Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Flatter to deceive ?

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
http://entropymuse.blogspot.com/2008/05/review-of-ismat-apa-ke-naam.html.
And, please do it asap before i am asked to remove the link from my blog

33 comments:

Entropy said...

Hi Arunabha,
Nice to read your review of the play. Rather interesting that our reactions to 'Gharwali' are so varied - I loved it and thought that Naseeruddin's acting was just awesome.

Did you sit outside and have Irish coffee at Prithvi ? The Irish coffee is a must-do.

Your description of regular theatre-goers discussing Neruda and Che Guevara etc was damn funny. Realise I made a mistake merely drinking coffee and reading the paper outside. Next time I shall eavesdrop on everyone's conversation.

Zenobia

Psychochan said...

nice description of the pretensions... that che and neruda bit is sooooooooooo bloodddddy true!!! find a lot of that stuff in the place i come from!and so is the laughter bit... and the whole clique-ish behaviour
'or maybe i am too morose'loved that... hehhehhehehehe! keep gng more often and give us more gossip

Anonymous said...

Are ya pessimistic or are ya just so caustic without any apparent reasons? Is it that u are a big world-hater?
Why didja have to criticise Naseeruddin Shah so much? Yes, he is still Naseeruddin Shah for people like me :P
Delhi also has a good theater scene. Come to delhi busy boy and i'll show ya some nice plays where i will get ya to meet people who don't talk che and neruda :D
Deal? Before i forget, i'll get ya the free passes or else buy the tickets for ya, ok? :P

~ruchika

arunabh said...

@Zenobia
Hey, no! I was equally impressed with Naseeruddin Shah's enactment of the story. It was simply awesome, to say the least :) My problem is with the storyline itself. It sounded more like the typical low grade hindi movie script :D
Irish coffee- Will surely do if i manage to watch another play there. Chances are remote since we were told that all plays are running full house.
And no, you don't even have to take the pains of eavesdropping. Just stand within earshot distance and people will ensure that you get enough of Che and Neruda 'gyaan'
Thanks
Keep visiting :)

arunabh said...

@deepti
I know, i know. I knew there would be lesser mortals like me who would totally agree with this Che Neruda bit :P
And wouldn't that morose thing be a natural reaction? I mean that is one obvious thought that is going to be there somewhere in the back of the head, regardless of how narcissistic you might be
Keep visiting :

@ruchika
Pessimistic ? Caustic? I refute both allegations. I, just am, factual :)
I know everything in Delhi rocks, isn't it? I agree though :P
Keep visiting :)

SaIk said...

I surely missed something be.. would love to come along next time... as usual u are best at your wits conveying everything as smoothly as ever.

nitishj said...

As for humor starved crowd, not everyone has the likes of H-3's giants around. Next time when u talk of IPL, talk of Mallayas, warnes. I bet they both together, would have done half of the ernesto, neruda talking females there.

prachi said...

hahahahaha
this was really hilarious :D
I am a great admirer of neruda >:P But i like toadily toadily avoid discussing him at public gatherings whr thr are dangerous ppl like u lurking arnd :P
jokes apart, i can tell u one thing that u shud tell to these pretentious lechers "Stop fuckin around with Neruda. Go n fuck urselves!!"
\m/

all that matters... said...

Nicely written... Esp the discussion among the enlightened ones... And, your discussion on IPL was the icing...

arunabh said...

@sai
I won't be here during the later part of June. But, as far as i know, they are showing certain plays in NCPA. So you can go if you want to
Keep visiting:)

@nitishj
You confuse me? But yes
\m/H3,H3\m/
Keep visiting :)

@prachi
What?
What prompted such a hyper reaction? Some bad experiences from the past,eh?
And just to clarify things.. i don't hate neruda either. But, i haven't ever read neruda :P
Keep visiting:)

@all that matters
Thanks, thanks :)
Actually there were two reasons behind discussing IPL.
First, because we like it.
Second, i might have hurt the sensibilities of the enlightened ones ;)
Keep visiting :)

Yashika Totlani said...

