City of Gardens’- Bangalore’s tale comes alive

The play, currently on under the ‘Other Voices’ initiative at Ranga Shankara, effectively highlights the fall out of mindless urbanisation.

It’s a challenge to "work on an adaptation of an English translation of a Russian play", as the brochure given by Centre for Film and Drama (CFD) said, and the Bangalore angle intrigued me sufficiently to walk down to Ranga Shankara to see the production at its first showing on the 4th of this month. I was not disappointed.

City of Gardens - Play

City of Gardens – Play (Pic: Deepa Mohan)

‘City of Gardens’ is an adaptation of Anton Chekov’s ‘The Cherry Orchard’, and has been converted into an allegory for Bangalore by Abhishek Majumdar and Jisha Menon, with inputs from Arshia Sattar, Gautam Raja, Hamsa Moily, Praksash Belawadi, Vivek V K, and Vinod Ravindran. The play is being staged by CFD, which maintains both a venue for showings in the fine arts as well as running a theatre group at Millers Road. The play runs for 75 minutes.

City of Gardens :
Venue : Rangashankara
Dates & Timings:
5th September (7.30 PM)
6th Septemer (3.30 PM & 7.30 PM)
Ticket price : Rs. 100

The play is all about how the Rozario estate in Bangalore is on the verge of being sold and ‘developed’ at the cost of its trees and its evergreen beauty. Estelle Rozario (played by Hemaa Narayan), her daughter, Anya (Janani Ambikapathy), Estelle’s sister Victoria (Anuja Ghosalkar), the music teacher Tridib Mukherjee (Pritham Kumar), and the Maali’s son, Asif Iqbal (Abhishek Majumdar), play out the warp and weft of their own relationships, their attachment to the concept of ‘home’, and their various feelings of loss, oppression, nostalgia and love. The transformation of a small town into a bustling metropolis comes at a price, and this is explored in the play.

The first innovation at the theatre was, of course, the difference in the seating arrangements. I have been to performances of the ‘Other Voices’ initiative at Ranga Shankara, where intimate theatre encompasses a handful of theatregoers in a small space. But here, the audience was restricted to a 100 or less, and the audience was literally in the world of the play. We were sitting on specially constructed tiers on the stage, so that, literally, the cast was sometimes in front of us, and sometimes amongst us. It made for a higher level of engagement.

The actors were seasoned and very good. Abhishek, of course, is always outstanding; I have seen a lot of his work and am always impressed; but apart from this, every member of the cast delivered their dialogue without foul-ups, with the right amount of emotion. It is not easy for a few people to carry a serious play on their shoulders, but the troupe managed it very well indeed.

We, as the audience, felt the pain of Estelle who recollects every detail of her life on the old estate. We feel the love-hate relationship that Asif bears towards the trees that his father and he planted and nurtured, while yet remaining servants; when the estate is finally bought, it is as if he is exorcising his demons by cutting down the trees.

There were also several topical references to cycling in Bangalore (I empathised because I belong to a cycling group, too!). Asif keeps thinking that Tridib rides a cycle only because he cannot afford a car, and offers money to help him buy one! The reference to the way the land mafia goes relentlessly after suitable land struck a chord too.

The director of the play, Jisha Menon, is shortly joining as a professor of Drama at Stanford University, where she received her PhD. She taught earlier at the University of British Columbia, and is a visiting Fellow at CSCS, Bangalore. She is writing a book, ‘Bordering On Drama’, and has acted and directed in Bangalore as well as Chennai, Delhi, and in the US. Her directorial touch was sure, and elicited sensitive performances from all the cast.

Several beautiful slides (by Vinod Ravindran) were projected, evoking the past lifestyle on the estate. The sets were designed by Jayaram, with both set and costume designs by Sonali Sattar and Himanshu Dimri. I must mention the fuss-free, yet elegant costumes; the flashiness of Asif’s nouveau riche money showed up beautifully in his clunky watch and white clothing.

The lights (Prakash Belawadi) deserve mention too; appropriate highlighting intensified various moments of the narrative. The music by Rudy David with sound by Vivek, was very good, but once in a while, threatened to overshadow the dialogue. The brochure, too, was professionally done.

I have only one nit to pick…the mobile number given on the Ranga Shankara brochure was ‘temporarily disconnected’; there was no reply when I kept calling CFD’s landline; and I got no response to my email at all. Neither did the brochure have any address, phone number, email id, or any such facility for an audience member to give feedback or make enquiries, nor was there any interaction with the audience after the show.

Centre for Film & Drama
71 Sona Towers 5th floor Above Central Bank
Bangalore, Karnataka
+91 80 22356263

The cast and crew members were not introduced after the show, which, to my mind, is a must. Surely CFD can improve their engagement with the theatre audience, and with prospective viewers – being accessible and open to feedback being essential to growth?

‘City of Gardens’ will be staged at Rangashankara again on Friday, 5th September at 7.30 PM and Saturday, 6th September at 3.30 PM & 7.30 PM. Tickets are priced at Rs.100, and only 100 tickets will be issued as against the usual 300.

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