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Thursday, August 31, 2006

400 Blows

We are back to school. Not in the literal sense, but yes... the amount of rows that've been happening, or perhaps the media has chosen to focus on... it makes one touch upon the efficacy of education.

First, Headlines Today (or was it CNN-IBN?) ran a story on Educated Illiterates or Literate but Uneducated - about how kids at school these days are being dumbed through dumping of information in the name of knowledge so that they get educated, acquire degrees and hit the job market as successful whatevers! But do they really know their math or the three Rs effectively? In the research poll they showed... some of the so called forward states such as Tamil Nadu (ranked 4th) were not so literate inspite of being educated and the traditional boon-dog Bihar was *surprise surprise* one of the top most literate state. What does this show?

And then we had the girls college in Chandigarh in news (is still!). A teacher slapped a girl for using mobile phone in the class. The former defended it is within the spirit and letter of educational institutional law. The girls protested saying they were not anymore in school, but are adults since they are in college. Any logic in that? And the girls won the struggle and used the media to talk about all this even while saying the media blew the issue up and it was essentially an intra-college affair that must have been settled so! What sense??

Of course, we had a Professor in Ujjain being killed by Students! Whither education??? Latest news... the perpetrators have surrendered in police station, meaning which we can deduce they have found someone to bail them out. And 21 more involved people arrested. Does it matter? Did it matter in the case of Stanes or Jessica or umpteen others? This country requires more than 400 Blows.

Then it was the turn of Meerut. Appalling news when we learnt that the University exam papers were routed by the VC of Charan Singh College (or whatever) to be corrected by unqualified, young 5th and 7th grade school students. The students of the college of course protested. But the protest drew shit. And the TV showed three girls (aptly and conveniently) named 3 musketeers jumping the tall iron gates of the VC's house and demolishing and destroying anything in their path ending up with bashing the VC's scooter to smithereens before being taken into custody. It melt my heart with warmth to see one of the girls - Monica - shouting "today his property, tomorrow him!" What love between the educators and the educated!

So where does this all lead to? Shout your piece in the comments!

Oh by the way, did I tell you? There was this other news about an Indian Muslim going to US for MBA via UK, detained at Heathrow!!!

And that still leaves two more education-related incidents to discuss: 1) a minority muslim institution in Kerala - Kozhikode to be precise - refusing the students to celebrate a festival that has been traditionally considered pan-Kerala secular event. Suddenly, in the name of religious sentiments the students of a Muslim college cannot celebrate ONAM in their campus. Stuff and non-sense. 2) BJP warming up to electoral manifestoes for the future - VANDE MATARAM must be sung mandatorily in all schools, colleges and institutions including places of worship, irrespective of religious beliefs! A very honorable motto!! After all, it used to be front runner for our national anthem and perhaps if the Bongs had taken the Prime ministership back then, VM would be sharing podium with JGM for being the National Anthem and India would have been the only country to have two anthems being played. What an aural experience it would have been to hear them at sports championships if we won! Of course, to think what would have happened at the recent SAF Games where we returned with 118 Gold Medals is another conjecture!!!
Question is: If this is a secular country, then irrespective of religious beliefs, one must uphold the principal tenets of the country and sing national song. But the Muslims see it other way. For them it is against religious principles. Again! My question is, if the religious sentiments are so water-tight and more important to the minorities (whatever be their religion), then should they seriously not consider migrating to a climate where the religious tenets are primary and welcomed than manipulating the Minority card expecting the majority to keep bending down and keep getting bumped on the head? The day this country becomes minority Hindu state like how TN has been made completely minority Brahmin state... they will be happy. But there is no guarantee that the non-Hindu minority turned majority would stop ill-treating majority turned minority Hindu. Am neither for nor against, but this be the truth... as is vindicated in the perpetual anti-Brahmin sentiment. Talk of secularism is just another VoteBank jargon. And we are suckers, all us voters!

Fresh from a production of FINAL SOLUTIONS by Mahesh Dattani, it stirs up in me both nationalistic feelings as well as rational based arguments. But since they go also beyond the confines of educational focus, we take these things in a separate post!

Until later!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

FINAL SOLUTIONS by Mahesh Dattani

MASQUERADE
the performance group

presents

FINAL SOLUTIONS
an edited dramatized reading in English

by
Mahesh Dattani

Directed by Krishna Kumar. S

Sunday, 27th August 2006 - 7.15 pm
Top Storey, Alliance Francaise
Performance duration – 1 hr. 15mins.
ADMISSION FREE - ALL ARE WELCOME

Join us as we take this opportunity as a farewell token to Mr. Jean-Pascal Elbaz, the Director of Alliance Francaise de Madras.
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Directed by Krishna Kumar. S, Masquerade – the performance group brings before you a dramatized reading of one of the watershed plays in contemporary Indian theatre – FINAL SOLUTIONS by Mahesh Dattani – in a gesture of thanks and bidding farewell to Mr. Jean-Pascal Elbaz, Director, Alliance Francaise de Madras, who after his tenure at Chennai, is moving to his next place of office.

