR Usha, Anjum Hasan, Saniya and Zac O’Yeah.

I must admit that I’m a little biased against the panel subject – I feel like there’s a lot that’s been said about cities that we’ve heard or read already. Somehow, undirected discussions about the city seem to miss the actual people in the city, treating the city like they are self-embodied things of concrete, dust and ethereal culture.

(Also, everytime I see KR Usha [whom I do love, in a wholesome sort of way] in a group discussion, she is talking about the city. Author typecasting!)

To sum up:

KR Usha talked about how fast Bangalore is changing, and how one evokes a city not through its buildings but through the quality of life and experiences of its people.

Zac O’Yeah finds Bangalore constant change disconcerting, but does find that the action sequences in a Kannada movie seem like they can only happen in Bangalore.

Anjum Hasan enquired whether it really is necessary to write about a place, whether the characters of that place are aware of themselves in connection with their location or not.  She reminded us (via Flaubert) of the displacement that is sometimes necessary to write about a place authentically, and asked, Why should we write about Bangalore? Sometimes we don’t have to!

KR Usha said that the panel topic limited the discussion a bit  and talked about Nabokov, who felt that an over-adherence to realism in placement is fruitless, and can lead away from the central objective of a novel, which is to describe the human condition. “But the modern novel needs context!” Conundrum.

Zac O’Yeah said that all this aside, one must still try to grapple with the city, as a way to show one’s love for the place, to create, to evoke an image of the place that you love.

MK Raghavendra said that “evoke” was the crucial term here – one must evoke a place, not necessarily describe it, in order to bring it to life.

Anjum Hasan admitted that she – after all – prefers the highly descriptive novel, but still loves, for instance, Jane Austen, who never really spent much time physically describing a place, but rather the mindset of her characters, evoking the culture of their times.

I didn’t take detailed notes for the Q&A session, partially because I was sitting next to a guy (a reporter?) who took notes and grunted/exclaimed his agreement and disagreement with everything that was said. It was distracting, and extremely annoying. But in all, the audience – the part that talked – seemed in agreement that Bangalore rarely leaps alive off the pages, that Bangalore is in transition, that Bangalore is not in frictionless coexistence with Bengaluru, tat maybe Bangalore/Bengaluru need not be enshrined in a single moment after all, despite how well people like Dickens managed to enshrine the dirtier bits of London, that Bangalore was once a series of villages with a strong located culture, that we have a unique weather.

Then there was a play.

Five Grains of Sugar

By Manav Kaul

(translated by Arshia Sattar)

Munish (I’ve forgotten his last name!!) plays Rajkumar, the “ordinary fellow” who talks to the audience for an hour about his life in order to explain his one, single problem. Ranjkumar’s simplicity and self-aware ordinariness and self-declared happy life contrasts with his rather lonely existence, dictated as it is by his small circle of family and friends.

Rajkumar is exaggeratedly simple, exaggeratedly ordinary. I’m not an avid theatre-goer (is that the term)? I suspect I’d’ve preferred to read Rajkumar’s heavy-handed monologue. Some of Munish’s actions on the stage seemed a bit heavily scripted, and one knew before hand when certain reveals were going to take place (penultimately). But Munish played this rather one-note character with surprising charm, keeping the audience engaged and interested for most of his hour.

I suppose the play is about the invisible possibilities for art in the seeming banalities of life. Rajkumar’s headaches concerning poetry, how to understand it, how to create it and how to manifest it weave together – for his audience but not for him – his life amongst the people he loved and who may or may not have loved him back. Art remains the (unappreciated) reward for Rajkumar’s average life, and he seems rather overly cheered to be done with it for good.

The play ends beautifully – one feels a bit as if the entire hour has been crafted for that last minute – and I don’t think any of us regretted the hour.

(I think I knew Munish when we were in school together. That part was strange. Irrelevant to this post, but strange.)

I’m hoping I’m in time for tomorrow – I intend to be there the entire day, though I might not attend everything. Here’s the schedule – maybe you’ll find something you’d like to see?

Waiting For Godot, directed by Benjamin Gilani

So, some of us have excellent friends who buy us tickets to see Waiting for Godot and then come with us to see it. (To be quite honest, Motley Productions could have advertised for the play a little more efficiently, but I daresay someone who followed theatre news with more avidity than I would’ve known about it – actually, someone did. still. One would not know unless  one were looking for the information. This is why Bangalore’s theatre scene is torpid, darlings. It’s not us, it’s you.)

