Dolly Thakore and The Week That Was: Upstaged by coronavirus, left, right & centre

Coronavirus has played havoc with a lot of theatre programming – personal and otherwise.

The biggest disappointment was the much-awaited final play by Girish Karnad, The Crossing To Talikota.

My last conversation with Girish was about this play. I was thrilled when I received his manuscript. There is a lot one learns from every text Girish has ever written. His play “Tuglak” has become theatre lore.

Girish chose this piece of history of the Deccan from the last millennium and the impact it had on the political and cultural map of the whole of India: the revolution of the Lingayat poet philosophers under Basavanna and the Vacanarakas in the twelfth century, the spectacular achievements of the Vijayanagara empire four centuries later, the reign of Tipu Sultan, which was the last assertion of national pride against colonial onslaught.

All ended catastrophically but left behind legacies that continue to shape national life and thought even today. The Crossing to Talikota deals with the fall of the Vijayanagara empire following the fierce battle at Talikota. The year is 1565. Devastation reigns over the once-renowned Vijayanagara empire.

I was all geared to see his final play at the Jamshed Bhabha Auditorium of the National Centre for the Performing Arts, with its huge cast and crew of 42, directed by

Arjun Sajnani of Bengaluru -- when we received news of its cancellation -- hours before its opening night in Mumbai on March 13.

Director Sajnani and his troupe of 42 had worked all night setting up the stage and lights, and were all ensconced at the Sea Green Hotel on Marine Drive when news of its cancellation came hours before curtains up. Costume designer Pia Benegal had worked for months designing costumes for some 30 actors for this 16th century drama.

I can still feel their disappointment. But the good news is, we can look forward to The Crossing to Talikota on June 19, 20 and 21 at the same venue.

Our own King Lear

Tata Sky’s offering of Indian theatre is allowing me to view many Marathi plays of old…I was glued to ‘Natsamrat’, which was advertised. It is very reminiscent of Shakespeare’s King Lear, who divides his kingdom between his daughters, and is left homeless when greed, ambition and avarice overtake filial emotions.

In the Marathi version, a successful Shakespearean actor, who earns great fame and fortune acting in theatre and is revered as Natsamrat (King of the Theatre) bequeaths his wealth to his two sons and their wives...who usurp everything and turn him out of their homes. This production had Mahesh Manjrekar playing the lead, with Rohini Hattangadi as his dutiful wife.

But my mind flashed back to going backstage to meet Dr Shriram Lagoo before the show. He had made Natsamrat the most popular play in Marathi, and I had a column reviewing plays in English, Hindi, and sometimes Marathi.… and he uttered a line welcoming me.…Cheekily, I retorted: Stand up and act it out and I will tell you what you said!

And it’s a memory that endured. I cast him in Gandhi and later, in Jamil Dehlavi’s Jinnah.

Another popular Vijay Tendulkar play I revisited was ‘Shantata! Court Chalu Aahe’, which I first saw in the early 70s, with Sulabha Deshpande in the original. But this television version had Nandita Das playing the teacher Benare – with Saurabh Shukla as the prosecutor.

The story revolves around a mock trial when a teacher is charged with infanticide and the pretend play turns into an accusatory game when it emerges that Ms Benare is carrying a child out of wedlock from an illicit relationship with Professor Damle. All the hypocrisy of Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao, and the Laadli girl child gender sensitivity platitudes surfaced.

Was delighted to read the response of the head of the Indian Foundation for the Arts, Arundhati Ghosh, to Duncan MacMillan’s ‘Every Brilliant Thing’ performed by Vivek Madan and directed by Quasar in Bengaluru. An unnamed character begins a list of things worth living.

He’s all of seven years old and his mother has just tried to kill herself. And he thinks if he makes a list of every brilliant thing in life, it will help her. “This piece of theatre was made with a deep sense of love, sensitivity, and acceptance of the randomness of what life throws at you. Its construction is prepared with a lightness of touch and gentleness of care. It asks of its audience a listening, and extension of a hand in support.

Rupturing the hierarchy of intellectual enquiry it provokes the urgency of an emotional quest in art and perhaps in all things related to life. What I found refreshing is its ability to speak quietly and firmly about the need for hope.

A very relevant play in today’s world about depression and its effect on family and society.”

The Xavier Institute of Communications celebrated its 50th jubilee year with the XIC literary festival hosted by the students of journalism and mass communication batch of 2020. The theme of all talks and discussions centreed around identities and representations.

Everywoman’s story

Alfaaz was a sharing of knowledge and experiences on I Am Every Woman – A Celebration Of Women In Arts And Media. It gave me an opportunity to share and interact with fellow panellists Dr Usha Thakkar, president of Mani Bhavan Gandhi Sangrahalaya, Author, ‘Gandhi in Bombay: Towards Swaraj’; Kiran Manral – Ideas Editor with SheThePeople; Sangeeta Bagga-Gupta, Professor of Education at Jonkoping University, Sweden – a researcher and scientific leader of Communication, Culture, Diversity Research Group – and the only person on the panel I didn’t know.

The discussion focused on how women have made a mark in society, overcoming challenges of conventional social constructs, and shared stories that make them Everywoman.

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