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Monday, May 28, 2007

Community Theatre: or why I like to keep off big-budget mainstream theatre!

Ever since the arrest of Mr. Chandramohan, an artist from MSU Baroda on May 9th, there have been hue and cries, and waves of protests, bandhs, signature campaigns across India from across the artists' community.

In Chennai too, on May 14th, a few artists gathered at Lalit Kala Akademi (on Greams Road) around 4 p.m to raise slogans and protest as well as to do a signature campaign. Only visual artists as well as some regional theatre artists, besides the omni-present press photographers, were present.

The english theatre community of Chennai was busy as usual with its whatever existence, preparing for a busy forthcoming season full of comedies. Need I say we are as far from reality as Pluto from Sun. And briefly a glimpse of the vandalising scene from my last year's production of Gautam Raja's WOOD appeared in front of my eyes. I felt proud. How truly inspiringly visionary can art be! How insightful was Gautam's play, even if it was called cliche!! But, at that moment, I also felt a little twang and a tinge of irritation in me. I felt, for once, so disenchanted, disenfranchised and alienated from most of the manufacturers of english theatre in Chennai, of whom I have been a part the last 15 years!!!

It set me thinking.What does the word community mean to people involved in theatre? Is there a community theatre in Chennai? What is or must a community theatre like or do?

Asking a question such as this is to ask what a nation is or must do. At the foundation of a society is the community. It is the bringing together of individuals from various walks and professions of life. A profession, in turn, need not necessarily be always with monetary objective. A priest at a place of worship is an example. A priest is a service personnel who does not expect monetary or material reimbursement. When the fabric or web of society in a particular place is represented by a cross-section of professional congregation, we call it a society. And the best representation of each particular profession come together to make the founding fathers of a town, village, etc. Thus is a community formed. or so we are informed through history.

This community essentially needs entertainment. At times, beyond entertainment, the entertainers also become the moral voice of the people, reminding them when they go off the righteous track. Thus, theatre becomes the voice of the community. And this has been seen time and again throughout Indian, European as well as even American theatre communities.

Now if we take Chennai as our immediate and monumental example, we neither have community nor such a theatre. If you think I am being sweeping in my statement, remember, I am talking Chennai's english theatre. For there is no righteousness left nor moral guardians amid the fast exploding bourgeoisie BPOs of Chennai (since there is no morality there consequently need be neither guardians, in a city were DOKs and F&Gs and Dollar Shops have become symbols of culture).

As a result, all we have left of theatre here is entertainment. Rather, those who practise theatre mostly believe only in entertaining theatre. This belief that we are the decision-makers of what the public want is wrong. We must not drive the market in the wrong direction for our own personal ends. IT IS NOT REALLY A DOG-EAT-DOG-Survival world out there. Well, at least, dogs are not greedy. Anyway, we must, as practitioners and responsible decision-makers observe what needs to be done to keep the society on the right track.

Needless to say, we cannot change the society, as Brecht believed, by portraying the wrongs on stage. But theatre needs to voice out opinions. This is what happens in every part of the world where theatre is said to be alive. This is what WOOD is all about. This is what Theatre Nisha's recent show of SATHE was about. And this is what even Dummies' VISHWAROOPAM is all about. Holding more than a mirror to the society as it were!

Theatre as a voice of community may be marginal compared to the so-called mainstream theatre that receives more attention, attract bigger sponsorships and subsequently has the muscle to pull more audiences. But again as some C.S Neville (or is it C.A?) said in his treatise "Democracy and the Individual", it is actually all about the Might of the Right over the Right of the Might. Quantity or majority need not always be right. This is where the need for smaller theatre companies or what are called community theatres become important. This is also where works such as an Anna Weiss, Oleanna, Final Solutions, Sathe, Thus Spake Shoorpanakha, The Zoo Story, etc matter. They are not irrelevant to the consumptive public because they are art or they speak in a language different from what the entertainment-seeking juntaa understand.

The argument that these plays simply do not or cannot speak to numbers or satisfy sponsors' need for footfalls make them untenable or ill-required is stupid and corrosive in the long run for the existence of theatre itself. While mass entertainment 'speaks' offhand and shows an escapist illusion that their audience can consume alongside their Coke and Popcorn, in the same breath, without having to carry the hangover, these plays 'address' issues that are apparently irrelevant to a materialist consumerist society. These works are born out of a deeper need.

Artists who produce these works do so out of a deeply felt need to voice out rather than for money or fame or passion to perform in front of people. There is no exhibitionist narcissism of the number-theory booting mainstream commercial theatre here. This is perhaps why they are small. They believe that somehow the rot that is setting in the mindset of a McSociety can still be stemmed. If entire Chennai had only Spencers and Reliance Freshes or Cineplexes and Multiplexes, the city would get boring. The smaller neighborhood shops have their own charm and reason for existence.

