Let the play begin...

Prithvi café filled to capacity and a long line of people waiting patiently (some not so much!) — in two days time, that’s exactly what one would witness if they were to go to Prithvi Theatre. Because as clichéd as it may sound, it really is that time of the year again when the famed theatre nestled in a quiet bylane of Juhu comes alive with the best of plays and stage acts. In its 35th year, the Prithvi Theatre is back with the Prithvi Festival. With a number of exciting plays — some premiering in Mumbai for the first time — a western classical concert presented by NCPA/Symphony Orchestra of India and two Acoustic Sunday Jams, this year’s line-up seems to be pretty impressive.

In addition to this, there will be a series of eight interactive interviews with eminent theatre directors including Atul Kumar, Naseeruddin Shah, Rahul Da Cunha, Quasar Thakore Padamsee, Sunil Shanbag, Veenapani Chawla, Feroz Abbas Khan and MS Sathyu, which will have them discussing their work and their journey in theatre. With 28 performances of 15 productions taking place between November 5 to 18, not to forget the other stage acts in between, nobody really needs another reason to be a part of it. And if you still need one, here’s Kunal Kapoor, trustee of Prithvi Theatre to tell us why every theatre lover should be be a part of it. Excerpts from an interview:

This is the 35th year of Prithvi and the first Prithvi fest was held in 1983. Between then and now, what are the changes that the fest has gone through?
Since the first festival in 1983 celebrating our fifth birthday, we have had over 30 festivals — each with a different theme in the curation and each of different lengths. The basics have not changed — celebrating theatre and celebrating Prithvi Theatre — otherwise I think they have just simply ‘grown’ and today the Prithvi Festival is considered one of the premier theatre festivals in India — a festival in which theatre groups all over India wish to participate in.

What is the criteria you apply when it comes to choosing plays for the fest?
For each festival, we lay down different criteria for ourselves in curating it — this year we decided to choose the term classics — referring to works, scripts and influences.

What are the challenges that a theatre festival of this scale throws up?
As always the greatest challenge is the finance — and more often than not this dictates all other factors involved in putting together a festival.

A couple of plays are premiering at the festival this year. Tell us a bit about those.
We asked our regular groups to come forward with new productions based on the guidelines we set out — and several did, in Hindi, English and Gujarati. We also included a few that had performed before but not in Mumbai, so for them, it is a premier show in Mumbai.

It’s the first time that the Symphony Orchestra of India will perform here. How did you decide to select them for the performance?
Over the last few festivals, we have also included music concerts — acoustic and without amplification. We have never had a Western Classic Quartet perform in Prithvi and with the positive efforts of the Symphony of India Orchestra in developing and promoting Western Classical music and Indian classical musicians, we thought it would be a good idea to include them. Prithvi is a great space for something like a String Quartet and the experience of being up close and intimate — the Prithvi experience — promises to be terrific.

Tell us a bit about the interactive sessions with theatre directors.
I think in a way the seed was planted by many young people asking us questions about how do they become and actor, director, writer in theatre and we realised the lack of easily available information on theatre actors, directors, writers’ work, their journey etc. A meeting with Pragya Tiwari set it it all in place — where we would hold a series of interviews/discussions with an individual from the world of theatre, with an audience who would also participate. These interactions would be recorded and posted on our website as archival material.

Personally, what it is that you are looking forward to at this year’s Prithvi festival?
The opening night, and then the closing night after which I can breathe!

Many years ago, when a mutiny was brewing and the English were about to take over Oudh officially, Umrao was losing the battle of love and learning how to channel the pain into poetry. She yearns to be free and so, she leaves the kotha to seek her destiny. Neetu Chandra makes her stage debut with Umrao, directed by Hidayat Sami. The rest of the cast includes Shubhrajyoti Barat, Aman Uppal, Trisha Kale, Niranjan Iyengar and Nishchal Chandra.

Director speak: I’ve always wanted to do a Hindi-Urdu play, but I wanted it to have an interesting story as I wanted the younger lot to come and watch the play.

Neetu Chandra: The play’s perspective is very different from that of the movie.We focussed on the romance as well as the socio-economic situation of that time. Umrao is a contemporary topic, because apart from the era, the costumes and the look, she is a girl who wants to be respected, just like any girl today.

When: Nov 7, 6 pm and 9 pm

Rashomon Blues
Set in contemporary Mumbai, Rashomon Blues is helmed by Bijon Mondal. The story revolves around a sword fighter and his wife who are assaulted by a notorious criminal resulting in a rape and a murder. The testimonies presented at the trial are varied depending on each witness’s point of view. Who is telling the truth forms the crux of the plot. The cast includes Nagesh Bhosle, Kirti Kulhari and Vineet Sharma.

Director speak: I have been doing plays based on classics but when I read the Hindi translation of Rashomon that was staged by a Bhopal group, I knew I had to direct it. It deals with degradation of moral values. It is pertinent today given the crimes against women and disregard for law.

kirti kulhari: I play Kinumi, the wife. Though I’m essaying one role, I’m playing four diverse characters as each witness describes me differently.

When: Nov 8, 6 pm and 9 pm

The Glass Menagerie
Based on American playwright Tennessee Williams’ famous play, The Glass Menagerie is a tale about a family that is grappling with pain, suffering and loss. Abandoned by her husband, Amanda comforts herself with recollections of her earlier, more gracious life. Her son, Tom, longs for adventure, while Laura, her shy crippled daughter, has her glass menagerie and her memories. Directed by Rajit Kapur, it stars Shernaz Patel, Jim Sarbh, Amrita Puri, Cabir Maira And Anaar Desai.

Director speak: The Glass Menagerie is one of the greatest plays of all times. I was moved by the angst of relationships. The play boasts of a good mix of seasoned and young actors.

Shernaz patel: I play Amanda, a woman who is striving to hold the family together. She comes across as overbearing but she has everyone’s best interests at heart. At its heart, the play showcases how families crumble as people are unable to understand each other.

When: Nov 9, 6 pm and 9 pm

Master Madam
This Gujarati play, directed by Manoj Shah, revolves around the concept of body swapping. One of the oldest surviving Indian comedies, Master Madam is about the soul of a prostitute entering a saint’s body, while the prostitute carries the saint’s soul. As expected, there’s chaos! The cast includes Jay Upadhyay, Pratik Gandhi, Aishwariya Mehta, Vaishakhi Dave, Ishaan Doshi, Akshay Makwana, Amit Bhabaliya and Pradeep Vengurlekar.

Director speak: Through this play, I wanted to show how in these days, religion, which is a deeply personal thing, has become a business. The play is a farce and an out-and-out comedy.

Pratik Gandhi: While for the saint, it’s the soul that’s ultimate, for the prostitute, the body is what that matters. At the end, finally the master and the madam believe that the soul and body go together. I found the concept of the play really fascinating.

When: Nov 10, 6 pm and 9 pm 

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