A new screen for Gujarati theatre

Updated: Jun 05, 2020, 08:43 IST | Dalreen Ramos | Mumbai

Known for his thought-provoking plays, theatre veteran Manoj Shah will bring 10 of his finest works online every week.

A still from Karl Marx in Kalbadevi
A still from Karl Marx in Kalbadevi

In Mummy! Tu Aavi Kevi?, a play that was first staged over nine years ago, veteran theatre director Manoj Shah invited his audience into a household that wanted a cool, tech-savvy mom. That plot, he reckons, resonates now more than ever as the world grapples to become technologically adept in order to go about their day-to-day functioning. "We're trying to understand what a webinar or virtual reality is, while kids are way ahead of us. So, it is time we learn from them," he says. And to adapt to this world himself, as soon as the third phase of the lockdown started, Shah and his theatre group Ideas Unlimited, started planning a virtual showcase.

Every Saturday, the team puts up one of their finest plays which will have a seven-day window for viewing on YouTube. Last Saturday, Mummy! Tu Aavi Kevi? was the first to be uploaded and can be watched until this Saturday. In the pipeline are works such as the acclaimed Karl Marx in Kalbadevi, Sikka Ni Triji Baju, Apurva Avsar, What Up?, Kaagdo, Hu Chandrakant Bakshi, Mareez, Dr Anandibai Joshi-Like, Comment, Share, and Gujarat Ni Asmita.

A still from Mummy! Tu Aavi Kevi
A still from Mummy! Tu Aavi Kevi

While English theatre took the virtual leap early on in March, Shah tells us that this showcase highlights diverse roots of the Gujarati language itself. "If there's one thing I've discovered in over 40 years in this industry, it's that theatre has its own language. I don't make actors speak Gujarati in the traditional sense; there's a variety of dialects. For instance, in Mareez, you get to hear Bohri Gujarati which is similar to Parsi Gujarati. Plus, there's a bit of Manto in this play so Urdu comes in and you get to see the fusion of language. Then, I also allow my actors to speak in Surati or Kathiawari," Shah shares.

A still from Mareez
A still from Mareez

Drawing from the name of Shah's physical festivals, the online initiative is titled Ooncha Mailo Parogram which means "top class programme". The director tells us that this emanates from the fact that his plays are exclusive — in contrast to other Gujarati productions or "sold-out shows" on the Sunday circuit. "My shows are an experience. They are not just for entertainment but enlightenment. It stimulates your ideology and belief. And much like in the spirit of the Sanskrit term 'satsang', you get to engage in dialogue after that," he says. And that's why his plays have a long shelf life — Master Phulmani has been running since 1998.

Manoj Shah
Manoj Shah

Viewing the online medium as a necessity more than a means to reach a wider audience, Shah doesn't intend to work on a play themed around the pandemic as current happenings have never been his inspiration. He is, however, working on three plays including one on Steve Jobs and another themed on suicides among young people. This showcase still remains a fantastic opportunity for him to connect with his audience as "people are always looking to be together; they are waiting to clap, laugh and cry together." Shah encapsulates this endeavour by echoing a popular Gujarati adage 'gamta no kariye gulal'. "It says, 'let's share with others what's close to our hearts.' So, this is like some really fine wine that I have and wish to share."

On Every Saturday
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