What must be applauded of these theatrical oevures is their ability time and again to come up to the public viewing for less than the price of a cinema ticket at multiplexes and Mayajaals. Since their recipient audiences are equally smaller in draw, they are produced in smaller, comparatively lesser appealing theatre houses, knowing fully well they would not in Eight out of Ten cases break the red barrier vis-a-vis finance. However, they continue to break fresh grounds. And we would see in the future, that these minimalist but well-planned theatres would grow in numbers, especially among the youth. Of course, some youth subvert even that. There are weeds in every field of crop. But...

In Youth lies idealism, vision and energy. In youth does one discard the fear of the unknown. Whether out of curiosity, impulse, impetuosity or visionary zealotry, youth is what takes risk. These theatres are all about taking risks, not only financial, but also in several other ways. Hopefully, the Chennai youth would get out of the current malaise and veer towards a theatre that shows its disenchantment with bedroom farces and conservative trends; that fights against non-dynamic, safer form of theatre that does not provoke the audience into uneasy thoughts.

There does seem to be a mushrooming of newer groups. This is either due to a feeling of rejection by existing companies or disenchantment with lack of real opportunities, or even because of a certain need to be 'one's own'. Whatever the reason, the basis is that the founders often have their own ideas. Where there is idea, there is hope. Hence one expects and hopes that there is a certain hidden belief in the hearts of these young and idealistic theatre wannabes that theatre has an innate power to change, if not transform. After hope comes prayer.

We who believe in smaller and community efforts just have to pray these newer groups do not fall prey to the need to fill houses. Once one falls into the clutches of the need to have audiences to fill their seats, one ends up doing exactly what those who pay, patronise or sponsor want. Already a few such have been lost, am afraid, for good!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Shit-agone at Mirpur

Requiem to the series that happened

Now that the plaudits have spoken and the pundits have been puzzled as to how on God's own strip of land (that was more caked and parched and scarred than a hapless yeoman skinned by a heartless zamindar in those feudal movies of yore) did India managed to score 610 in under two days and skittle Deshis out twice for a little above half that score, it is time to take a per-chance. Because: what has happened to India is a happened circumstance, a happenstance. Zak's eight wicket haul is sheer happenstance, the record-making top-four batsmen scoring hundreds is sheer happenstance. What were not circumstantial were Tendulkar's 37th Ton and Kumble's 5 wkt test haul as was VVS's ignominy.

Tendulkar at one point did a Sunny Gavaskar. Took a catch without breaking a sweat, looked around impishly, pocketed the ball. Only, he was not standing in the slips as Sunny used to. It showed how relaxed Sachin was. He was enjoying his game after such a loooong time. Not because he had scored a ton in both tests, but he has proved his point: I can continue to **** around with Indian cricket as long as I like, I have the credentials and the claims for I have toiled too long for it. At no point did Sachin look dominating throughout this series. He did not need to. But scratch the surface, he was dominating. What is dominating but being in control of the proceedings? Is it necessary that it must be lethal or vociferous like Lara or Ponting or Gilchrist or Symonds do? Not for a higher mortal such as Sachin. His record of 37 may become 42... or 45... and he may retire as did people before him. His record may be surpassed by Ponting and in turn and in turn... But that is only the law of nature. The point of the post is this: The 7th best team in the world beat the 11th best team in the world. And in the middle of all this, Antonio Salieri's "Mediorcity all over the world, I bow to you" rung clear. Only one man managed to mock and rise above all these - Mashrafe Bin Mortaza. Sad, he had to be on the losing side. One man got lucky for once, justifying all his hardships and as many comebacks as Jimmy Amarnath has done - Zaheer "Zak" Khan.

Let us quickly go backwards to the Chittagong test. See what happened. How frustrating it is to be Zaheer? I do not for a moment claim that he is the fittest cricketer or super fielder. If may I say so from observed newspaper and internet sports site reports, there is no second slouch than Zaheer behind Saurav Ganguly this side of Inzamam (and I still admire all these 3 men). But let's not take the talent and class away. And Dravid all but undid it in the First Test against B-desh at Chittagong.

Dravid may be a dependable bat, but a very non-aggressive and unimaginative captain as well as a post-match speaker. Sometimes he just lets things drift more than necessary. Does he wait for creative spark to alight on him on these occasions? What Ponting or Smith would have done in the situation India found itself while bowling at 149 - 8? (or for that matter at 11-4 that nearly was 11 - 6 but for two greased catches by Dravid and Karthik in the Bangladeshi first innings of the second test). How I missed the presence of Wasim Akram the Captain or Waqar Younis the tail-wiper! Total aggro was the need of the hour.

