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The world on our stage

Having attracted many a global thespian, NSD?s Theatre Utsav is entertaining one packed house after another

india Updated: Jan 08, 2006 01:39 IST

The Capital provides the stage to over 60 theatrical productions during the first two weeks of January. Participants in the National School of Drama's Theatre Utsav, include plays produced by thespians both recognised and unrecognised from across South Asia. This last Wednesday, Ratan Thiyam, one of the more recognisable faces of Indian theatre, showcased his latest venture, Nine Hills One Valley. The Manipuri director had much to say about the growth of the festival run by the school at which he was trained.

“If you look at the entire history of Indian theatre, there have hardly been any avenues that we have been able to use to showcase our art. This country has never really been able to host an International theatre festival and this is a step towards that,” says Thiyam. Cast as an allegory, his play sought to narrate the pathetic condition of Manipur in the guise of a mystical land comprised of nine concentric hills encircling one valley. With performances such as this one, the festival is being considered by many to be a common platform that enables peripheral and often neglected voices to be heard.

Delhi audiences also have the rare fortune to see plays from across the border. Madeeha Guhar, who has co-directed the Pakistani production, Shehr-e-Afsos / Toba Tek Singh, says, “In Pakistan, there is a conscious attempt to forget and shift responsibility from one to the other. Through our play, we have tried to distrurb the intrinsic apathy towards incidents such as 1947 and 71.”

The festival has also attracted thespians from Bangladesh, Japan, Lebanon, Nepal, South Korea, Sri Lanka and Iran. “The greatest success of this festival is that it allows us to explore channels of theatrical communication with the Middle East and other South Asian countries,” says director Anuradha Kapur. She has directed an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, one of the six different Shakespeare adaptations included in the festival.

“The play carries no baggage of the classic or universal Shakespeare. We are not presenting a 19th century sanitised version of the Bard's play but are rather using tools to demystify his theatrical shadow,” says Kapur. To do that, the director peppered her play with film songs and motorbikes. Based entirely on improvisations, the play was a collective effort by students being theatrically trained in Chandigarh. Kapur adds that while “this festival is an occasion for senior directors to travel with their plays, it is also important that there are slots for student training productions in the line-up as those learning the form, bring with them, a very different kind of an energy.”

Some plays brought energy to the festival by breaking conventional theatrical norms. Rabih Mroueh, a director from Lebanon, has travelled to India for the first time with his production, Looking for a Missing Employee. The play used only three video cameras – positioned on newspaper clippings, a drawing table and the director himself–to tell the story of one man's disappearance. It was a departure from normal narrative form not usually seen. "I simply hope that our performance would allow us to open a debate with audience and theatre makers about the form of theatre itself," says Mroueh.

If anything, Mroueh's desire to share his views and ideas contributes to the perception that the festival at large is breaking many a boundary, those of nationality, culture and perhaps even the boundary of theatre itself.

First Published: Jan 08, 2006 01:39 IST