Saturday, November 25, 2017

The end (Interview of Amit Sahu-Anubhuti)


Thirty minutes before his talk show goes live, the blind host decides that it will be his last show. It’s an intriguing decision considering that the show has been pretty successful and thus begins a series of questions in the minds of the viewers.

In the midst of all this, there’s an ongoing interaction between the host and the co-host of the show (both played by Amit Sahu). “The host has been helped by various people to reach this stage. So he remembers all their gestures and unravels their stories, by playing those characters,” explains Sahu.

A one-man show, Anubhuti was staged for the first time in 2016. It was the result of Sahu’s quest to push himself as an actor. “I wanted to do something to push myself out of the comfort zone. I have acted in ensemble plays, co-acted and so on. So I thought why not do a solo show and see how it goes,” says Sahu.

Sahu, who has also scripted and directed the predominantly Hindi play, put together six stories of various characters. He needed one ‘connecting story’ and that was how he thought of the talk show host. “In 2015, I had written one monologue so I included it in this play. After each performance, I used the feedback to improvise the show. After the Kolkata show, I was told that while the back stories of the rest of the characters were clear, the one of the co-host wasn’t and I needed to work on it. So in Bengaluru, where the show was held in August, I included this story of being a single parent,” adds he.

A Ruh Manch production, Anubhuti doesn’t hold a spotlight over media, so much as that on social issues. “I play eight characters, each having a social issue to tackle — disability, illness, loneliness faced by senior citizens and so on. I switch between these eight characters on stage, keeping the audience on their toes. There is no prolonged stage presence of any character. My aim was to talk about social ills and the talk show host happens to be someone who brings all these stories, via the characters, in public domain,” he explains.

When asked if the blind talk show is used as a metaphor, Sahu admits that initially he had not seen it as such. “In hindsight, when the talk show host becomes those characters, he lends his own vision to those people — how they must have thought, walked, behaved etc. It’s his perception of how things are,” says Sahu, “All this eventually adds up to the question — why he wants to stop the telecast of the show? And that’s revealed at the end,” he says.

Many ideas of ‘self’ (Review of Pratibimb, Marathi play)


With Mahesh Elkunchwar’s name as a writer associated with Pratibimb (Reflection), you know nothing in the play will be at face value. Nothing is what it seems. It is difficult for commoners to get into Elkunchwar’s mindspace, which is precisely the subject of the Marathi play, which was staged earlier in August and will now be performed again on Friday, September 15 at Sudarshan Rangmanch, Shaniwar Peth.

While watching the play, it’s evident that the viewer has to peel various layers to get to the core of the story — Who are you? What does ‘self-identity’ mean? Is it so bad if your reflection goes missing or if you have no identity?

Thokale (a white-collared office goer) wakes up one morning and finds his reflection missing. Enters Bai, his landlady, who tries to assure him that nothing is lost. In fact, it could be a ‘breaking news’ for the newspaper. This perhaps could have led to a lot of chaos physically. Instead, we are led to the darkness looming large in our dystopian minds. There’s manipulation and the seeming destruction and numbing of empathy and inability to face our fears.

All this and more is what Pratibimb stands for, says Joshi, who joins us for a quick tête-à-tête about the play. “Pratibimb deals with fundamental question of existence. When I first read the play a couple of years ago, I had difficulty comprehending it. In Jan-Feb, this year, the cast of the play approached me to direct it. I was a little busy then and asked if they could wait. I had decided to go with the cast’s idea and framework and make changes wherever necessary. But it was agreed that we would do a lot of rehearsals and readings of all the plays written by Elkunchwar, not just Pratibimb. We wanted to find out the commonalities in other plays and ingrain the underlying meaning,” he begins.

