Saturday, 13 December 2014

Theatre - One of my true loves

Watching a good play is possibly the most unbeatable experiences, and the BEST way to spend an evening. And mix this with great friends, lovely food and you are living life to its best

But for me, even more special and the best experiences I have had have been in my favourite city Mumbai (yes, that one's coming soon)

For me the theatre scene in Mumbai is possibly the best (though I suspect Delhi gets better thanks to the NSD) and the absolutely lovely ambience.

I had been actually wary of plays and the stage as a kid, and in fact don't have too many happy memories.  My dad was actively performing at amateur plays done by the community association. He would perform in Kannada, Konkani plays mostly and sometimes I would attend his rehearsal - but perhaps I was too young, or too close - it never felt like something fun or a great experience.

during school I was this scaredy lonesome kid, who got dragged into being one of the 'atmospheric people' in one of the plays (Shakespeare - can you beat it!) and that was again a scaredy experience - as my heart was beating at high octane speed and I just wanted this to end.  We were also all wearing these terribly dirty wigs which made us scratch our heads for a week.

Anyway I had forgotten all about theatre and would have preferred  a good dinner or a movie (or better still a book) - till one of my friends introduced this to me.

I have a ticket for a play which one of his clients was sponsoring - he was in client servicing in advertising.  And to be honest, I really don't remember the play - however what I remember is the experience. This was in South Mumbai where we worked. So we left early from our offices and met at the Tata theatre at NCPA – one majestic building (and in those days, recently refurbished – looked fabulous).  OK I think I remember – the play was this Marathi-hindi-English combination plays – true to the spirit of Mumbai, and had Boman Irani and another popular Marathi actor, with other prominent theatre and TV personalities. 

The play was OK (though we saw this again – don’t know why) – the experience was amazing, purely because of all the contradictions.  This was one fabulous venue – right out of what should be in New York, and the folks included both HiSo as well as senior executives and of course the different celebrities.  But the contradictions were interesting – the food was accessible and affordable by two management trainees (payscales those days were ridiculously low) – and the celebrities and HiSo were fairly tolerant, well behaved and didn’t throw too many airs – most in fact didn’t look spectacularly glamorous or welldone.  The evening was wonderful and we walked back to churchgate through the marine drive and had one of those cheap dinners in one of the small restaurants (Mathura diary farm I think – now closed)

But I was hooked – and boy, it was wonderful. So I do need to thank my friend "J" for helping me by reintroducing the lovely theatre.  Only most of the plays I saw with him in Mumbai and Bangalore were mostly sex farces or the popular mass segment ones. (yes, that’s me sounding high nosed and all hoity toity)

Yes – because once I was introduced to the good stuff – boy, it was just incredible, and I will share my experiences of the incredible ones. 

And Why Mumbai?

Mumbai – because its my alltime favourite city.  But it has this accessibility which I find hard to describe.

I saw plays in London, Washington, Singapore, Dubai and of course the different cities in India.  The plays abroad were unaffordable. (the only one which I loved was an improve session at the kennedy centre and of course, the mouse trap).   

But in the other cities it felt stifling as the play was secondary.

For e.g. in Dubai – most folks would have their mobile phones on – walk in after the play had begun – one I think even lit up and smoked (turned out to be one socialite who the hosts couldn’t be rude to).  Didn’t particularly love it.

Not in Mumbai.

Most folks are serious – and the city demands it.  For you to take out time to go home late, or even travel half way through the city is killing.  It’s a choice you make, so it better be worth it. Most folks are fairly well behaved – and this particularly for the SERIOUS stuff.

I tried avoiding the popular mass segment plays – purely because of this. The crowd was very similar to the ones I had experienced in Dubai. Most were just taking an outing with their family, or friends and the play really didn’t matter.

The other of course, is the different theatres I fell in love with. My favourites were the Tata at NCPA and of course Prithvi which was magical (in those days the ethereally lovely Sanjana Kapoor would come and sit on the stairs in the passageway once the play had begun – and she was incredibly stunning – that was the bonus). Prithvi also had this lovely cafĂ© outside which sadly was mostly crowded. But the reason we preferred prithvi was they had this special scheme where the weekdays the rates for the plays were ridiculously low, and this shot up to five or even ten times the price on weekends – practically unaffordable.

In Mumbai the good thing also was that the market allowed serious, experimental plays to be allowed – from celebrity as well as new emerging players.  This would not be possible for e.g. in Bangalore where no one would sponsor or invest in ‘different’ or upcoming artists work.

Mumbai is one place where all the different P's of a good theatre culture come together: Professionalism, Patronage and Passion.  No other city can afford great professionals working with such passion and working this hard with such killer commutes and difficult working conditions, and as for patronage its key. gone are the days when theatre was seen to be the platform for a bigger film career or a lucrative occupation - not when it is easier to get into TV or modelling (with zero talent, if I can add bitchily here) or better career options that are less labourious.  Its passion which drives the professionals in Mumbai who take out time to rehearse and sacrifice better paying options (cinema, TV etc.) and then give a performance which will move the audience far better than any movie or other can do.

The different times I have stayed in Mumbai has given me some rich experiences – and I shall share some of my favourites on this page soon….

POST SCRIPT:  This excerpt from Naseeruddin Shah's memoir "And then One Day..." describes theatre best :

"...And I have since steadfastly believed that the only magic that happens in this world happens on the stage.  Films take you captive, they feed you everything on a plate, the legerdemain they create transports you into a state where you may as well be dreaming, but theatre takes you into a world where your imagination is stimulated, your judgement is unimpaired, and thus your enjoyment heightened. It is only in the theatre that there can be  this kind of exchange of energies between actor and audience. The finest definition of theatre that I have come across is 'one actor - one audience'. Implying of course that any meaningful interaction between two people anywhere fits the definition of ideal theatre, with the same qualities needed of both participants as are required from them in an actual theatre. Thetre really is a one-on-one experience".

(Once again - read the memoir its lovely!) 

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