The first test had already seen bad batting displays, inspite of centuries, by both Sachin and Saurav (the same was also said in the media and we saw it too, during Sachin's second test century. But for Dhoni's pyrotechnics and Mortaza & Ashraful's heroics, the overall batting in the second test was insipid to say the least!); tactless scoring by Indian later order to reduce a healthy 295 - 3 at the end of Day 1 to 387 - 8 by noon of Day 4! But what beats this is the bowling... or perhaps the fielding display.

149 - 8 was Bangladesh. Mashrafe Mortaza - a decent bat with lot of determination, pride, gumption and self-esteem - pushes the score to 170 in the company of Shahadat Hossain, who's not even a decent agrarian cricketer in the first place.

If India did not go on to win a match at a canter and by an innings, the blame for that must squarely be shared between an inept captain and a not-more-than-average Mumbai spinner. I really do not understand why Ramesh Powar must be in the team. Forget the wickets he took in the Bangladeshi second innings. I could have taken wickets on that pitch with more cracks than a discarded piss-pot! He's got one talent. To hold the ball in mid-air, defying gravity. Other than that, nothing else. In comparison, I just loved the way Shakid Al Hasan bowled in both the tests. Here's a man who's gonna grow in stature as he plays more, but more of him elsewhere. Ramesh Powar!

Ramesh Powar: highly inept as a spin bowler (from a land with a huge tradition of spinners behind him) and no better or worse (thankfully) than any other currently playing spinner for India, he's not agile nor is there any remorse in him when he misses a four or greases a catch or is whacked around the ground. I wonder how he's turned those so many Ranji matches for Mumbai. That speaks for the standard of Ranji games. Powar, at the end of First Test at Chittagong against B-desh, has come to symbolise the spineless, gutless, thoughtless, unimaginative and mechanised display Indian cricket has come to represent. Else how do you explain the ineptness of letting Mortaza and Shahadat score that 70+ partnershi to take their team beyond follow-on and past 200 after having been reduced themselves to 149 - 8?

It was disgusting to see Powar not being able to hold on to a regulation dive. Perhaps not as bad as when Dinesh Karthik came witlessly in the way of Dravid in 3rd Slip at 11-4 (2nd Test). But then, Karthik had done his work as a batsman. Poor Zaheer!!! How much harder must he try? How many comebacks has he to make to prove himself? Letting a 9th wicket partnership that is not worth more than a double figure under normal circumstances, to beyond 50 runs is something for which the entire Indian team must be shoot. Even after seeing Mortaza play short balls without though or plan, so predeterminedly, Dravid the Wall did nothing. The Wall's immovability for once was more a liability than an asset.

In a matter of minutes B-desh raced from 170 - 8 to 200 and beyond. Within the space of 10 balls the Indians bowled it had happened. After a mindless R.P.Singh over in which two fours were conceded, that was to become a pointer for things to come, Zak was brought on. His first ball was a regulation dive catch from Mashrafe to Powar. Dropped. Then followed a Shahadat blinder to the slips. Nobody to blame. A typical flailing shot that fetched a reprieve and a four. And still the captain does nothing for the next THREE overs. And then it had to be Sachin "Man Friday" Tendulkar to show how to take breakthrough wickets. And why would Sachin not laugh? Not that it changed history or the fate of the series that was a foregone conclusion before India left its borders to Bangladesh.

The win would not probably have enhanced India's claim to the top of test cricketing world, but it definitely would have made a difference to the Second Test, had things not happened the way they happened after Habibul Bashar made the mistake of reading the pitch wrong. Especially after the weathermen had predicted two out of five days of rain! It was a lucky thing in the end that Habibul Bashar was not in form both with the bat as well as with his cap.

Woe begone. Ravi Shastri was as lucky as an interim coach as he was during that watershed series when Kris Srikant was captain, referred to in an earlier post on Wright, Greg and Whatmore. Let's see how we fare in England. Welcome Dav!

Day-lights of Indeea

Foreword:The following post is a loud-thinking to myself. I am not sure if I am politically correct because I don't in this issue really understand what exactly a Dalit-identity is. Several people claim several things and the existing corpus of Dalit-literature, created by self-proclaimed Dalit writers themselves, does little to clarify too! So, rather than taking an angry stance, if any comments, please try and clarify than taking cudgels and arms against the post. - Author

News: Dalits among Muslims and Christians must also be considered for Reservation.

Post: I have a serious doubt. Are the Dalits of India (pronounced by my foreign connections as Day-lights of Indeea!) a religious lot or a community (which I interpret as caste-based) or a class (economy based)?