Except for one change to the original cast, where Naresh Gund graduated from playing Bavate (a union leader of sorts) to Thokale (the protagonist), the play proceeded smoothly. “Thokale was one self-absorbed character, someone who was in love with himself. Naresh suited this character and he could easily grasp the nuances of the play. Bai is played by Anjali Joshi and she is the manipulator here. Bavate, by Krutharth Shevgaonkar, is one rabble rouser, but gets petrified when his secrets are on the verge of being revealed to everyone. And, Kersuni (a broom) by Ankita Naik, is a symbol for all those women who are accomplished, but still prefer to live in their husband’s shadow — to be made use of, when deemed fit,” adds Joshi.

The play is set in the late ’70s, early ’80s and Joshi decided to stick with it. “The props used — the dialing telephone, the old radio and the doorbell, have a similar tone. And, so when one rings, there is confusion as to which one pealed out. They add to the confusion and mental chaos and eventually become a character of their own. To make the play more contemporary, I would have had to use mobile phone or an ipod, or substitute Liril advertisement with a new one, but that would have just created cosmetic changes. The core of the play would not have been disturbed. So it made sense for me to retain the play as it was,” explains Joshi, who has also directed Chafa.

At the moment, the team is looking at it as a study project and would stage at least 10 performances of Pratibimb. “If it catches up, then we hope to sustain it much longer,” he concludes.

K for Kattaikkuttu


Have you sat through Kattaikkuttu’s all-night performance held in Chennai villages? The eight-hour long musical theatre combines stories from the epics, especially the Mahabharata.

There are several versions of the Mahabharata in southern as well as northern India. But Kattaikkuttu Sangam performances are very much attuned to the local audience and how it relates to everyday life of people, in one particular region. It’s similar to a nautanki or a jatra in Bengal. “It used to be an all male tradition; but now we have both male and female characters.

And, that’s quite empowering. People in villages are still surprised to see women on the stage. They appreciate it as long as it’s not their wife, daughter or sister!,” explains Dr Hanne M De Bruin-Rajagopal, Programme Director of Kattaikkuttu Sangam and Kattaikkuttu Gurukulam at Kancheepuram.

Dr Bruin-Rajagopal will be getting the young performers of Kattaikkuttu to Pune and interact with students of Delhi Public School (DPS) during ‘Arts Encounter’ arranged by ‘Junoon arts at play with schools’.

Talking to us ahead of the programme to be held on November 8, Dr Bruin-Rajagopal shares what she has planned for the students of DPS. “This is the first time we are participating with ‘Junoon arts at play with schools’. We have classes VI, VII and VIII with us. So the programme is focussed on that particular age group. We bring students of similar ages, because we also run a school offering professional training and drama education,” says she.

The Kattaikkuttu Sangam will be presenting three episodes from their repertory, which focus on children with some kind of participatory content. “We have 50 kids in one group. So we plan to involve them; but it’s impossible to get all of them on stage,” she says with a chuckle.

Dr Bruin-Rajagopal, who is married to P Rajagopal, a Kattaikkuttu artist and founder of Kattaikkuttu Gurukulam, adds, “The first episode is from an all night performances which we do in villages. It’s called Kurvanjini and has a woman character. This is the first time that a woman is playing a role in the all-male domain. So we want to showcase that women have the same capacity as men and can perform in a physically demanding form. Kurvanjini is from a construction background and she is famous for making tattoos and so there is a comic scene in which the junior-most clown played by a boy wants a tattoo.”

The second is the episode of building of a shamiana (canopy), for a game of dice, which Duryodhana organises. This episode will invite kids from the audience to be the killers.

In the last episode, Hanuman encounters Bheema, who is his half-brother. “Bheema is selfish and considers himself to be the strongest person on earth. Hanuman sprawls across the road and Bheema is unable to lift him. That’s the last scene,” she adds.

Besides the performances, Dr Bruin-Rajagopal also plans to have a demonstration on how Kattaikkuttu sounds, how it works. “Voice training is an important aspect in Kattaikkuttu, besides knowing the stories. How the form unfolds is also significant because it doesn’t have scripted performances. You can’t memorise for eight hours. So how does the performer know what to say on the stage? All this will be a part of the demonstration,” explains Dr Bruin-Rajagopal.

