Reap in the rewards...
Theatre gets a welcome boost with the support of corporate houses like Mahindra & Mahindra.
THE JURY Ila Arun and (below) Zafar Hai were among the jury members for the Mahindra Theatre awards. PHOTOS: SHANKER CHAKRAVARTY
In India there are quite a few prestigious awards in the field of performing arts like films, music and now even for television shows but not for theatre. True, some of the corporate houses like Mahindra & Mahindra have over the last two years or so been encouraging and supporting regional theatre in Mumbai and inter-collegiate Theatre Festival in Delhi and now as their latest contribution to theatre they have instituted "Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards" that closed this past Friday with a glittering awards distribution ceremony at the Imperial Hotel in New Delhi.
But before we talk of the plays that were selected for the awards, a brief overview: The awards will initially cover English and Hindi theatre with plans to include other language productions at a later stage. The selection process covered four broad areas of the country, namely, East, West, North and South. The critics' panels were based in each of the four regional hubs of Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore and the selection was broadly in two categories - emerging and established theatre. Six plays were selected from each region and referred to the respective critic's panel. A list of eight productions from all the four metro cities was sent to the national jury by each critic's panel. The national jury for this year included theatre personalities such as Shymanand Jalan, M.K. Raina, M.S. Sathyu, Shabana Azmi, Ila Arun and Zafar Hai.
And now to the plays. The Festival opened with "Crossings", a Ranan production from Kolkata directed by Vikram Iyenger in the emerging theatre category. The presentation weaves together Kathak, Bharatanatyam and Manipuri with a text that explores different aspects of Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth along with references to India mythology. "Crossings" examines, "what it means to be feminine or de-feminised through contradictions to this complex character". Four actors play different facets of Lady Macbeth to create a performance that has a flow, movement, musical and symbolic texts. It was certainly one of the best presentations not only in the emerging but also the established sections of the festival and no wonder its cast won quite a few individual awards - Vikram Iyenger for best direction and best costume design, Nageen Tanvir for sound design and Archana Ramaswamy as the best supporting actress. The same evening "Witness for the Prosecution", directed by M. Bhaskar for Curtain Call, Bangalore was like any Agatha Christie's courtroom thriller and amongst the cast we had two good actors Shahid Siddiqui and Malini who won the Best Actor and Actress awards in the established theatre category. Next day we had "Sarhad Paar Manto" in Hindi by the well-known actor-director Usha Ganguli and presented by Rangakarmee, Kolkata. The play that had been seen earlier in NSD's festival is based on Manto's two well-known stories, "Khol Do" and "Toba Teksingh" both of which have been adapted into plays and seen a number of times on the Delhi stage in different presentations. So it was with great expectations that we went to see Usha Ganguli's presentation. But it turned out to be a bit of disappointment. But the irony is that the Rangkarmee's presentation received the Best Production award in the established theatre category. The announcement left the regular theatre-goers looking blankly at each other. There was yet another howler: "Chekov in my Life," directed by Mushtaq Kak for the SRC Repertory, Delhi was awarded for the best lighting design. No doubt `Chekov" was one of the best presentations in the festival but with a very simple lighting design that certainly did not call for an award. Lilette Dubey's much acclaimed "Sammy" presented by Primetime Theatre Company, Mumbai won the Best Director's Award for Dubey and the best original script award for its playwright Pratap Sharma.
The much-needed encouragement to emerging theatre by Mahindra & Mahindra's is really to be welcomed. The general standard of all the plays was good and in some presentations even better than some of those in the established theatre category, like "Peeley Scooterwala Admi" directed by Manav Kaul and presented by Aranya, Mumbai that won for Satyajit Sharma the best actor award and Manav Kaul for the best original script in the emerging theatre category. Even if the festival had some shortcomings it was one of best organised one seen in Delhi.
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