If they claim to distance themselves - like the Dravidians of Tamil Nadu do - from Hinduism by such expressive means as "Name conversion ceremony from Hindu (and hence Aryan) to a Dravidian or Neutral Non-Hindu Language-based Name" (Eg: Srinivasan or Seshadri or Vinayakamurthi becoming Thamaraikannan, Ezhilazhagan etc etc), then Dalit movement by itself becomes a religious affliction. For, any scattered bunch of people who happen to be brought together or who happen to come together upon commonly identified and accepted code of so-called guiding principles or tenets or ideals of belief to conduct a certain way of life is a religion. It has been the case of Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Taoism, Santeria, etc etc... irrespective whether it is pagan or heathen or genteel school of belief. Then, there can be no Hindu Dalits or Christian Dalits or Islamic Dalits and hence the news above is just another politicisation for someone's ballotry gains.

If they are a community or a caste, then they automatically become Hindus, since according to anti-Hindu believers, caste system is a Hindu evil, which nevertheless they aim to for their vote-banks. According to those who harbour the grudge theory that caste is a Manu-invention (originally based on the type of labour one did) and is discriminatory, caste is a Hindu subventive theory. Then, those who call themselves Dalits and still seek to identify with a certain section of Hindu sentiment, belief, whatchumight call it (the boundaries being very thin!), are not dissimilar to the so-called Christians by religion (right to conversion of belief) but constitutionally Hindus by community or caste (this is one time they never derecognise the Constitution); which idea is the most dubious notion of existence one can have. I have always wanted to ask this question to someone to seek an appropriate answer: how can one be a Christian Nadar or Muslim Mudaliar. Nadar and Mudaliar are Hindu casteist denomination which have only managed to vanish from the Road signposts! You can't technically belong to two places - neither physically nor in terms of identity. We know those terms Asian American or Afro-American are only classifications brought about for convenience. Those terms do not fetch anyone any special status.

Although technically you can belong to two spaces, to use it for profit means is sheer exploitation or manipulation or taking advantage of a system. This cannot be considered being contributive to the country's common good. And, in 9 out of 10 cases this is what is happening in India today: EXPLOITATION OF THE SYSTEM and MANIPULATION OF THE CONSTITUTIONAL GUIDING PRINCIPLES IN THE NAME OF INTERPRETATION.

Once upon a bluemoon, our national leaders and politicians sought to erase casteism. Today's politicians are self-styled national leaders and decision as well as law-makers (and -breakers), who in turn are anyway nothing but a bunch of goondahs and criminals seeking to further casteism and further divide the society to kingdom come and thrive on discrimination. We have eschewed the policy of "We are all God's children and are part of an Ekta-Nation" in order to embrace and engender an Ekta Kapoorish nation that believes in revenge and betrayals, bent on building a revanchist country compartmentalised by communal differences. And the train of Bharat continues to rush through a Kafka-esque tunnel towards some blood-thirsty landscape, God help it!

I am terribly convinced that today if we draw a guideline map of India, we can easily start dividing it with white plot-boundary marker stones that can very smoothly fall into areas of community concentration. Anyway, back to issue at hand. If these Dalits are a community then why divide them into Hindus, Muslims and Christianity? If they are entitled to their own beliefs as well as literature, not to mention songs of ode as well as lullabies, then they are entitled to their own existence. As a self-respecting individual, any person who has consciously decided to shirk the binding cord to one -ism and break the so-called oppressive shackles of a way of life or path of belief so thrust upon one must seek to identiy one's own uniqueness. It must be clear cut. Not borrow the best of both to convenience.
I just am not able to fathom this duality. Do we call it a corporatising of community in today's adaptive world of best practise theories!!! For soon when the day comes that all Day-lights of Indeea realise the need for a separate sun and moon and stars to behold and their own Cauverys and Gangeses, they would want to convene en messe under their own blue skies unsullied by other blue skies, unaided by a Dyer or a James Custer. Then there would be a Dalit Nadu or Dalit Pradesh or Dalitchal or Dalitistan or Dalitland, depending on how they congregate where. Would we probably also have Dalit-Deras? What use is having divided conferences and branch offices? Else the Dalit National Identity would suffer, as so many other identities have. (As such we have a IOK and POK and an independent J&K. We are already marching towards Chinese claims to Indian Occupied Arunachal Pradesh and vice-versa) Then you cannot seek a separatist country status as did the Khalistanis of the 80s, the Baloch of Pakistan, the Nagas of Nagaland etc, etc. Then I cannot seek a visa to go to these lands, so near and yet foreign countries within the sub-continent.