Besides adapting episodes from the Mahabharata, the Kattaikkuttu Sangam is also working on new stories. “My husband has written a story called Magic Horse for the younger ones he works with. The Mahabharata can be quite complex for kids to understand. So they come with a request to include characters like the magic horse, a magician, a doctor, a tortoise etc,” she adds.

Besides that, the husband-wife duo also try to introduce kids to other art forms, which are based in the metropolis, or get international troupes to perform at their gurukulam. “We have international workshops for our students and other artists, like we had an acrobatic workshop. Kattaikkuttu is a rural art form. So through these collaborations, we are trying to shift the paradigm a little bit,” concludes Dr Bruin-Rajagopal.

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The idea of multiple perspectives


After three years of collaboration with ‘Junoon — arts at play with schools’, cinematographer Ajay Noronha has stopped being surprised at how bright, open and forthcoming the children are.

The Pune edition of the festival will take place between November 4-10 and Noronha is a part of ‘Meet the Artist’ segment. He will be interacting with kids of Delhi Public School on November 9.

When asked what he has planned for the interaction, Noronha says, “I am trained as a cinematographer and make my own documentary films. What I share with the kids is the idea of multiple perspectives. As an introduction, I give them a peek into what a cinematographer does. But, eventually, all I want them is to escape the school atmosphere, and ask questions.”

Find your story
As a cinematographer and photographer, Noronha creates images and emotions. That’s his way of telling stories. And, he wants kids to find their stories, starting with, ‘Where do we get our stories from’. “One way is to get them to think of the fact that they can get their stories from ‘where they come’. Get them to share the stories of or told by their ajji-ajoba, nana-nani, or dadu-dadi,” he explains.

Next step is to make the students aware of the dangers of a single narrative. “The idea is to get them to see things from different points of views. I start off with myself; I tell them not to take whatever I say as the complete truth. Talk to different people and you might get to see different sides of the stories. I want the children to move from ‘one’ to a binary, which is ‘two’. And, then get them to think of several possibilities in between,” says the cinematographer of Hindi film Ferrari ki Sawari.

Many shades of grey
Noronha wants children to know that life is really in greys and it’s not fair to take a position — like or dislike, you are with me or against me. “Is it as simple as that? While I am discussing this with the students, I am also encouraging teachers to think about it — the hard positions that everyone is increasingly forced to take,” he explains.

His solution is to ask questions. “It’s important to ask questions and take nothing at face value. Only when one questions, can some true learning take place,” Noronha points out.

The Mumbai-based cinematographer has worked with Seeds of Peace, an organisation that works with children from conflict-ridden zones of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Israel and Palestine. He discusses this side of the story with the older students.

Says he, “I worked with Seeds of Peace. My interest has broadened and deepened and I have been working independently and exploring, making my next film around the idea of home — longing and belonging. What does it mean to have a home? What does it mean to leave a home? This story is set in Israel and Palestine. I try to make teens understand the privileges that we take for granted. ‘Get up in the morning, put on the uniform and get into school bus and reach school’. Whereas when you are in Palestine, you can’t take any of this for granted.”

Screening of documentaries
Noronha might also screen a clipping or two from his documentaries. “If necessary, to make a point, I might screen clips from my documentary — A picture of you. It might help them to think of their own childhood or to think about, ‘where they come from’. I also have a small, three-minute clip of what I have shot in Israel-Palestine — because what we get to hear from these parts, Kashmir and North-east is — terrorism.

But one’s not going beyond that to say that there are people living there and trying to live as normal lives as they can. The bottomline is that I want the children to ask questions, to find out what’s happening in the world around them,” he says and concludes.

To children of Israel, with love


A chat with Dr Irene Judah who has written a book tracing the history of Bene Israel community in the Konkan region

When Nimkar ajji-ajoba passed away, the Judahs felt a personal loss. It so happened that in the ’90s when Dr Irene and her husband Dr Judah, along with their friends, were travelling in Thal village, they met the Nimkar couple. “We were exploring the Konkan countryside for synagogues.

