Saturday, 11 June 2016

Opening Bite

It is a very confusing world.
A play that was successfully performed two decades ago gets banned in 2015.
People taking selfies in a café have no idea that the grey building behind it is a theatre and a heritage site.
Most plays that get well-sized advertisements are too expensive to actually watch.
Ticket price range from Rs 2000 to Rs 125.
College productions are directed by people who graduated decades ago (or never did).

It is a very confusing world. And here I am, trying to satisfy my incessant need to be a part of it. 
"The chronicles of a 19 year old Theatre enthusiast trying to make sense of the art he loves being around" sounds way too pretentious. 
So instead I'm going to call it the adventures of a Nautanki attempting to watch whatever play/performance his pocket allows him to attend.

And what's easiest on the pockets is free events.

So Saturday, 4th June I found my aboard a packed Mumbai Local on my way to attend an event by Mumbai Local. Mumbai Local is an initiative by Junoon Theatre. This particular day had Theatre Veteran Ramu Ramanathan talk about the A to Z of theatre in Bombay. And he refused to stop at using that as just an expression. So he began on the first letter of the English Alphabet with Ambedkari Jalsa as a part of the cultural scene, complete with images of the festivities from the BDD chawls; all the way up to Z for Zindabadness, the eternal longevity of arts. The remaining 24 letters were peppered with incidents, monuments, anecdotes and witty remarks about the left and the right.

Now to be completely honest, I am not very well-versed with the writings of Ramu Ramanathan. The man has written some 50 plays and directed about a dozen or two. More importantly, when Ramu Ramanathan talks, you want to sit up and listen. I have had the opportunity to listen to him speak across a couple of platforms recently and once you realize what a plethora of information he has, it becomes difficult to not attend every talk of his you can. Even during the Junoon talk, it was phenomenal how with each letter he jumped from a reference to a Marathi poet, a Gujarati playwright, a Malayali performer and then perhaps back to another Marathi poet.

What was also amazing about the talk was that it did not restrict itself to just plain theatre. While that remained a common plot, soon you were listening to stories about people you had never heard of, forming pictures of what the city must have looked like 30 years ago in your mind and understanding a rather colourful history of art and politics. What proved to be the most humbling part of the evening though was this man referring to himself as an illiterate in the end of the talk. Watta man, man!

The conversation wandered from cultural events by the construction workers, intercollegiate drama, cultural wingsa of trade unions, how 'reading plays' is a codeword for 'daaru' and how 'naatyagrihas' in Mumbai are generally to be found close to three places,
~A railway station
~A pub
~And a brothel

There's events like this happening all across the city. In a time where it's so much easier to scroll down our Instagram feeds to catch up on the choicest of Art, we often forget how important it is to also listen to those who traveled to the nooks and corners of the land in search of such work, way before social media. The talks at Mumbai Local aren't just for the theatre enthusiasts, they are for anybody looking to enrich their lives with whatever comes our way. Now is when we have the time, now is when we can start gathering enough to someday turn into these travelers ourselves. Next up, Mumbai Local has a glimpse into an art curator's practices by Ranjit Hoskote - also a poet and a cultural theorist.

As for this blog, it's not literature that matters. It's just the world of arts, explored by the mind of a silly 19 year old. In the coming months, it's going to be a mess of watching plays, looking at art, listening to people and of course the enchanting and sometimes ugly world of college theatre. Again, all through the eyes of a silly 19 year old.
Stay tuned?

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