India is the next EU in the making. We soon shall have an Indian Union - a continental sub-continent with 50 country states and neighbouring Bangla as well as Nepal, Kashmir etc seeking I.U.Status. Especially Kashmir! And there would soon rise an Orhan Pamuk of the Kashmir. And etc, etc... And this year we are celebrating 60 years of Indian independence!
The point is: why do we need a centralised governing body in the name of a county that is so pseudo-secular. Secular in spirit but not in body? What is this Indian-ness that I must cling to? And why the once in four years tamasha called elections? Call back the Pommies. We were more united under them before 1947 and had a better sense of oneness.
Cry, my beloved country!

Monday, May 14, 2007

On Acting - II

Mime, Movement, Music & (E)motion

I am not the first.
I will not be the last.
But it is sure... there is a lot of consonance between the spoken word and the expressed emotion. It is motion captured in eternity. Perhaps that explains why it is an emotion. But the eternal question is: did the sound derive from the action or vice-versa, whichever the language. My conjecture is, they are independent, but interdependent and symbiotic.

It is true that without sound, movement can exist. For, sound followed silence and still does. Through the movement is the noise born, as an object - organ or not - cuts through the wind space of time. Still, sound can be found in silence. Do not we say that silence after a while gets deafening? But, but...

The talk here is more about rhythmic sound also called music, rather than noise. How does it belong to the realm of speech?

We breathe. Therefore we are. Is breath not the same to speech as punctuation to syntax? Whereas the collusion of two alphabets categorised as a vowel and a consonant give birth to smoother breathing of a word, two apparently perfect bed-mates such as hard consonants produce a louder (in quality) sound. I consciously use the word collusion. Is it not experiential that the unhindered sound of a vowel and the laboured production of a consonant are opposing parties? And yet when they combine they implicitly produce rhythmic sounds? Also, the consonancy arises because of the consonants. They are the Zeroes to the Ones that are Vowels (again, that oxymoron 'One...are'!). Without this marriage, the life of language cannot go on.

Anyway, music is, after all, a certain rhythm pattern of sound. Instrumental rhythm is made understandable to lesser mortals requiring (or in obstinate and polemical cases, even 'demanding') codification and structural logic through notations and textualised grammar. It takes a higher level of implicit honesty in a mind to understand the inherent grammar of music that is experienced than analysed. Blessed are such emotinally sensitised souls. These are the true jazz musicians, who understand those hundreds of rigid grammatical rules inside the science of sound production and yet do not make a beeline for it consciously. In fact, it is ridiculous to even describe grammar as rigid since the concept of grammar was invented in the first place to help bring about an organised approach to achieve the ultimate quest of the soul - perfection, fluidity and grace. It is the same with words. So, then, the duty of an actor becomes it to sensitize oneself towards this task. To become a jazz master of the spoken word. To seek to express effortlessly and gracefully that the speech brings joy to the ears of the listener. In some case, the master of technique is there. The elocution powers of some actors far surpass a great orator that speech just remains a thing to marvel at and not empathise with.

What use is a speech that just touches the aesthetics and has not social effect? The same as a torrent of emotional confabulation that is not well enunciated. The attempt of the actor must be to bring about the poetry and rhythm of the word and the psychological connection to the context. It is then that the body that expressed those spoken words, the mind that motorised it and the meaning that the recipient audience received combine to make a holistic experience. Consequently, the word receives a communicative value in the context of the speaker-listener relationship. This is the true purpose of the spoken word.

Now, having said that, the whole trick (not a parlour trick, mind you!) is in giving the silence before the spoken moment its due space. The recipient audience as well as the uttering voice 'must' experience this space of silence before the utterance.


Because........... in this space does the body go through what the to-be-spoken word feels like; what the yet-to-be-voiced sound does to its (the body's) existence. That is why reaction becomes a key factor in exchange of dialogues in life as in stage. Else, acting whether in life or on stage would be one long spiel of improvisation. There is a lot of freshness in that because it keeps each person guessing. But it gets boring after a while like the characters in Horovitz's Line. They don't quite become Vladimirs and Estragons even after 25 years!

I am not an advocate of 'Naturalism' or the 'as is what is or where is' school of theatre and acting. I do, nevertheless, contradictorily, believe in the passage of an actor to a character. You may ask how! There be some who believe acting is a craft and solely a craft. NO... NO... NO! You can't mechanise your body to search for a certain moment of truthful movement. Without sensitising the muscles how can one 'feel' the movement.
Assuming the brain can be trained to 'detect' the movement twitches the muscles can perform, how would it connect to the spoken word on stage? If it cannot, how does communication between actor and spectator occur, what use is a text but an excuse for these two figures to meet from either side of the fence that is the fourth wall? Therefore...