In Thal, there was one synagogue. But since it was a public holiday, it was closed. We wanted to use the loo and so requested the Nimkars. At their home, we heard the ajji singing Shabbath songs in Hebrew! We learnt that there were hardly any Jews left and so no one gathered for the prayers any more. Having lived opposite the synagogue for several years now, the Nimkars knew which prayer to sing at what time, in which order,” recalls Irene in chaste Marathi.

A few years later when they were in that area, they went over to Nimkars again. But learnt that they were no more. “The shock I felt must have shown on my face, because the young girl before me asked if I wanted water and if I wanted to rest,” adds Irene.
The facade of that synagogue in Thal became the cover of Irene’s book — Evolution of the Bene Israels and their synagogues in the Konkan — brought out by Vishwakarma Publications.

The book got the printed form in 2017, but putting together notes of her community began in Irene’s childhood. “I was always filing away notes, news bits about Bene Israels (Sons of Israel) in my diary. My granny also used to tell me lots of stories about Jewish community. Somewhere I knew, the story of our community had to be told, and so this is a lifelong project,” she explains.

In Konkan
Just like the Parsis, theirs is a tale of persecution. “Legend goes that nearly 2,500 years ago, seven men and seven women, came to India, by sea route. They got shipwrecked near Konkan coast and that’s how we came to live in the coastal area. One group was shipwrecked near Kochi (Cochin); they are called the Kochi Jews. And, there is another group of Baghdadi Jews,” she adds.

So is there another book in the offing, we ask. “Yes, it is. But that will be my third book, not second one,” points out Irene.
Going back to the story of her community, Irene has many tales of the generosity of the Konkani people, who assimilated the Jews in their region.

“Most of the synagogues were returned to Zilla Parishads and now function as schools. In the deluge of 2005 rains in Mumbai and Konkan region, one school-cum-synagogue was affected badly. The religious scrolls had got wet and one of the teachers used to dry one scroll carefully, every single day. She managed to save so many scrolls and our history. She couldn’t even read them, but she knew something of the Jewish community and the fact that the school was earlier a synagogue. Many thanks to such people and Konkan region is full of them,” she adds.

The Maharashtrian suffix
“There are about 3000 Bene Israels who have taken on the Maharashtrian suffix of ‘kar’ in their surnames like Kandlekar, Cheulkar etc, in the country, mostly living in Mumbai. Pune has less than 200 such families,” says Irene. Most of them left the country for Israel, US, UK etc when the country gained Independence. “But, now, most of them are returning to India in search of their roots. If a family has two sons, then one goes abroad, while the other stays in India. In one of our travels, the locals told us of a story of a young Jewish chap who came to these parts, set up a guest house, Shalom (which means peace in Jewish) and is inviting people to stay there,” she adds.

The book is the tale of many such stories from the oil-presser community, who have got educated and trained in various fields like academics, medicine, navy and army, computers etc. “India has always been very accommodative and assimilative,” Irene concludes.

‘Every story worth its salt is saying something of value’ (Interview with Paro Anand)


Her book Wild Child and Other Stories by Puffin fetched her Sahitya Akademi’s Bal Purasakar for 2017. Her stories are simple, real and cut quite close to our bone. Would you consider reading a story about a child who lost her father to terrorism? You should. It’s not preachy, it doesn’t make you angry. It makes you believe in faith, friendship and love. There’s another story of a girl, who’s shunned by others. Because she is ‘different’, ‘weird’, ‘not like others’. She turns all the negatives into her strengths and comes back to fly high.

Excerpts from an email chat:
Are stories read or written to escape into a world of fantasy? Or come face to face with the reality that is plaguing us?

Why not both? Sometimes you need to or want to escape reality and sometimes you just have to face up to the reality that surrounds you. Mine do a bit of both, I hope.

The stories of bomb blast, terrorism are tales of our torn childhood — kids born in late 80s and 90s. Many authors usually tweak their own childhood tales when writing for kids. Was this your reason too when you wrote these stories?

