All the whirl's a stage

Problems and gripes aside, stage artistes remain bullish about theatre

Theatre is a timeless and wonderful medium for Suruchi Aulakh, theatre actress and producer, who works with Jhoom that will stage two plays Ship wrecked! The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont and Re-lay in April. She feels theatre is an alive and kicking medium.

Jhoom group rehearse for their play Shipwrecked. Pic/Nimesh Dave
Jhoom group rehearse for their play Shipwrecked. Pic/Nimesh Dave

She says, “Theatre offers people unique stories performed in non-conventional ways. It does not need to pander to the audience and create feel good, paisa vasool endings.

Himanshu Sitlani’s play An Incident at the Border
Himanshu Sitlani’s play An Incident at the Border

It is a space and medium where one can be truly cutting-edge. In a country like India and in a city like Mumbai that is the heart of Bollywood, it is very important to have alternative forms of expression that allow artistes to truly experiment. That is what theatre can offer.”

Suruchi Aulakh Amol Palekar
Suruchi Aulakh and Amol Palekar

With more young people getting involved in theatre today and new ideas plus various styles evolving, Himanshu Sitlani who is a theatre actor and director says, “Youth-centric plays and more energy is seeing theatre grow. The stage is moving towards a great period for actors and all those associated with theatre.”

The good old days
Bollywood actor and a theatre star for many years prior to that, Amol Palekar reminiscences on Marathi theatre during yesteryears as he says, “The 70s and 80s was a renaissance period for Indian theatre. While cutting across colonial influences, creative minds tried to fuse indigenous theatrical forms with universal idioms.

Led by playwrights like Badal Sircar in Bengali, Vijay Tendulkar in Marathi, Mohan Rakesh in Hindi and Girish Karnad in Kannada, experimental theatre started. Directors like Shambhu Mitra, Ebrahim Alkazi, Badal Sircar, Damu Kenkare, Shyamanand Jalan, Habib Tanveer, Satyadev Dubey, Vijaya Mehta, Ratan Thiyyam, B.

Jayashree explored space even beyond the proscenium arch. From the 1990s onwards, that momentum slowed down. However, mainstream Marathi theatre continued to have tremendous audience patronage.”

Mourning the commercialisation of a traditional art form, Palekar says, “Theatre started getting wrapped in a ruthless banner of ‘entertainment’, the essence of which was mediocrity. The ‘market oriented’ mindsets gradually took over and demanded lacklustre productions. Of course, exceptional sparks kept our hope alive.

For the last eight to nine years, the younger Marathi theatre practitioners who have survived the onslaught of TV serials, mega budget films or other commercial diktats, have been actively producing plays with diverse themes and fascinating stylistic forms.

There is a growing trend of reviving the celebrity experimental productions of the past in commercial Marathi theatre; mainstream Marathi theatre audience is lapping it up! These new trends are proving that our hope was not in vain.”

More than words
The purpose of theatre is to stay in touch with the lives of people who watch plays, Manjul Bharadwaj, founder of Theatre of Relevance, an art form that seeks to not just entertain but also empower people says, “Besides human emotions, theatre in Mumbai and the world today also looks to deal with experience, thoughts and purpose.”

Theatre vs other media
Disagreeing with the notion that film, the internet and TV has caused a dent to theatre, Tushar Mathew, a theatre actor said, “Theatre gives the audience an experience that is very different from watching television or a film. This is a characteristic that makes it appeal to many.”

In the end, Aulakh is optimistic signing off with, “There are more groups than ever before, more writers, more trained actors and technicians. This can only lead to good things. Alternative performance spaces are being created and are the desperate need of the hour.

As of now, theatre runs on love, fresh air and hundreds of cutting chais. We need corporates and the government to step up funding. But whether they do or not, we will continue to do it, as have generations of thespians before us. The show will go on.”

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