Friday, 10 February 2017

In a distant city, of a distant land: How a play narrated to me the perils of a neighbouring nation nobody else talks about.

When you say Pondicherry, one thinks mushrooms. And beer and beaches and sunsets. And Auro and colourful doors and French architecture.
So it comes as a lovely surprise when on a weekend to Pondi, you get treated to an evening of theatre.

Indianostrum Theatre in the east coast town is a special kind of theatre. There's Rangoli in the doorway, the seating is makeshift and a cat runs onstage in the middle of the show. Most of neither the performing team nor the audience is local. Nor is the story that they're telling with their current production. And yet, this play that you watch in a foreign town that tells the tale of a foreign land, is one that you take home because the pain becomes your own.

1/3 is a part of a trilogy and ironically, it's the third part. The play tells a woeful story of three siblings in the war-afflicted country of Sri Lanka. Senthuran , Amuthan and Shalu are orphans caught in the perils of the civil unrest. Senthuran has lost his arm in the war. Shalu could either end up an educated woman or lose her chance at life like so many girls her age. Amuthan must join the army, or will fleeing the country be an easier choice?

Most of the play is in Tamil with English subtitles projected below the stage. But it doesn't take long for one to completely abandon the subtitles for the action. There's not a single word that I understand in Tamil and yet, there I was - engrossed, absorbing every line. The set of the play is a delight. On paper it is backgrounds on wheels, something the Marathi stage recognises as a 'firta rangmanch' or 'rotating stage'. But the magic in 1/3 lies in how stage is utilised. Everytime a backdrop breaks down into pieces or comes together to compose a new scene, it adds humongously to the play. In one particle scene as the set of a bus gets dismantled on stage, my hand almost reached out directly hoping to stop it from getting destroyed. 

The ensemble of actors is fierce. While I believe that the space that Indianostrum is has a lot to do with the finesse the process recieves, every actors manages to shine on individually. Strong writing and stagecraft also does wonders to the storytelling.

It's only in the recent years that I have discovered the conditions Sri Lanka has been in. There's a part which narrates a story from the Holocaust is the part that I connected to instantly; we've been reading and watching about the Holocaust for years. But not a lot gets said about the trauma our southern neighbours faced for 27 years. The only references we get from our mainstream media is the Rajiv Gandhi assassination, glamourized villains from LTTE, 'breaking news' about Ravana's dead body and Jacqueline Fernandez. It is thanks to plays like 1/3 and Faezeh Jalali's 07/07/07 (based on an Iranian hanging) that you go home and Google these issues.

 (This play and two others by Indianostrum have been invited by Théâtre du Soleil (Paris) to perform in their theatre. They have been rehearsing intensely since the beginning of Jan and have started a crowdsourcing campaign to help them cover expenses. The campaign ends in 5 days and they aren't very close to the target. Will you be able to help? Please believe me when ai say that they truly deserve this chance.

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