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Stage for thought

SAJITHA MADATHIL

The Second International Theatre Festival of Kerala, beginning on December 20 in Thrissur, emphasises on the similarities between African and Asian theatre.



CENTRE STAGE: Plays from India, Pakistan and Africa are in focus at the second edition of the International Theatre Festival of Kerala.

Last year, the first International Theatre Festival of Kerala (ITFoK) organised by the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi set the stage on fire and carved a name for itself as the premier theatre event in the State. From December 20 till December 29, theatre buffs are once again in for a treat as the second edition of the ITFoK takes centre stage in Thrissur.

Four categories of plays will be staged at this year's festival. There will be an African and Asian Panorama along with the Malayalam Panorama of nationally acclaimed works. In the early part of the evening, the stage will be set apart for plays by theatre groups from across Kerala. Acclaimed theatre person Abhilash Pillai will curate the festival on behalf of the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi. To make the festival more rooted in our culture, included in the programme are folk and classical theatre forms of Kerala too.

Sidi Goma

One of the things to look out for at this year's fete is the Sidi Goma tribe's maiden performance in Kerala. The Sidi Goma are a tribe of East African origin, who came to India eight centuries ago and made Gujarat their home. They follow Sufism and they have a exceptionally rich musical tradition, which has flourished for centuries.

The African Panorama throws up some interesting questions on the similarity (if any) between African theatre and Indian theatre. In fact, there is quite a lot of interesting similarities in the theatre practices in India and in Africa. Both practices have deep-rooted folk and ritual traditions. In the histories of both, there is still the struggle between the new and the old forms; at times one dominates while the other suffers. It is certainly enlightening to watch out for these nuances in Afro-Asian performances after 50 years of our own effort to shape a national theatre.

African Panorama

Consequently, the African Panorama has four exciting plays that will highlight the struggle between the primitive and the modern.

‘Every Year Every Day I am Walking' is from Cape Town, South Africa, and has been directed by Fleishmann, who is well known for his emphasis of the visceral and visual elements of performance. With a series of potent images, he visualises a little girl and her mother fleeing from the violence and despair of their homeland.

Another well-known director Keith Pearson's ‘Githaa' deals with Kenyan life in the form of a folk tale. The myths and rural realities have been portrayed through the story of a young woman. A series of stories that connect the two realities, through song, dance and dialogue, constitute the play.

Christopher Weare who directed ‘MacBeki,' another play in the Panorama, draws inspiration from ‘Macbeth,' Shakespeare's drama about ambition, power, deceit and greed. ‘Macbeki' exists independently of ‘Macbeth' and sparkles with the satirical genius of veteran artiste Pieter-Dirk Uys. It will be quite an experience for the Malayali audience, many of whom may be familiar with the nuances of African politics. ‘Sauti Kimya' (Sounds in Silence) is going to be another interesting production by Pearson. It moves around the Taita community's concept of ‘fighi' – a place where all conflict is put on hold, a place of resolution and reflection.

I am sure this layered musical production will give a sense of theatre searching for its roots through contemporary social conflicts. This intelligently curated section of plays from Africa will provide the audience glimpses of both the tribal culture and the contemporary social conflicts of African life. It may even be motivating for theatre enthusiasts in Kerala to understand how the Africans use their their traditional forms to communicate about their contemporary crisis to the outside world.

The Asian Panorama, showcases two plays from Pakistan. ‘The Hotel Mohenjodaro' (1968) is based on the story by renowned Urdu short story writer Ghulam Abbas. The story is told as an account of a television journalist, reporting from a troubled tribal area in Pakistan that was the scene of a devastating suicide bomb attack. This play directed by Shahid Nadeem is dedicated to the victims of terrorism in Pakistan.

‘Burqvaganza' is the other play from Pakistan. It's a story of love in the times of jihad. Through the simple narrative of two young lovers, it tells of how they are determined to defy the hypocritical values of an ultra-conservative society.

The Malayalam Panorama section of the festival comprises works by young male (!) directors such as Naripatta Raju, Suveeran, Deepan, Jyothish M.J., Shanker Venkiteswaran and Surjith to name a few.

The 10-day theatre festival comes to a close with ‘When We Dead Awaken,' directed by renowned theatre director Ratan Thiyam and based on Henrik Ibsen's last ever play of the same name. The festival is sure to be a delightful experience and perhaps even a thought-provoking one that may lead Malayalam theatre in a new direction.

(Sajitha Madathil is a theatre person who has toured extensively in Africa with her play ‘Matsyagandhi.' She has worked for the Africa-based theatre group ‘Theatre for Africa.' Currently she is the deputy director of the Kerala State Chalachitra Academy).

The inauguration

The inaugural ceremony of the second ITFoK will begin with the performance of the Sidi Goma's, which promises to be an exhilarating representation of their unique African and Indian heritage. Their performance will be followed by the inaugural play ‘The Caine Mutiny Court Martial' by the Motley Theatre, Mumbai, which has been directed by theatre and film artiste Naseeruddin Shah. The play is based on Herman Wouk's dramatisation of the court-martial scene from his novel ‘The Caine Mutiny.' It is an intense drama about men, mutiny and morality. It is bound to be an interesting start for the festival.

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