I'm not very big on watching stuff at Prithvi House. Prithvi House is a black box theatre opposite the main Prithvi Theatre and is a convertible, almost bare space. There's no proper seating, which is a big turn-off for me because I enjoy sitting comfortably when watching anything. Besides, if I'm not completely glued to the performance, I get very restless which is problem when the audience is cramped and seated on the floor.
So of the 15 or so Fringe Performances that happened in my 3 years at Thespo, I saw none..And then, the ones I saw this year virtually took my breath away.
The first one was called Chenda. The one-man-show was scheduled on a day that another one-man-show (Bhanwar) would wow the audience off. And there couldn't have been a better precedent than Chenda. It told the story of a drunkard street performer, who believes his cow's soul now resides in his musical instrument. Chenda is an instrument made from the skin of a cow's belly. The following guilt, internal conflict and the hilarious struggle were aptly brought to life by a very able Abhinav Grover, who wrote, directed and performed the piece.
The Fringe Performances for the next day went a step further. The description given for Mujer was something like this - Six Actresses and One Stage Manager who know nothing about puppetry come together for a puppetry workshop that culminates in a play.
But what happened once the performance started, no words can do justice to. The play essentially speaks what it means to be a misfit, and a woman, in the society. It combined as many Indian languages as possible and the performers extracted stories from their own lives, making the play even more real. Every girl spoke with an odd sort of honesty, that either made you be her or empathize with her.
Poetic, rhythmic and yeI'm on very big on watching stuff at Prithvi House. Prithvi House is a black box theatre opposite the main Prithvi Theatre and is a convertible, almost bare space. There's no proper seating, which is a big turn-off for me because I enjoy sitting comfortably when watching anything. Besides, if I'm not completely glued to the performance, I get very restless which is problem when the audience is cramped and seated on the floor.
So of the 1t somehow a vers libre, Mujer stayed with me for a long time. But I shall come to that later.
I was very curious about how the play took shape. Unfortunately, I had no information on that. Who I did have access to, was one of the six girls, and Theatre Potato's official illustrator - Mati Rajput. Here's her account of the workshop.:
I sat there numb, contemplating whether or not to smile when I heard a whisper,
"It's going to be all right."
All right! That's pretty much what my days felt like with her around - all right . I took extra care to reach on time to meet her. You know what it's like living in Bombay! You just tend to get late. But do you know what it's like to be a woman in Bombay?
It was quite tricky, spending 14 days trying to answer this question - 3 crucial hours for two whole weeks working with a director who had no clue about our life styles. (Facilitator Trina Haldar flew in from the UK) What she had brought along with her was a huge roll of paper, a few sketch pens and a Puppet specially commissioned for us. I, along with five other performers and a stage manager tried to put in our keen minds, ears and souls to everything Trina had in store for us. None of us had worked with a puppet before but we were all fascinated by the way she functions. She's made out of recycled paper and GAF tape. The only description Trina had given the designer was that she should fit into all age groups and should look like feminine.
The workshop/ Fringe performance was called 'Mujer'. If you haven't already guessed what it means, it means Women in Spanish and it is pronounced as 'Muher'. So all of us decided to name our puppet friend just that. Mujer would often come to life the minute we started to operate her. Having said that, operating her was not a cakewalk. Our puppeteers - Tanvi Sonigra, Urmila and Tanvi Pandit spent quality time going back to simplest ways of living; focusing more on Mujer and her daily routine, etc. Soon, Mujer had become an inspiration for us. In our eyes she was a super hero, an everyday human being who portrayed the lives of our role models. She would fly, swim, dance, breathe. Name it and she would do it!
Mujer wasn't the only puppet we worked with while building the piece though. Trina taught us how anything can come to life if you let it. We worked with cushions that later became a major prop in our performance. We had minimum props to work with. 4 wooden boxes, 4 print outs of our favorite book covers and 6 cushions. Also, while devising the performance, we had no script in hand. So we asked each other various questions. The fact that we could say anything through this piece made us more diligent about what did we actually want to put across. Not patronizing, not being sexist or for that matter any other -ist. Our only aim was to narrate a beautiful piece about Women. The piece went from one woman to another and Mujer was the thread between us all. We put together various stories of what it has taken for us to 'exist' in minutest ways possible.
Mujer has been one of the most memorable and greatest experience of my life. It has also turned me into a creep that eavesdrops on other people's conversations while commuting. All thanks to Trina! She would teach us various exercises, acquaint us with her experiences and would ask us to make crucial decisions. I can proudly say that confused individuals like us are very much capable of at least making decisions today. Good, bad, ugly, doesn't matter. Apart from that, Mujer has helped me discover various things about myself and grow into a much more independent human being. And I'm glad that the brilliant minds I've worked with are progressive and put a genuine effort into putting up a show like Mujer.
I'm grateful to Thespo and Meghana Telang for giving us the opportunity of this international collaboration. It is a very genuine effort by Thespo to make the youth of our country familiar to theatre around the world and everyone who has been a part of these international collaborations has only been happy and learnt something new and different.
What we have discovered through Mujer is that We're all works in progress and we're just as strange as you! Now go follow Mashi theatre and check out Trina Haldar's amazing work on social media.
Over to you Kalpak.
that is the most comforting thing in the world. Special shout out to the puppeteers for that one.
And then about 15 days post the festival, we met Thespo loyalist Kashin Shetty at Prithvi. He had just finished performing his own play and was taking in the shower of compliments, but the first thing he did when he saw Mati was congratulate her for Mujer. I suppose that says it all.
As for my love/hate for Prithvi House, maybe I can convince Thespo to put on the Fringe Department next year?