A durbar for theatre

Updated: Jul 24, 2019, 08:31 IST | Snigdha Hasan

The Durbar Hall of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai will resonate with Janabai's verses as the majestic venue makes space for the solo performance

A durbar for theatre
The Durbar Hall was restored in December 2012. Pic/The Mumbai Metropolitan Region - Heritage Conservation Society

While the iconic steps of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai have witnessed many a grand performance by classical maestros including Ustad Zakir Hussain and Pt Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, singers Shaan and Benny Dayal as well as buskers, the Durbar Hall housed within the heritage structure isn't exactly known to be a performance venue.

Things began to change somewhat when the majestic space opened up its interiors to dramatised readings of Shakespeare's plays by Alyque Padamsee, Gerson da Cunha and Sabira Merchant as part of the celebration of the Bard's 400 years in 2016. With a calendar that largely includes talks, lectures and literary discussions, the Durbar Hall is opening up once again for a theatrical performance this evening — Cast Off All Shame, a solo act by artiste, folklorist and storyteller that evokes the verses of Bhakti poet Janabai in a contemporary set-up, presented by The Asiatic Society of Mumbai Literary Club.

Asiatic Library

A senior member of the society tells us that this is aimed at diversifying their programme and also attracting younger crowds. "Performances in the hall are meant for a small audience of around 130 people. The hall doesn't have a stage. So, performers bring their own set-up, and sound and light equipment," the member adds.

But for Dr Mayur's minimalistic piece, the space is ideal. "It's a no-frills performance stripped off all trappings of a conventional play. The seating will be semi-circular, like you have at Prithvi Theatre," she says, referring to how she has envisioned the play in accordance with the curved walls of the hall. The 100-plus people she will perform before this evening is a number she has presented her plays to earlier, in other alternate venues in the city. But this time it's different.

"I have done several ticketed shows in the past. Then, I was invited by New Acropolis [an organisation of philosophy and culture] and that helped me reach out to audiences with varied interests. Another performance at ARTISANS' helped me take my work to artists and calligraphers. The conversations that flow afterwards are very enriching and it was with the idea of beginning a conversation that I wrote to the literary club of the society, to which I received a warm response," shares Dr Mayur.

Dr Ulka Mayur

The performance itself is geared towards starting a discussion, for she presents the verses of the 13th-century Bhakti movement poet in a contemporary set-up. "When I chanced upon her poetry, I was mesmerised. Janabai talks of the right to body and right to choose. And I wanted to focus on this liberalising aspect of Bhakti poetry, instead of the mystical facet it is associated with," the artiste says, explaining the set-up in a radio station where Janabai fills in for an absent RJ and takes up caller's questions. "It's questions of today answered by poets from the Middle Ages," she adds. And fittingly, at a venue from the city's colonial past.

On: Today, 5.30 pm
At: The Asiatic Society of Mumbai, Town Hall, Horniman Circle, Fort.
Call: 22660956


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