The cast for the evening: Mohd. Yusuf, Krishna, Abhinav Suresh, Vandana Rangarajan, Prema Venkat, Tara Raman, Sonali Ranjit, Karan Ram, Abhishek & Nishad.

The performance runs to approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Please visit the show and join us in our farewell gesture. Do spread the word around and bring one and all!
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We thank Mahesh for his kind gesture to stage this performance.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Hindu Festival Minus Metro

Blogging after a long time, but blogging because am internally impelled to write.

It has been a hectic but very edifying and entertaining day.

A chance brush, strange encounter and amusing meeting is more like what would sum up the day's events.

First I ran into an old-time acquaintance - Uncle Sudhakar as we call him! And what I consider to be finally an encounter with a person - an intriguing artist - whom I have met before thrice, but finally got to spend some serious personal moments with: Valsan Kolleri. Both happened at Lalith Kala Akademi as I went to visit Siva-Benitha-Prasan's exhibition TRILOGY. Some very amusing conversation resulted in disturbing me to think seriously! Valsan is truly a remarkable guy who prefers to create and believes he can't talk, but manages to pour out wise-cracks trois-ed with quick one-liners to quote in an interview as well as ideas that truly ring of seriousness. But more of Valsan and TRILOGY separately later, for they merit separate posts!

SO then... eventually to wind up the day: a call from a journalist friend of mine asking me to land up around 6 pm at The Screening Room, The Park - apparently a debrief meeting between the organisers and participant directors that ended up with more others than directors. One truth rang as I left the discussion which moved stolidly on to its ultimate watering session. For once I played an absolute silent spectator, literally sitting on the peripheries, the virtual last seat. What an Olympian view! But back to the truth before we go into the details: the closing lines from AMADEUS kept ringing in my mind through the d-elevation (going down the elevator from the venue!), "Mediocrity everywhere, I bow to you!" (or something to that effect). I bow not in reverence, but conceding defeat, at the mindset of 'most' gathered there to accept and quit that 'We indeed are celebrating the mediocrity of amateur theatre in Chennai and are content not to raise the bar truly'. I guess the only soul rebelling that refused to accept the concessions was Bala. Hang in there, am really proud to know you!

My question is, like Sunill of EVAM asked, what is the purpose? I ask: If this is a festival, what are we celebrating? Are we trying to do this to promote the theatre culture in Chennai? If so, are we trying to support the groups doing theatre in Chennai? Or are we doing this to raise the critical appreciative standards of the Chennai theatre going audience? If the former, then why this cynicism at local groups. If local groups do not get exposure, then how will they add that extra edge to their work? If they don't get to be featured in a festival of their own city, then who's it for? If they don't brush shoulders in the same festival with so-called qualitative groups from other parts of the country (that are supposedly better), then are they just to be reduced to mere ticket buyers who learn others by watching? I am under the presumption that the the more you do it, the better it gets. Correct me if I am under a delusion! Also, going by the feedbacks about this year's festival, it seems 3 out of 9 shows were rank bad - the firang, the mega-Tantric and the Kolkatta ones, 3 out of the rest 6 were from Chennai and acquitted themselves decently and out of the other 3 two were very commendable. About the Q show I don't have feedback, so I can't write! And this considering none of the 3 Chennai shows had a tech.

If on the other hand, the festival attempts to bring the best of english theatre in India, then the logic must be to provide the audience with quality entertainment on one hand and show them the difference between the good, the bad and the ugly so that the next time they watch a local show they know the difference and hence, we believe, the bar of aesthetics would be raised (if not... at least the aesthetics of their respective bars would be enhanced with better brands of booze!). Anyway, overlooking that unnecessary but irresistable aside, what the audience were treated to was a democratic levelling view of both sides. Going by the feedbacks, the green grass outside the bounds of Chennai theatre also had septic tanks underneath, only the packaging and the gloss kind of made the thought bearable. I guess the whole ferris wheel of the festival is aimed at some other agenda I am unable to fathom. I mean, the chief organisers anyway do not have presence in parts of India where the others came from and do not look to seek presence either. So why? Is this some kind of a masochistic attempt to proclaim the mediocrity of amateur theatre mentality???

The quality dished out only shows that we rank as equally in qualitative amateurishness to other parts of India and that at least we boast of more groups and more active stage-boarders than traditionally theatrical bastions such as Kolkatta where from the only active group had to be invited to complete the zonal quota! Either way, theatre in Chennai doesn't seem to have benefited and if at all anything the festival only brings to surface our embedded cynical attitude at our own selves. I don't blame such an attitude or the carriers of such an attitude. Everyone is entitled to opinions and have the liberty to grumble! We artists have not made any attempts to produce quality that just stuns the organisers into quit inviting outsiders!