Anyway, we arrived on time, got in fine, yaddi yadda. We paid serious attention to the gravely ponderous IFA infomercial. (The background music suggested that someone important and beautiful was going to die tragically any moment.)

Finally. Estragon wrestled with his shoe as Vladimir walked on. My friend (henceforth referred to as R.)  and I never quite warmed to Akash Khurana’s portrayal of Vladimir – it felt always like he was portraying someone else, from some other play, using V’s lines. (Too, R. agrees with me that his behaviour with the little boy who announces Godot’s absence was a little creepy.) Benjamin Gilani as Estragon is delightfully natural and unnatural at once, just as a Beckett speaker should be.

The play didn’t drag – though one did tend to phase in and out simply because the dialogue demanded we do some thinking. Even Pozo and Lucky couldn’t keep R. following the linear narrative (such as it is). Naseeruddin Shah – is anyone, ever, allowed to be critical of Shah? – was lovely. He commanded the stage – I’m not sure whether it’s a stage presence or sheer volume of personality as a real life person, but there are moments when it’s impossible to look at anyone else. Lucky was played by an obviously bewigged, very young and fit Randeep Hooda. (Sometimes very unconvincingly. He just looked too strong to be as tired as he was supposed to be. R. insists that there always ought to be eye-candy, and I am torn between agreeing and booing the costumers for not covering up his chest. Old men should look old, people!)

Three-fourths through the first act, a smartly-dressed woman walked determinedly on the stage. Someone, she announced, had parked their car(s)  in front of her garage. She wanted them moved. Now. It took us a while to realise she wasn’t a part of the play. Shah stood up, announced that the show would not go on, and walked out. Our first artistic hissy fit! Gilani and co. followed him off. Five minutes later, people were walking out, people were staying in their seats, and finally Gilani came onstage and asked us to wait while the whole mess was sorted out. Our compere talks about how the incident was a disgrace, and in general an insult to both the artists and the audience.  (R. says she’d side with the woman with the garage, who is obviously the injured party. Some people have no sense of space, shame, or other people’s entitlements.)

Licence plate numbers were called out, and shamefaced audience members went out to deal with their cars as everyone else applauded their civic sense.

The show went on. Luckily, we’d stopped just a few lines before “In the meantime, nothing happens.” More applause. We hadn’t quite settled in yet to the play, as opposed to the parking drama outside.

Intermission! Which is good, we needed the break. WfG is not a play that’s easy to follow – it’s not meant to be “followed”, but you can’t help trying. It doesn’t help that right in front us people were going “I don’t get it” and variations thereof.

Second act, second verse, more of the same. I was flagging a bit by now, and seriously, if it weren’t for Gilani I think I’d’ve gone to sleep. Khurana did not work for me, and since Vladimir does more angsting this is a problem.

At the curtain’s final close, more applause – as much relief as jubilation. Naseeruddin Shah (it was something of a relief to see him coming onto the stage tidy: in the second act, Pozo is a bit bedraggled) apologised to thew audience for losing his temper and his strong language in the first act. “To me, theatre is the most scared thing in my life,” he said. “And the audience is also sacred.” Naseeruddin Shah thinks we’re sacred! I am thrilled, R. is literally laughing at me. Apparently I should not wait for Shah to validate my sacredness.

Shah did acknowledge the woman who walked in and disturbed the proceedings – it’s not everyone who can walk into a reputed theatre, on to the stage, interrupt a performance and demand her rights. “I think maybe she wants to be an actress!” Shah said. He found this so funny he repeated it. (We love him even so.)

Bestest beginning to a birthday, ever.

On Friday, the 18th of May, 2007, I saw Equus.

I. Watched. Equus! [To the tune of “This! Is! Spartaaaaaaaaaa!” With less “aaaaa”, I grant you, for “Equus” ends with “us”.]

I went with two friends who had not read the play before. I sold them on the idea with “Daniel Radcliffe naked!” Which, you know, was not at all false advertising, since technically Daniel Radcliffe did get naked, even though really, really, it was Alan Strang naked before us on stage, Alan Strang exposed to our pitilessly pitying gazes.

In many ways, having a fucking famous barely legal almost-still-a-child actor play the role was an annoying distraction. I (brace yourselves! for! a story! of! My! Life!) was sixteen when I first read Peter Shaffer‘s Five Finger Excercise, and I was still sixteen when I read his Equus. I had an almost-boyfriend, then. I adored him from nearby. I could tell you stuff, but let’s limit it to: I read fiction, and he did not. It was a glorious argument, one we had many, many times. Courtship at sixteen is cute.