An actor, I believe is an instrument of the state. (I use the word instrument consciously, in the full knowledge that it belongs to the area of technology and not of sense) A State of Mind. An actor in front of an audience or a group of audiences has the job of conveying the emotions of the character s/he is playing truthful to the body's experience. The body that s/he inhabits. Although the body is devoid of pain, and emotions are the visiting cards of psychological impressions (that are in turn results of the mind's recognition of grammatised and codified structures created by us, the civilised animals), these truthfully belong to the region called brain functions. That is why an actor is the instrument of a state of mind at a given time in a specific mental space represented or presented on stage through sets, backdrops or sceneries... or sometimes just furns or objects... or blocks of wood that homogenise and neutralise the naturalistic creation of a bedroom or garden.

You may think, as a result, if you followed the rationale behind my argument, that Stanislavskian 'method mumble' and Meyerhold's 'physics of speech' are no different. Lecoq and Strasberg are merely the obverse sides of a classical coin of acting; that all these talk about realism and naturalism, representationalism and presentationalism, impressionism and expressionism are just corollaries and theories of the same belief. Yes. There is only one Truth. It is not out there... but in here. The truth lies in the tooth. And the tooth is out there... in the way of our breath, which the body experiences.

This perhaps, then, is why the art of acting originated in mime (or acts without sounds), movement, rhythm and in course of time, orchestrated rhythm, appended through percussion and wind instruments. My credo is, an actor must learn to breathe and breathe properly with the sole focus being to fill the body... in a yogic sort of way. When one breathes deep and in total concentration, oblivious to external impressions, one's body goes through an experience that is truly exhilarating, revealing and releasing. That is when we de-mechanise and defamiliarise ourselves to the sensory experiences that have come to clutter out modern and day-to-day lives. That is when the sounds really connect to meanings civilisations have attached to them. That is when a sound becomes a word, a verbal symbol of a pictoral object such as rose or lemon or violence or Kafka or sky.

In the last 300 odd years since the Industrial revolution, we have de-centralised the sounds and individualised the noises to the noise of a scooter or the noise of a baby in need of diapers or the noise of the commode flush or the noise of amplified and mic-ed voice et al. But we have not thought about the capability of the brain to store and retrieve when required all these noises. We go about our hurly burly daily existence forgetful of the complexity we have webbed us in. An actor suffers as a result of this, because an actor has ceased to realise the specialness of oneself and has gone about becoming another zombie on the move in the traffic of daily life. Time we helped break an actor's un-trance.

Let's start breathing genuinely.

Monday, May 07, 2007

On Acting - I

Acting is a process, they say. To me, acting is a journey. It is, to borrow a term from Lecoq, the transposition of one's accrued experiences into characterisation. The accrual never stops and the characterisation only gets better with more experience. Few people realise the difference between playing a character and putting their own personality on parade. In a movie or in front of a camera this may be required, for the medium has come to need star branding to sell. Theatre, on the other hand, is until today largely untouched by this vice. But soon, soon... and I dread that day!

Perhaps, in order to avoid that, actor-trainers and directors who work on process-oriented input must need focus on instilling the essence of acting: to show the difference in enabling an actor be sensitized to elemental emotions and how that could facilitate an actor portray another persona with an entirely different manner of presence.

Actor training and preparing to act involves much the same ritualistic process as a Religious Medium takes to go into a trance. Acting too is a state of trance. In this sense, acting is no different from religion, which partially explains the abundant presence of the element of performance in the Bhakti movement. Be it an Abhang singer, a Bhajan singer of the Meera and Andal variety or an Arayar dancer, the levels of involvement is of a quality that defies earthly proportion. They are totally surrendered in body and soul to the transcendental and unconscious of their physical this and here. An actor playing a role must aim for this. When the trip comes to an end, there is exhaustion but peace and harmony with oneself. And the tools an actor needs to be endowed with must become the equivalent of the drums the facilitators use to help the Religious Medium trance into one, the lines spoken the theatrical counterpart of the ululations that accompany the 'parai'. But...

If an actor consciously and conscientiously does not seek to build an armoury of this sort, it cannot happen. Trainers and directors striving to bring this to an actor does not suffice. It takes two to light the candle. These tools would never turn into a tuning fork or a percussive presence to be put to use to take the step beyond the mundane threshold for a magical journey into that illusive world of creation. If an actor gets there, then what the audience could get is sheer magic. An actor must seek to become the flying carpet on which the audience can travel into elsewhere. An actor must work hard to achieve this. For, does it not take hard work and more for an artisan to weave the perfect carpet! This flight of course, does not require air to launch the carpet like a balloon. It needs music to elevate. This music is the actor's internal oneness with the emotions of the role s/he is playing. And, to be able to achieve this oneness, one needs to connect to the character's individuality as well as the cultural and sociological belonging either in a community or time or both. For, we are all products of social structures, of time, space, civilisation etc.

