A recent trip to Prithvi theater was the realisation of a dream that i had cherished for quite some time. The occasion was the Bombay Motley Theater Fest and i was there with a friend to watch one of the plays that was being staged over there. I generally like theater but only when it comes for free. This was different because it had more to do with seeing the famed Prithvi theater once in a lifetime than anything else. I actually ended up shelling out the price of a ticket to watch the play aptly titled Ismat Apa Ke Naam. This was a 'story-telling' session rather than the enactment of the three stories by the famed and much loved, not to say controversial writer Ismat Chugtai.
The audience which had turned up to watch the play looked and behaved like one real giant joint family. Barring the two of us, every person seemed to know everyone else. Apart from the customary handshakes and the almost-bear-hugs (given the size of some of the people who were hugging each other), people greeted and acknowledged each other in ways which were hitherto unknown to me. So, while the others formed groups amongst themselves and very animatedly discussed drama and theater, we contented ourselves by criticising how small Prithvi theater is compared to our college auditorium. One thing that i have always noticed is that when you are a part of an elite gathering, you must-must-must discuss Che Guevara. I don't mind it much. But it becomes an issue when they want to ensure that the entire world standing around them gets to know that they know their two grains worth of the Ernesto. Another topic which is considered even more esoteric is Pablo Neruda and his ideas and the way he used to sleep diagonally across his bed etc. Ok, i made this bit up. But i swear people were actually discussing Che and Neruda. Not ones to be left out, we also got into animated discussions over Delhi Daredevils and Mumbai Indians. Needless to say, the looks that we got from the intelligentsia was of pure disdain and contempt.
I know this will make the puritans squirm . But, we were there in the hope of seeing an exdraordinary dramatic performance from the likes of Naseer Bhai ( Not Naseeruddin Shah, right?), Ratna Pathak Shah and Heeba Shah. Thus, it was a kind of a dampener when we realised that this actually is not a play but a "story telling" performance. There were going to be three different Chugtai's stories that would be narrated by three different people. The first rendition came from Heeba Shah who narrated the story "Chhui Mui" . About the performance: it was nice entertainment. I ended up being terribly impressed by the quality and clarity of Heeba Shah's diction.
The second story was called "Mughal Baccha". The story teller was Ratna Pathak Shah. For me, this was well and truly the performance of the day. Her style of narration was so captivating that you could actually feel the story unfolding before your eyes. The way she varied the pitch, tone and her style as she effortlessly moved on from being one character to another was mesmerising. Plus, the story itself had oodles of humour and wit. Also, i don't have any qualms in admitting that Ratna Shah was looking really beautiful. Having always seen her on the television, i never knew that she is so good looking in real life.
As for the last story, the less said the better. The only saving grace was Naseer Bhai reading out the story. Before the start of this 'play', Naseer had talked a lot about how there was a witch hunt for Ismat Chughtai by people who had branded her as a writer of vulgar and obscence stories when she first started publishing. In conclusion, he told us to decide for ourselves if the stories were actually obscene or 'examples of classy literature'.
My conclusion (Not as if you care): The first two stories were definitely interesting and would have made for a good read for a mature audience. The movie adapation would have nevertheless fetched them an "A" certificate from the Indian censor board. But as far as the last story is concerned, i am still baffled. Who on earth would call it a 'class act'? Or rather, why? If a today's C grade hindi movie script can be yesterday's 'class act', then this surely was a BIG class act. It was titled Gharwali but could as well have been given some other corny suggestive name. Full of cheap dialogues which were lapped up by the elite audience. Not that i am grumbling. At the end of the performance, i was left wondering if the people who come over to watch these plays are actually humour-starved. It was not like i didn't find the plays funny. But, the way people kept bursting into peals of laughter at the end of each dialogue made me wonder if this was also a part of some laughter therapy. Or may be, this is how a regular theater goer who understands nuances of theater and drama, is supposed to react! Or may be, i am too morose.
All said and done, it was worth a watch. It would definitely have helped if Prithvi theater was slightly bigger and had more comfortable seating arrangements. Because, every now and then, you do have a normal, theatrically almost-illiterate guy turning up to try and understand theater and have fun at the same time. Also, a few free passes would be a Godsend :)
PS: For those who actually want a nice, critical review of the plays can visit this link
And, please do it asap before i am asked to remove the link from my blog