“Ismat Apa Ke Naam” : 3 short plays to be staged at Chowdiah Memorial, 04 Feb 2009

Since I was not sure if I would be able to go to the plays tomorrow, I decided to attend the press conference that was organized by India Foundation for the Arts (for which the plays are a fund-raiser).

I wanted to hear what the actors who are going to be staging the playlets would have to say about the plays, which they have staged before, in Bangalore, way back in 2002.

Both Ratna and Naseeruddin talked about how contemporary they found Ismat’s ideas, and how Naseeruddin was inspired to stage her stories. 

Naseeruddin was very scornful about large production; " I despise costume dramas," he said. …the large productions with lavish sets. When he was at Drama School, he said, he too aspired to stage such productions,  but slowly he realized the futility of wanting to stage such productions. "We went to New York and watched such plays," Ratna said, and Naseer added, "Such plays are part sound and light show, part spectacle, part magic show, part circus…". The Japanese, in fact, he said, "come to the US  to see such  Broadway plays as part of their tourist itinerary."

Motley (the theatre group that they have set up) took the alternative of having simple productions, with simple production values and a minimum of stage properties. "We decided on scripts with great content, staged with as much skill as we could muster," he said. 

He read Ismat Chugtai and the process of staging her stories as plays has been "an absolute joy."

Ratna added, in response to a question from the audience, that perhaps now, there are young dramatists who are addressing societal issues, but in the 70’s and 80’s, there were no names; Bollywood, she said, was a "bloodsucking leech" which swallowed up theatrical talent and produced nothing but "an enormous web of lethargy" (to which Naseer added, "and mediocrity!") over the arts.  Television as a medium, she said, "is taking us further into the dark ages."

Such trenchant criticism of Bollywood and the television media was rather strange from two actors who have certainly made their name and fame from the cinematic medium ( mostly in the alternative cinema, definitely, but still, that medium).

Heeba said that on her first reading of the story she is to perform, she did not understand it all, and hence felt very sceptical of how the audiences would react, when this was her reaction. However, the three say they spent six months first reading the stories, and only then converted them for the stage. 

I asked how they felt about staging what they delineated as a minimalist production, not in the intimate space of Ranga Shankara, but in the large space of Chowdiah. The reply was that since this was a fund-raiser, they needed to stage it in as large a venue as possible, even though Ranga Shankara might be more artistically satisfying. Also, said Naseer, these plays would not suffer by being staged in a larger theatre space, or even outdoors. 

Ratna also responded that the whole question of art and money was like the "chicken and egg question". They were, however, very happy with the kind of response they had got to these plays in Bangalore, and other non-Hindi speaking cities, where they did not expect such a good response. "70% of the audience is under 30 years of age," she remarked; "that’s very heartening." Motley has had about 250 performances till now.

The press conference was hosted by Chancery Hotel. IFA spoke briefly about the various fine arts projects that they fund with the  money raised from such events, and thanked their various sponsors, led by the Purvankara Group, and including other organizations such as Cafe Coffee Day.

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