Hence it follows, anyone wishing to act must spend time thinking the role out before committing the lines to memory. The key physical and psychological vocabulary of the character must first be learnt by the body before the verbal requirements, because everything begins with the body and ends with it.

The mind has pain, not the body. The mind only directs, but the body it is that acts. The body is the actor, and we only know too well that once the actor goes on public, the director just cannot intervene. Therefore the mind work must necessarily happen before performance and thoroughly at that. And let the body then do its work. Not for nothing that the mind is the capitalistic and managerial head of the hierarchy and the body the toiling bourgeoise labourer. But if the labourer does not work, capitalism would come to a standstill. Same theory applies in theatre too.

We, unfortunately, rarely let the body do its work on stage. Instead, we keep interrupting it by thinking. But letting the element of play come in consciously rather than just letting it happen as practised. That is not a successful trance. It is not even a successful attempt to fake a trance. In movies it is different. To me, the difference between theatre acting and camera acting is like the difference between going into a trance and day-dreaming. The latter can and often gets broken and is continual, not continuous. The former is a single, unstoppable stream like a non-stop, long-haul flight. If it is faked, the audience would see through the veil. So what is the solution? How do we complete our commitment to ensure a total experience for the audience?

Train the mind. Train the body. In the sequence.

Train the mind to let the body listen and store so that these can be implemented later. For, as someone said, education is not the mere accumulation of knowledge, but the successful application of it. Today in Chennai, given our imposed hurly-burly existence, as in life so in theatre, we have forgotten the habit of observation and listening. We do not bother about other presences around us and flitter about glibly like a cascade of words from a stand-up comedian's mouth. Time to stop that and pay attention to the greater teacher of all - Life. Let's start at the basics - the mother of all theatre - Life and pay attention to the real actors, the people around us. Did not the Bard say All the world's a stage, etc etc...?

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Wright, Greg.... What more in store?

News: Dav Whatmore top contender for India's new cricket coach
Reality Byte: There is no one else in the fray!
Hypothesis: By this time all probable foreign coaches have decided it is not worth being the coach of a country of losers who believe in politics, corruption and dishonesty... and of course money, money, money!!!

I have always felt, to be a coach who can survive successfully in Indian scenario, you have to be a politician more than a capable cricket administrator on and off field: you have to be a political and on-field tactician who can shove the crowbar suavely. To shove the crowbar is an act (not art) any Indian can do. But to be suave and diplomatic about it - we have to look upto a White foreigner.

England disqualifies itself, having not been able to set its own house in order. Australians used to look down upon even playing India that for a while we never played them enough or were never accorded the same amount of grudging respect they accord to West Indies even today and in these times of bad times for the latter's cricket. They did not realise that a monetarily successful stint to ensure an out-of-cricket, retired life is what a coach should look for and that India with its cricket-obsession could afford that. It took a Kiwi - an average cricketer with soft-talk PR skills, white skin and strategy as well as a cricketing brain presumed by most to be more than average - to show the Aussies where the mother lode in cricket lies; how much money can be made with a little more than mediocre output. Not just India, but the sub-continent in general.

Given the Indian think-tank's rightful aversion for Indian coaches (the logic I would presume being who to select and who not to hurt!... so shop elsewhere), also, at that point the craze all round being to have an outsider for a coach (be it soccer, hockey, volleyball... be it Brazil, England, Pakistan...), Wright became by default the right man. But he soon became, as inevitability would suggest, Mr. Wrong.

Soon came the Testament according to Greg. If Sourav was Wright's downfall, Sachin became Chappell's Waterloo. Now, Tom apparently being a demanding, lay it down ('eat it or I'll cram it down your throat!'), tough West Australian Moody person, we have to look at a man who for the better part of his on-field cricketing career was part of the Aussie touring 15 more because there was no better 15th person. Actually if you look at the scenario, most Aussies on the bench are uncapped and raw but highly touted talent. When it comes down to resting the regulars to give the bench a shot in an inconsequential B&H, it shows in just about average light. The reason it looks remarkable or has looked remarkable is because all other cricketing nations are even worse. We saw what happened without Warne, Lee and McGrath a bit before WC. And during WC, although Shaun Tait took wickets he was very expensive, bettered only by Dilhara in that department. Come to accept it... Brad Hogg is not in the league of spinners as Warne or MacGill. He's just an average hard-working Aussie like Damien Fleming was, Jason Gillespie was, Simon O'Donnell was, like many was-es... So, back to our Coach-to-be... Basically here is a man who may succeed where Greg didn't and Wright reasonably did. Why? he's been the last decade or so anchoring his little dinghy of coaching skills in the sub-continent. From Sri Lanka to Bangladesh and now where more Dave?