Hi 'arunabha' :P

Did visit the link... nice write up. Seems the guy DOES understand the nuances of theatre :)

Hmm... classic post that exemplifies your 'unassumed humour'. Fav picks:

-"Apart from the customary handshakes and the almost-bear-hugs (given the size of some of the people who were hugging each other)"
[=))]

-"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 would've done the same... discussing ipl is anyday less onerous than pretending to be a pseudo-theatre-critic]

-"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..."
[Never let it get boring for the reader, do you seinfeld? :P]

Oh and I feel 'compelled' to highlight--- :P
-"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."
[Whatever happened to your online diplomatic-ism? :P ]

Anyhow... enjoyable read. Did make me wiki a coupla things. More a leaf to remember your experience, than a post. Keep blogging :)

arunabh said...

@yashika
You called me Seinfeld, eh? I am so flattered :P
And just for information's sake, i am a diehard supporter of Delhi Daredevils. Not that anyone cares. But still.
I just realised that online diplomatic-ism isn't taking me anywhere. So i have decided to shun it for good. Now, you will frequently find me calling a beautiful woman 'beautiful', a cute lass 'cute' and a gayish man 'gay' :P
Keep visiting :)

kritzmat said...

someone FINALLY puts my thoughts into words! i too have not ever been able to understand why Guevera is a must in any discourse.
Good read as always. :)

The Nomad said...

Hi Arunabha,

Nicely told :)

Prithvi is small but I feel that's the charm of it, even in the very topmost row you are never too far. I have watched plays and concerts at NCPA and while the audi is huge if you don't book early enough and get a place at the back its no fun.

Strange that during my three hour dharna for a ticket I didn't hear any of the Che and Neruda convos!

And I agree! Isn't she so pretty? You must see Dear Liar the next time its staged both of them are soooo good in it and she looks like a dream.

A tip for future plays ... even if they are booked you may get tickets half an hour before the show but shhh ... don't tell too many people about it :)

Saurabh said...

This is witty blogging. Had lots of humour and fun. I kept chuckling throughout as i was reading this
Nice blog

arunabh said...

@kritika
aah, so you also are an ignorant soul like me? Welcome to the party :P
keep visiting :)

@Nomad
Point taken. Since i have not been to any other theater like the NCPA, i shouldn't have actually commented on the size of the theater. Given that a large auditorium causes the kind of problems you are talking about, i think the small size might be justified. Why only "Dear Liar"? Ratna Pathak has given me enough reasons to watch any other play that is staged. She almost looks like Nauheed Cyrusi [who coincidentally happens to be my favorite actress:)]. I think the esoterica realizes that i am the not-so-well-read kind who should be bombarded with the Che-Neruda stuff. Hence, its only me who gets bombarded with the hifi sound bytes :(
And thanks a lot for the tip.
Keep visiting :)

arunabh said...

@saurabh
Thanks a lot.
I know i can be funny ;)
Keep visiting :)

PS: For everyone who bothers to actually read my counter comments. My name actually is Arunabh and not Arunabha:)
Which makes me a male in case you thought i am a female :D
But then Shakespeare was a genius, wasn't he? ;)

Hidayath said...

arunabha?

Haha .. I loved your description of the snooty Bombay junta :) Really put them in their place with commoner talk eh? :)

Divya said...

Hey there... well i had a similar experience.. yesterday I went to NCPA to catch Antigone, part of the Motley Fest again... I'm more of a movie person and had been wanting to see for a very long time what the whole theatre scene was like and well, i came across this bunch of hyper-classy people who were talking of the profoundness of the play they were about to see and the ethical questions it would bring to light while we were discussing the possible correct pronunciations of the title and how ads of Absolut Vodka are awesome... needless to say we were the pariahs of the lot, earning many stares of disapproval. Oh and as for the play, it was very strange though thought provoking. And of course, excellent acting.

arunabh said...

@hidayath
Snooty, they sure were :)
Keep visiting :)

@divya
Ohh finally. Thanks for coming to my rescue because apparently I was the only one who had a brush with the 'intellectuals'. Now, there is someone who can second my views :)
How long is the NCPA fest supposed to last? And how do i get tickets? Are they showing plays for free? :P

I have also heard very highly about Antigone. And was even willing to shell away some precious bucks. Alas! The play was running house full.
Keep visiting:)

Divya said...

