Narendra Kusnur Writes About The Highlights And Insights From The Prithvi Theatre Festival

Narendra Kusnur Writes About The Highlights And Insights From The Prithvi Theatre Festival

The café was bustling as usual, as singer Vipul Panchal of the group Folk Masti began an acoustic set outside the main Prithvi Theatre auditorium

Narendra KusnurUpdated: Sunday, November 19, 2023, 12:46 PM IST
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Purane Chawal |

The café was bustling as usual, as singer Vipul Panchal of the group Folk Masti began an acoustic set outside the main Prithvi Theatre auditorium. Nearer the entrance, the queue kept getting longer, as strangers mingled over memories of plays from the past. They were in line for the November 4 premiere of the Motley Theatre Group’s new production Old-World, featuring Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak Shah.

The 38th edition of the annual Prithvi Theatre Festival had actually begun the previous evening, as Shubha Mudgal presented love songs from the Sufi and Bhakti traditions for an invited audience. Old-World opened up the event to the public, which till November 13, watched a series of plays, music concerts by the Symphony Orchestra of India and jazz maestro Louiz Banks, a dance performance by Odissi exponent Prithvi Nayak, fringe plays and stage talks.

Each year, the festival celebrates the November 3 birthday of the legendary Prithviraj Kapoor. Most plays were in English or Hindi. Old-World, directed by Arghya Lahiri, was an adaptation of Russian playwright Aleksei Arbuzov’s work, translated into English by Ariadne Nicolaeff. Staged over three shows on November 4 and 5, it was about an introverted doctor and a talkative patient who meet at a sanatorium. While their names have been changed from Rodion and Lydia to Dr Rashid Qureshi and Xenobia Sumariwala, and there are references to Navsari, bhangra and the 1971 war, the basic narrative stays true to the original, as it deals with themes of aging, loss and acceptance. Both Naseeruddin and Ratna Pathak Shah gave performances that touched a chord.

Red

Red |

The other English plays in the main auditorium were Akvarious Productions’ This Time on November 8 and Water Lily’s Red on November 10. The following day, Adishakti’s Urmila was staged in English, with a few dialects in Kannada, Malayalam and Tamil.

This Time, written and directed brilliantly by Akarsh Khurana, was about a reunion of a college’s ‘class of 2003’. A rollercoaster of witty dialogues and nostalgic moments, it had Adhaar Khurana and Mallika Singh in the lead, with multiple roles by Garima Yajnik, Kshitee Jog, Mantra and Siddharth Kumar.

Old World

Old World |

For its part, Red had a serious subject, focusing on the relationship between an artist (played by Vikram Kapadia) and his creations. Based on the real-life story of American painter Mark Rothko, it was written for theatre by John Logan, and first staged in 2009 with Alfred Molina playing the lead. The Water Lily presentation was directed by Daniel Owen Dsouza, who also played Rothko’s fictional assistant Ken (enacted by Eddie Redmayne in the original). The play brought up subjects like creativity, pop-art, audience interpretation and an artist’s temperament.

Urmila, written and directed by Nimmy Raphael, was inspired by the Ramayan tale of Lakshman’s wife Urmila going to sleep for 14 years, after her husband went into self-exile with Rama and Sita. Meethu Miriyam played the lead role, with Sooraj and Anil Iyer supporting.

All were first-time runs. The Hindi fare began on November 7 with D For Drama’s Purane Chawal, directed by Sumeet Vyas, and adapted from American playwright Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys. It was about two comedians (played by Kumud Mishra and Shubrajyoti Barat) who reunite for a performance. The problem is that they cannot stand each other.

On November 12, Ansh Theatre Group’s Manushya was staged. Directed and enacted by Makarand Deshpande, it was about a thinker named Phadke who believes everyone has a clown within him, and he has to let his clown out.

This Time

This Time |

If the main auditorium featured some remarkable new theatre, smaller ‘Fringe’ plays were held at the Prithvi House opposite. The audiences here were mostly hardcore theatre aficionados, seated in baithak style, with some chairs and benches kept for senior citizens. The productions comprised The Loonatics Collective’s Prime Time Sexty Minutes, directed by and featuring Aanya Dhingra, and a staged reading from 72 East Productions’ The Queen, written by Aditya Rawal and featuring Rajeshwari Sachdev and Denzil Smith.

In Hindi, there were The Back Benchers’ Prastut Hai Ghisa Pita Raag, written and directed by Chitransh, and aRanya’s Baagheecha, written and directed by Lakshvir Singh Saran. For those who love Urdu poetry, there was a musical performance of poet Josh Malihabadi’s autobiography. Presented by Wings Cultural Society, it was titled Bol Iktare Jhan Jhan Jhan Jhan. Another highlight was Sankhya Dance Company’s Abhangaranga, a dance performance directed by Vaibhav Arekar, and based on the writings of Marathi saint poets Sant Dhyaneshwar, Sant Namdev, Sant Eknath and Sant Tukaram.

All in all, it was a well-balanced schedule, with some outstanding plays and performances. The only drawback perhaps was some of the events clashed. Maybe the ‘Fringe’ plays should be held earlier in the afternoon, before the main auditorium swings into action.

Interestingly, the festival began and ended with musical performances. On the final evening, pianist Louiz Banks led an ensemble that played vocal standards and original compositions. Outside, Sourabh Joshi sang pleasant tunes, alternating between acoustic guitar and ukulele. The café was active till much later, as actors, directors and support crew gathered in celebration.

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