One inspired suggestion that came to sort out the quandary we have led ourselves into went like this: combine the best or the cream of Chennai's acting talents, bring an outside director to direct them so that Chennai theatre could produce qualitative work! Are we now conceding our inability to be creative? True, someone remarked, groups won't come together. True true! Because, as I had said elsewhere, there are no groups. What groups? Just fancy names... only banners and brandnames. The oldest group doesn't have an artistic group, but only an administrative body, four ageing actors (the best perhaps in business) and no young artists to lead forward. The youngest group is not able to create fresh artists. And yours faithfully is fighting a losing war to create a recognisably individual identity for myself and my handful of believers. Perhaps the only group that has an identity of its own and manages to do its productions without borrowing heavily (well, we still are at the stage where older age group actors are to be borrowed!) and is self-sustaining is EVAM and kudos to them for that. Leave other things aside for the moment. I have not seen their actor training sessions so I cannot talk of it. In any case, they manage by themselves. And that is one of the hallmark of a group steering towards professional existence. (P.S.: It's not that am suddenly turning pro-Evam or anything, let's just recognise commendable things and criticise opposable things! I would still reserve my opinion on productions!!)

The problem with theatre in Chennai is that groups are mere names with no significant identity of their own. Like I said earlier in another post, one is solo performer, two is partnership, three still doesn't make a group (even if it's idiomatic crowd!). Until we evolve to that stage where groups are identifiable, no definitive style of work would evolve. The reason: if we don't have artists trained in a particular style or belief of acting, there is no individuality to the group. If actors are constantly horsed around fording every stream, they cannot develop acting. They are only moving from director to director, assuming roles and rehearsing lines as a routine. Directors in Chennai must decide to seek identifiable group of actors and work strictly inside themselves in order to evolve a strong approach to acting and performance. And then we would have a body of actors who are literate if not educated, in the essentials of performance. For, every strong performance evolves out of a cultural politics and understanding of the role one is doing and the holistic stance of the work being produced. The success behind OTHELLO by Royston Abel is mainly due to its interpretation. And interpretation cannot occur without analysing the cultural, social and sometimes racial politics. The point about racial politics was so well illustrated by Runa's VALLEY SONG. Of course, on the same count, it was also proved what overturning the fundamental idea behind a play such as MACBETH in order to make it entertaining could lead to! Am not saying this, ask the attendant public!

We all saw what a sad case of adaptation a recent production of BLACK COMEDY turned out to be. Peter Shaffer created the work and the characters out of a cultural milieu and social environment, just as much as AMADEUS was a play about racial discrimination and Germanic inability to accept foriegners. You see, every work stems from a cultural and social standpoint. By just changing the names and the location and moving to Mumbai the show (Black Comedy) elicited mere laughs at some caricatures. That is not respecting the audience. Merely giving them voyeuristic pleasure. So first the directors must show some purpose than just taking up works because it is amusing or witty or appealing to their passionate creative skills. Of course we need not, as directors, foist our process upon the audience. We can continue to produce slapsticks and farces and romantic comedies and entertain the audience and have our cash registers ringing, and can still have our work steeped in a deeper understanding of the needs of theatre. I wonder what it would be if The Theatre wakes up one fine day to confront the doers of theatre in Chennai, in a Pirandellian way! It would really either become Narashimha and tear us apart for the sacrilege we are committing in its name, or pull the cyanide capsule and die! This is why a director is a very critical ingredient in the making of a play.

A director trained (in an institution or auto-didactic doesn't matter!) in the craft and is capable of creating sensitised artists can go a very long way to creating a strong group that believes in its identity (a while back a very active Magic Lantern was just that. Pity they have gone less active!). This in turn can lead into a good production worthy of holding our heads about. It is time-consuming, but we need to build it brick by brick patiently. We need to create artists through training. That day Chennai theatre need not vie with morsels of slots in a theatre festival curated, conducted and organised by local patrons of that selfsame art!

Until then... we keep borrowing and bickering and reduce ourselves to the level of letting ourselves into depths of lack of self-belief. Is this a trip to unite the struggling and in-fighting artists of theatre in Chennai? If we have more than 100 odd people who do theatre in some fashion passion or hobby, can't they be trained? A trained actor is not restricted to roles. An actor who is just doing roles or hop-scotching amid directors and groups is not serious about the work, but is only diluting whatever meaningfulness that exists. Of course, there is nothing wrong in trading horses because most theatre is not livelihood theatre but serious hobby. But then, this can only lead to the status we seem to be in... the status of lack of self-belief to produce a quality work that walks into a festival rather than be condescendingly invited! Not for nothing goes the idiom VANDHAARAI VAAZHA VAIKKUM THAMIZHAGAM (the Tamilnadu that lets others live at the expense of its own!). The need of the hour is to be ourselves and create distinct identities before we even produce... be it good or bad. But who cares, let's fish around, because everyone's around for a good romp. But thanks to the organisers of The Hindu Metro Plus Theatre Festival for bringing outside groups to show us where we stand!