Dav Whatmore (to be pronounced Dave but according TIMES NOW as Daav, perhaps to rhyme with Pau) has to ask himself if it is even worth it! He's been sallying forth from a smaller (hence less corrupt) island nation to a smaller beak-point of the subcontinent that has probably seen more floods than Cherrapunji receives rainfall and famines than Sub-Sahara gets drought. He should draw a lesson from the Late Woolmer's book (not the one the latter was to have brought out before he became late like a cold latte) before he becomes if not Bob-bed at least Chappall-ed. The same simple theory that politically works for Island nations such as Sri Lanka or Singapore is relevant to their cricket and sports too. By the sheer size of the country and the administrative network and hence the several divisonal, state, regional and zonal wranglings, it is hazardous to be an Indian coach. The pitfalls are too many that no amount of monetary incentive is worth one's self-esteem.

The biggest joke of'em all is that he is going to be monitored by another dime-a-dozen all-rounder (of the nuts and bolts variety) whose ODI strike-rate average is only better than Sunil Gavaskar's 36 not out of 60 overs on that fateful WC match in the 70s. This man is like many an Indian cricketers who were touted brilliant personified during their heydays - like Jadeja and even Azharuddin. One look at their strike-rates you can tell they wouldn't make the 30 probables for pre-tour camp today. These people were the ones who would slow down the match intensity with their limited and dour skills and play ODIs like 5-day matches, who brought glory to the rotate-the-strike if you can't strike theory, because they can't really accelerate when it matters. And these people go on television morning shows and talk about Viru not being consistent or Dinesh Mongia not slogging or Raina not pushing the consistency levels. Of course now, the Monitor in question is, granted, a shrewd and cerebral survivor who saved his skin with a timely century in his last innings on that memorable tour to Pakistan under Kris Srikanth's captaincy. Actually the team achieved pretty crucial cookie points on the tour, but the captain got axed because he is plain-talking mercurial player whose talk was unfortunately not backed by willow-wield. Anyway, quite a few skeletons fell off the cupboard and our cerebral Monitor escaped, being a survivor Mumbaikar and has gone on to more pitch report and post-match pre-award announcements filled with successful platitudes borrowed from all over the world. May be Whatmore only deserves someone of his ilk, of his same quality. Average meets average in the context of an average cricket-playing country whose cricketing ability is being over-valued by the cricket-frenzy mob, which has above-average delusions that their cricketing heroes are supermen and ├╝bermenschen; and of course, super-abundant myopia for what makes Australia a champion side it is. By hiring a Roman you cannot build a Colleseum. May be not even make a pizza!

I do understand that to be a successful coach one need not have been a successful cricketer. But come, come... you can't all become John Buchanans. Even he had to take a lot of flak from time to time. The fact of the matter is this: whether it is cricket or soccer or hockey, coaches don't take the field. When it comes to dealing with on-field issues, the playing 11 must give it all. Classic example was Gillie's 149 in the WC-2007 Finals. To pull that last bit of 'hmmph' from your resources deep within is what winners are made of.

Foreign coaches must shirk away from Indian moolah and let Indian cricket either stew in its own fire or rise like the proverbial phoenix and reassert its delusive superior abilities. A few individual knocks to be recalled in times of gloom to lift the spirit is a thing of past. Indian cricket has forgotten the idiom that winning is a habit cultivated through self-motivation, overwhelming ambition & burning desire to assert one's belief in walking out with head held up in pride. McGrath coming back from injury to walk proud into the sunset will be remembered more than as an example. Those are stuff lores and legends are made of! To take a leaf out of Sidhuism, "You can't buy success off the rack".

Everyone keeps saying the hackneyed television monotone "Crucial time for Indian cricket". We've been saying this since 1987. Only the loudness of the byte has gone up. Two decades of crucial time is ICCCCCCU and BCCCCCCI must hang up its boot by probably outsourcing the BCCI to some Australian sports management company or American NBA panel of think-tanks. Add to it, these billionaire cricketers are squabbling over payments and salaries with their Board. The fact that 'There aren't many in the fray for Indian coach's job' shows the level of interest shown by foreigners towards Indian cricket's prestigious job. Whatmore must be mad. And, I think the Indian Cricket Union (if there be one) deserves a Euthanasia rather than ICU treatement before it slides down in rankings below Ireland and Scotland.

I am frustrated everytime this topic comes up. What more, yaar?