In theatre, the actor is the big deal. With his voice, gestures, a shake of the head and a movement of the hand, s/he can make the audience imagine Rome — or make it vanish.
It would definitely be worth your while to surrender to this experience for an entire week at the 11th Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards (META) festival, and watch artistes create their version of reality as the lights go down.
Since its inception in 2006, the Mahindra festival (March 5-11) has been the stage for more than 1,900 artistes affiliated to 70 different theatre groups from across India. The festival celebrates the diversity of theatre in different Indian languages.
Amal Allana, veteran director and former chairperson of the National School of Drama, says it is to META’s credit that it celebrates all kinds of skills in theatre artistes “while they are young across all platforms”. For example, Hindi film actor Nimrat Kaur (‘The Lunch Box’, ‘Airlift’), who was relatively unknown in 2012, won the best supporting actress award at the 2012 META for her turn in ‘The Baghdad Wedding’.
A showcase for the multiple themes and concerns confronting India today, the META audience engages with a slew of issues. The many faces of sexuality, sexual violence, the pulls and challenges of science, and the interpretation of religion are some of the themes on which playwrights have hung a tale.
The festival opens with ‘The Cabinet of Dr Caligari’, a theatrical adaptation of a 1920s horror film that is a classic of German Expressionist cinema. “It delves into the various layers of the human mind. On another level, it is a criticism of despotic regimes too,” says Deepan Sivaraman, the play’s director, who is currently an associate professor at Delhi’s Ambedkar University.
Then there’s the controversial ‘Agnes of God,’ a play about a novice nun who gives birth and insists that the child was the result of an immaculate conception — the title is a pun on the Latin phrase Agnus Dei (Lamb of God). The staging of the play was earlier cancelled in Mumbai after protests by a section of the city’s Catholics.
Will the capital be more tolerant of Freedom of Expression in this instance? And what should the role of artistes be when confronted with a battle of contentious ideas? Veteran actor-director MK Raina, speaking at the festival’s curtain-raiser, said the answer is simple: “A country is in trouble whose artistes do not take the lead.”
The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (English), Director: Deepan Sivaraman, March 5, Ambedkar University, 7:30 pm
Kuhaimaravasigal (Tamil), Director: S Murugabhoopathy, March 6, Ficci auditorium, 8 pm
After Death...(Musical), Director: Vikram Mohan, March 6, Little Theatre Group auditorium, 6 pm
The Balcony (Malayalam), Director: Sasidharan Naduvil, March 7, LTG auditorium, 6 pm
Akshayambara (Kannada), Director: S. Ramprakash, March 7, Ficci auditorium, 8 pm
07/07/07 (English, Hindi, Farsi), Director: Faezeh Jalali, March 8, Ficci auditorium, 8 pm
Haoai (Bengali), Director: Goutam Halder, March 8, LTG auditorium, 6 pm
Agnes of God (English), Director: Kaizaad Kotwal, March 9, Ficci auditorium, 8pm
Mein huun Yusuf... (Hindi, Urdu), Director: Mohit Takalkar, March 9, LTG auditorium, 6 pm
A friend’s Story (English),Akash Khurana, March 10, Ficci auditorium, 6 pm
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