Me: Fiction can explore depths of the human psyche without entering into professional and literary vulturistic cannibalism.
Him: Fiction is shit. I’ll prove it!
He lent me his dad’s copy of Equus. Well, it had three plays in it, but Equus was what I was supposed to read.

Him: Read that. You’ll see what I mean. Fiction is sick.

I wonder, now, if he ever read Lolita. I wonder if he went back to fiction, and said, Sickness is real. Tears are real. Smiles are true. I have them all in my life, and I shall have them in my literature.

I read it. I loved it.

I’ll be honest: I pictured my almost-boyfriend as Alan Strang. Thin. Gentle. Soft for the most part, but extraordinarily sensitive to what could hurt you, or soothe you. And willing to initiate both. Martin Dysart passed me by – it took me years to see that the play could be read as a tragedy. Strang’s tragedy, Dysart’s failing. I never realised the importance of Worship, and what Dysart thought he was taking away.

My almost-boyfriend, in time, became my boyfriend. And in time, my ex-boyfriend, and my friend. And now we have not spoken to each other for… a year, it must be. I no longer see Alan Strang in him. I no longer see him in Alan Strang. I know them both better.

But. On Friday, the 18th of May, 2007, three women paid fifty pounds each for Dress Circle seats to watch Equus. At least one of us had decided that she would drink herself to a sorry grave if Daniel Radcliffe messed up this important role. To be the priest of Equus, only begotten son of Fleckwus.

Thea Sharrock directs this revival. I’ve never considered doing anything for the stage – certainly I’m not very good on or off it. I resigned myself willingly and eagerly to the role of “person in audience who might cry if something sad happens”. And so perhaps it should be taken lightly that I say, I would have directed Equus slow. Alan Strang would have been passively sullen. His hostility would have been muted and rigid, to contrast with his electric moments with Equus/Nugget. His moments of attack would be sharp, but again quiet. Dysart would be tired. Always tired, save when he was with Strang, when he would be calm, tranquil, dismissive – a facade over that tiredness.

Thea Sharrock’s vision was brisk. Or perhaps the word I am looking for is energetic. Under her direction, Richard Griffith’s Dysart is a caustic, caring man, whose emotional tiredness has not yet affected his physical efficiency. I suspect almost all of the foundation for the character in this production comes from “Doctor and Doctor Mac Brisk”, as opposed to, “I gave her the same thing: antiseptic proficiency” – which is not really the same thing at all, at all. This Dysart speaks quickly, carelessly, drawlingly. He rarely slows, rarely crawls. (My Dysart crawls.)

Under Sharrock, Radcliffe’s Strang is an actively defensive, defensively hostile seventeen year old. It jarred very severely with how I read things, and it jarred a great deal during his moments of attack/defence with Dysart. When you attack – and when you defend – actively, you speak quicker than your opponent, you raise your voice above his. You move your body to loom over his. Faced with Doctor MacBrisk, Alan Strang has a quickness – speed – of speech that is jarring for a non-English person, unused to normal quick British accents. I suspect that the native speakers in the audience did not find that quickness out of the ordinary. In fact, I bet they found it energising, and certainly it was very funny, when it needed to be.

Contrasted with these quick, hard, callous interactions, Strang’s moment with Equus are poetry in motion. There were six of them – men on raised platform-heels shaped like large hooves. They wore silver cage-masks shaped like horses heads. They had red eyes. They writhed. They were horses, not men, and their sensuality – and their tenderness with Strang – was beautiful in the extreme. Strang’s ritual – his worship – his betrayal by falling to lust – his fear – his attack – they are beautiful. They rend the heart. They must have been extremely physically demanding performances, for all concerned.

And in that climactic scene where Strang runs insanely around the stables, leaping to reach at their eyes, before collapsing so that Dysart – the ghost in the reenactment, the enactment, can come and cover his nakedness and hold him till he sleeps, one can find tragedy. Dysart shall take from him his worship. So Dysart fears. Dysart is the priest of normality, Strang the priest of Equus. And Strang is not up to his duties, so Dysart shall take them from him.

Or perhaps not? Perhaps the boy grows, and finds, as so many priests who are allowed to marry, that he can have both worlds, so long as he gives up a little of both? Perhaps he learns to live in the one and not mind the loss of the other? Not all celibate priests are unhappy sexual stalkers.

Perhaps.