I'm not wholly sure till when it lasts.. but Antigone is being screened tomorrow too (31 may)
oh for NCPA u have to go there and book the tickets... and for me thats a big pain. but hey...
Well maybe because Im not an actual "intellectual" in that sense of the word but when my friend and I came out after the play, I don't think we understood what the director wanted us to understand maybe, but we enjoyd dissecting it and analysing the play and the questions it raised... Sure beats being spoonfed the underlying meaning as is always done in school and college...
Sure will, you write pretty well :)

arunabh said...

Its always nice dissecting and analyzing plays/movies, isn't it? Although that puts us more or less in the same league as esoterica, but it does give me great kicks (not meant to be taken sarcastically) :D
Thanks a lot. But you write equally well, if not better :)

Divya said...

Well thank you... In that case, keep visiting :)

the lazy knight said...

Hello Arunabha :P a bit late but here i am..and excuse the laziness and the name confusion...yashika can vouch i have referred to u as arunav, anubhav and god knows what else...and since i myself get quite annoyed when people get my first name wrong i wud apologise for the confusion above and set out to comment on your blog - arunabh :)
i must admit my theatrically inclined days were at a similar stage as yours - towards the end of college and though i never managed to see the big guns in action i was lucky enough to see a few renditions of shakespeare and other indian playrights by some not so famous stage actors...
it wud seem to me that like in the case of many things with the elite...being seen at the prithvi theatre is more important than knowing what ismat chutgai was all about...a pity, such a radical and brave author now has a page 3 cabal as her audience...

Metallica bhakt! said...

I had a similar "intelligence"struck experience on my visit to NCPA! Thankfully the play Me,Kash and Cruise was damn good! and yah maan..the funny thing that happened to us was that(it being the 1st time) we went around searchin for our seats!(Assuming that whatever was scribbled on the ticket seemed like a row n seat no.)none the less!I guess the same crowd is found around!coz most of them too were discussing Che!the theatre fraternity lives on it,to conclude!

arunabh said...

@lazy knight
Come to think of it, page 3 audience has become omnipresent. Cricket, which was supposed to be a game for the masses has now dollops of page 3 in attendance (look at IPL). And i am pretty sure they don't know their cricket !
Better late than never
Keep visiting :)

@Metallica Bhakt!
Again, NCPA? Guess i should also go and watch atleast one play there for that rare once-in-a-lifetime moment
As i said the crowd that turns up to watch theater looks more or less like one king size joint family. No wonder you also bumped against the Che fraternity. Just to clear the air, i am in no way against Che or his ideals, life etc. "Motorcycle Diaries" is an amazing movie :) Its something else which is a little irksome.. but later
Keep visiting:)

der Bergwind said...

quite a lot to say, nice read and esp when the maximum city has been my city of choice for a long time now! btw -

you have been tagged!

Entropy said...

Hi Arunabh,
Write something new. Been ages since there was something new to read on your blog.
:-) Of course, on my blog, I use the comments people write and run them as posts, so I should not pass any comments on infrequent posting. :-)
By the way, in case you ever go to Bangalore, check out Rangashankara - very nice theatre, very quaint cafe - not as cosy or as charming as Prithvi though.
Zen

arunabh said...

@Der bergwind
Thanks a lot! Will try the tag once i get time.
Keep visiting:)

@Zen
Even i am dying to update my blog with something. But everytime i get down to blogging, i just seem to run out of ideas. Will definitely try updating as soon as i can. Just waiting for the right idea to strike :)
Thanks for the Bangalore input. Will surely go there if i happen to visit the city. My immediate concern though is Pune, where i am moving next month, to earn my bread and butter (for the first time in my life :( ). Any ideas about Pune?
Keep visiting:)

Vartika said...

ohh..it is that festival..i so wanted to go to...
alas!
and the post makes me sad all over again!

Anonymous said...

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http://emo--boys.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

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(Submitted by NetPost for R4i Nintendo DS.)

Amy Briscoe said...

Hi Arunabh, Write something new. Been ages since there was something new to read on your blog. :-) Of course, on my blog, I use the comments people write and run them as posts, so I should not pass any comments on infrequent posting. :-) By the way, in case you ever go to Bangalore, check out Rangashankara - very nice theatre, very quaint cafe - not as cosy or as charming as Prithvi though. Zen