This post is subtitled: Theatre? You mean Sathyam... Abirami, Inox...?!!
It's disgusting as well as distressing how degeneration happens in theatre. We all know that this city virtually has no serious pursuit of theatre but only as just another channel for live entertainment.
What's wrong with theatre as a form of entertainment?
Nothing wrong; but then if it stops there then what's its uniqueness! Theatre must make people take notice, care and become better human beings. Even assuming you set out to do comedies, there has to be something more to it than just becoming a log-in place for imbeciles with no inclination to use up their brains but money to spend. We are breeding a culture here in Chennai that is so far removed from a Chennai so steeped in knowledgeable people appreciating intelligent art. This city and especially its live event spaces are becoming space for mere exchange of visiting cards and business or social networking. Isn't that what all these Am-way and other MLM meetings are supposed to do? So... has theatre become a place for consumerism? What happened to the days of society and community driven theatre activities? The other day I saw the KB movie Server Sundaram and saw the play within the movie and wondered why don't we produce such stuff anymore... even in Tamil.
So... theatre as practised outside the region of urban, elite, exclusive, vonly english-ispeaking Chennai-ites will never be understood by 'this my city of mass destructors of culture.' This was once again recently vindicated to me.
I had recently done a play. And day next, I got this call from a reporter writing for byline and language-improvement from the features section of one of the feeder-line english dailies.
"Ah... this pley you put up last night..."
"Yes!" - I.
"Ah, could you teh me a li'l about the pley...?" - a little hesistancy hanging at the butte end of the dusty mesa.
"Well, you did come, right?" - a brash I, who by this point had started casting aspersions.
"Yes yes. But you know, this in and out of roles, characters, airport drama, epics, myths... it was a bit unclear."
"Oh...oh! If you can explain tersely..." I even stopped to wonder at my oxymoron. How can anyone explain tersely? "...what precise info you want, I can tell you," sez an increasintly irritated I.
"Could you tell something about the story?" There was an ecstatic silence of relief from the other end of the instrument.
"!?!*!" - surmise I internally and convince myself that only their photographer had perhaps come. That is a common sight these days, if you know what I mean.
Anyway, I told the story, plot, subtext and all for what it's worth, not given to openly discouraging aspiring writers. I anyway don't care for reviews because 'in Chennai there are no reviews!' I was just curious to see what doctoring is done to my proverbial dice and if at least the depth of language is there to re-word my bytes.
It's an alarming trend to notice that anything even such as "Shoor-Shakuni" play is considered heavy-weight in Chennai. How would these people react to "Long Day's Journey Into Night" by O'Neill or "Street Car" by Tennessee Williams or "Sakharam" by Tendulkar? Just reminds me of Jennie Malone's lines for Chapter Two: "I'm going to read all the classics starting with Agamemnon. Ok, Catch-22, we're going to try it one more time" to which Faye Medwick answers: "You see, to tackle heavy-weight material is not what you should be doing right now!" CATCH-22! Heavy-weight!! What about Bernard Malamud and Updike then?
One lady apparently actually called my cast member and asked "Why don't you people just do comedies?" What the...! The question arises. How relevant is the term theatre except in the context of the title of this post? One thing is very clear; I now understand why up North they don't recognise Chennai as a theatre center. Do we deserve anything more?
We are ourselves to be blamed. We sell our theatre. To the sponsors. The fact appears that it's high time we erased the word sponsor. Who goes after sponsorship? Someone who does not want to risk their own money. Someone who does not believe in their own work seriously or believe in the efficacy and the quality of ther work to drive audience at least in the long run. It's not wisdom or being smart... to not putting one's money in the frontline. It's just treating one's work as pure commerce or pursuing hobbies and passion with someone else's money and time. Manipulation, exploitation, euphemistic begging.
Now, don't get offended saying just because one seeks sponsorship there's no self-belief. On the contrary, one might say 'only because there is quality the work sells or the sponsors support or both!" But no! The people who put up money into a show in Chennai (I can't talk of other cities) do it for various other reasons which make up a huge list in itself.
Theatre in Chennai - at least English theatre - is purely a hip or fashionable hobby or passion to pursue. It does nothing to stimulate the intellect or challenge the minds. In fact, most audience are already challenged and special enough that if the cost of laughing gas were to be cheaper our comedies would not attract crowd. Honestly, this craving for light theatre entertainment is scaring me. You need not agree with me. YOU... NEED... NOT... AGREE... WITH... ME!!! I do not personally care two ways, continuing to do plays I think raise voices, if not of dissent, at the least of difference. There are people - besides me - who are attempting different and even financially risky shows, and if one can't write proper and informed REVIEWS, one must at the very minimum just use up the invite and remain silent... Instead of filling precious ad-space with their by-line earning junk. Either the newspaper must profit or the theatre doers. But when the mistake lies with our theatre groups who are bent upon building branding how can we blame two-bit hacks with PG-Diplomas!
There is such a thing called community consciousness. But what can one say when majority of the four-wheelers are yellow-number plates with surrogates behind steering-wheels who don't have concepts of ownership. The trouble is Chennai has no more pride and accountability to its environment. How can one expect its theatre to be community conscious. We can have mindless flautulence on stage in the name of laughter. Even Ji, Behanji on SAB TV is funny. But it does have some excuse for social responsibility with Behanji's frequent sallies to the Police Stations and Judiciaries!!!
In fact, I am frightfully optimistic that Ji Behanji is already on its way to emulate its predecessor Priya Tendulkar shows and other such of the past on DD. That's another sad lament of mine. Why don't Chennai channels come up with decent sit-coms. There's a huge lacunae in that area and a great need for it! But that's for another day and another blog.