I was lucky to be born into peace and privilege. So I can’t claim these stories from my childhood. But I do work with children in difficult circumstances and those who are growing up within the backdrop of violence. And so it is their stories that inspire and compel me to talk about their realities. Of course, there are stories from my own childhood that have found their way into my books. Like Pepper the Capuchin Monkey about a lie that I told when I was just 12. It was the title story of my first book.

When you are writing for kids or young adults, do you write thinking ‘I am writing for children’ or ‘I am writing a story’?
Honestly, neither. I write. I dive right in or write in. And I don’t much think of anything else. I actually inhabit the world of my story and my characters. So it becomes very real and current and ‘now’ for me, so I don’t intellectually think of the writing process at all.

Considering stories meant for children are read by their parents as well, do you contrive to weave in a message that the adults can comprehend and inculcate in the younger ones?
I believe that every story worth its salt is saying something of value. I would like to think that anyone I write for is touched by what my story says. But I try very hard to stay away from being messagey. I actually only want to provoke thought. And independent, critical thinking. I only want my reader, whether child or parent to question and come to their own answers.

Can simply written A-Z stories hold against magic, vampires, werewolves etc? Do you enjoy reading Goosebumps or any such stories?
I think there is a space for every kind of story. And it is a question of the reader finding the story that ‘fits’ him/her. I say this from personal experience. I was a poor reader right until I was about 10-11 years old and then I found Joy Adam’s Born Free. It was the perfect book at the perfect time for me and I became a reader. I grew up in a house of books so there was a lot to choose from. After getting hooked onto books, I began to devour a lot of those that had been sitting on our shelves forever.

Do you like writing a story vis -a-vis ‘performing’ one?
Both and equally. I think these are the two sides of my coin. One is the working with young people and one is writing for and about them. I also often read some of my stories out loud before they even get published and sometimes I will make a change to make it more performable. I started doing this after I would read some of my stories to a group and feel that there was one word too many, or I could find a better rhythm in another way.

Kitty on the Prowl (Interview with Trisha Bora)


Author Trisha Bora’s What Kitty Did is a laugh out loud comic caper. She talks about her ditzy, witty heroine, who can bake delicious cakes

Kitty, aka Ketaki Roy, is an English Lit grad, working for a lifestyle magazine in Delhi. She is a sugar addict, alcoholic and well, always bungles up her assignments. But like all the underdogs, Kitty emerges a champ. It’s a familiar premise, but makes you laugh, chuckle and giggle, when Kitty is in her elements.

What Kitty Did (HarperCollins), written by Trisha Bora, a commissioning editor at Juggernaut Books, is a hilarious take on the coming-of-age story of the 20-something protagonist. And, if you have read Susan Coolidge’s What Katy Did, then Kitty Roy of untamed wild hair, will certainly appeal to you. Here’s what Bora has to say about her heroine:

Who is Kitty — a person based on many people you have met or is she your alter ego?
She is a caricature of many 20-somethings I’ve had the pleasure to meet and observe, and also a figment of my imagination. She’s not my alter ego at all.

Do you think flawed, bumbling characters make for interesting protagonists?
Of course. Because they hold up a mirror to our lives. We can identify with them only if they are imperfect like us.

Humour is important in the book. Was it difficult to come up with seemingly ordinary chuckle-aloud scenarios?
Not really. I had a bag full of ridiculous stories that just worked perfectly for this book. And the remaining stories will go into the next Kitty book.

Were you inspired by a certain Sunanda Pushkar/Tharoor case to have your own Roxy Merchant case?
Yes, but of course, this isn’t about them. There are certain cases that hold the public’s imagination for whatever reasons.

You have captured Delhi so beautifully. How many years did you spend in the city?
I’ve lived in the city for 13 years, and was heartbroken to let it go. For all its problems and eccentricities, I love Delhi. It’s where I went to college, fell in love, got a job. Plus, all my friends are there and where the book business is.

Lastly, the recipes. Magical and mouth-watering. How did you come up with those?
That’s really a basic brownie recipe. My mother’s, which I tweaked a little.