Mandi House in Delhi saw a fitting end to the 2017 theatre season by hosting a unique festival at the Shri Ram Centre for Performing Arts (SRCPA) in the last week of December. The speciality of this Panna Bharat Ram Theatre Festival was its eclectic and inclusive fare, featuring different genres, as opposed to a focussed theme, thereby announcing the society’s intent for the new year. Playwrights as diverse as Girish Karnad and Agatha Christie jostled for space with poets and composers in the festival.
SRCPA is one of the leading cultural societies in India, with an active drama training school and repertory—perhaps the only such established institution in the capital, after the National School of Drama.
Known as the garh or citadel of Hindi theatre in Delhi, its festivals are popular and well attended. The Repertory, which organises the festival, invites established theatre directors to direct plays each year and showcases this collection in its winter festival.
The plays performed this year were Girish Karnad’s Tughlaq and Bali, Dharamvir Bharti’s Suraj ka Satwan Ghoda, Mohammad Faheem & Sudheer Rikhari’s Tansen, John Osborne’s Look Back In Anger, Syed Sahil Agha’s Dasta-e-Amir Khusrow, Agatha Christie’s Appointment with Death and Bertolt Brecht and Elisabeth Hauptmann’s The Threepenny Opera.
Playwright Girish Karnad uses myth and imagery to make a social comment. His Tughlaq, the story of a whimsical king who made scapegoats of his subjects and the subtle play of violence behind a ritual in Bali, were commentaries on the state of the nation today. Bali, was, in fact, commissioned and presented by the Haymarket Theatre in the UK, where Naseeruddin Shah played the lead role. Veteran directors K. Madavane (Tughlaq) and K.S. Rajendran’s (Bali) artistic imagery and evocative scenography, coupled with stirring performances, made the plays extremely impactful. Madavane, who has mentored many stage luminaries, has a unique vision, which stands out in his productions. .
Tansen and Dastan-e-Amir Khusrow, showcased the lives of two leading luminaries in the world of music and poetry, who have made an impact on Hindustani classical music. Their histories ran parallel to the history of that genre of music and were replete with poetry and live music performances ranging from Dhrupad to today’s Khayal Gayaki. The writers, Mohammad Faheem and Sudheer Rikhari (Tansen) and Syed Sahil Agha (Dastan-e-Amir Khusrow) used story telling and music to create a compelling product.
Tansen was directed by award winning director and NSD alumnus Govind Singh Yadav and Dastan was composed by Ustad Iqbal Ahmed Khan of the Delhi Gharana.
Santanu Bose, an assistant professor at the National School of Drama, known for his use of technology as well as for creating a multicultural ambience in his productions, directed The Three Penny Opera. Considered a classic, the play, about a hooligan who runs away with the daughter of a mafia don, is written by the famous German playwright Bertolt Brecht, known for breaking down the fourth wall between the actor and the audience and his collaborator, Elisabeth Hauptmann. The production was the first ever English language play performed by the SRC Repertory, that works normally in Hindi.
Dr. Dharamvir Bharati’s Suraj Ka Satwan Ghoda and John Osborne’s Look Back In Anger dealt with the moral aberrations of the middle class. Satwan Ghoda is an amalgam of seven small stories with different flavours that was also made into a national award winning film in 1992 by Shyam Benegal. Look Back In Anger is a sceptical look at British lower middle class society through the story of a chaotic marriage, which, in this instance, was adapted to India. The plays were directed by NSD alumni Happy Ranajit (Satwan Ghoda) & Souti Chakraborty, known for their experimental techniques and minimalistic designs.
Agatha Christie’s Appointment With Death is one of her lesser know plays and more of a psychological thriller than a whodunnit—the reasons why it was selected by the director. The story is that of a domineering mother and her subservient children, which resonated with the audience. Its uniqueness and perhaps the reason for its popularity was that the female lead was played by a male actor. The other uniqueness was that the entire team of actors, along with the director, translated this play together, which is not the usual practice. The actors said it gave them a sense of ownership of the play, which translated into better performances.