Theatrewallah Ramu Ramanathan will introduce the audience to an A to Z of the city's theatre-scape and its treasure trove of stories at a talk today
Q. Since the time you began with theatre in Mumbai, what is the one factor that has undergone the most drastic and obvious change?
A. If you consider the South-Central district of Mumbai, this is the area from Khetwadi to Kamatipura: the epicentre of Bombay after the British royalty were gifted the island city by the Portuguese. The first thing to spring up was theatre. There were 35 makeshift theatres that featured plays performed in English for the recreation of the British soldiers. Hundred years later, theatre in Mumbai, has become a bit more gentrified and genteel. And ticket prices are higher. It is a question a lot of us have been grappling with in the past two decades or so — the transition of Mumbai from an industrial-scale mill city, mostly informal, and over-worked and inhumane, into an urban and chic financial centre.
Q. Are promising plays coming out of Mumbai; are we in a good space? Are fresh stories and talented playwrights emerging?
A. One of the interesting trends I’ve noticed since the past few months on the Marathi stage is, revivals. If you look at the new plays being staged, these are: Madhu Rye’s Shekhar Khosla and CP Deshpande’s Dhol Tashe. And even Mahesh Elkunchwar's Wade Chirebandi series and Govind Ballal Deval’s Sanshoy Kallol. All these plays are having a good run and the box office collection is good. I have seen some one act plays in the past two to three years. These are young, first-time playwrights who fade away after a play or two. How do we hook this young talent is the key to the future of great theatre in this city?
Q. Space in Mumbai is a constraint, and theatre grapples with this concern.
A. Mumbai suffers from an empty space phobia. Wherever there is empty space we park our cars in it or erect a skyscraper. In spite of all the constraints, it is most commendable to see 1,500 play shows in four major languages in our city. More recently, I am trying to make a connection between Batatyachi Chawl (in Null Bazaar) and Baliwala and Jambori Maidan. Then there are the terraces like Meghdhoot and Walchand and Bhulabhai. And finally, the two Marathi avant-garde bastions of Chabbildas and Sahitya Sangh. In my view, these eight “informal” spaces transformed the theatre landscape in Mumbai/India.
Q. Do we need a theatre archive — to document its rich contributions, and repository of work, and also where younger minds can seek inspiration?
A. Hundred years ago, we had a play like Raja Harishchandra or Indra Sabha with 100 dancing girls, 50-60 songs and performances of thousand nights. We need an account of the how and why of these shows. Some people have tried to document it. Dr Ashok Ranade with Facts and News; Jennifer Kapoor and later Sanjna Kapoor with PT Notes. Also, Akash Khurana, Rajeev Naik and Arun Naik produced theatre magazines as well as the Rang Antarang publications. This was an invaluable service to theatre in India. NCPA under Pu La Deshpande did archive and document “live” shows and lec dems and one-to-one interviews. Right now, Murali Ranganathan, a historian, who translated Govind Narayan’s 150-year-old gem Mumbaichya Varnan into English, is working on Mumbai’s theatre journey. He needs support from the community. Plus, I think what Sanjna and Sameera Iyengar are trying to do with the Mumbai Local series is amazing. There is Osian at Liberty and Jehan Manekshaw at the Sahitya Sangh.
On: Today, 5 pm onwards
At: Mumbai Local, @MCubed Library, Princess Bldg, ground floor, D'Monte Park Road, next to Bandra Gymkhana, Bandra (W).
Call: 9833344173 or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org to register a seat