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The Playwright Award shortlist

Last August, we announced the MetroPlus Playwright Award 2008, which carries a prize of Rs. 1 lakh for the best English script, which is original, unpublished and unperformed. We received over 70 entries from all over the country, of which 63 fulfilled all the criteria specified for eligibility. The judges longlisted eight plays of which they shortlisted three. Below, a snapshot of the three playwrights and their entries. The final decision about the winner will be announced later this month.

Of abstractions
Vivek Narayan is preparing for a lifetime in theatre

At first glance, Vivek Narayan looks like a wise old man. It’s only once he starts talking that his youthfulness emerges. Not that Narayan isn’t wise, it’s just that he’s also a politically correct 25-year-old who would like to make a difference to his world. Passionate about the arts, he moved from Kochi after completing his schooling to the mayhem of Mumbai. He rewinds, “I wanted to study literature and Mumbai was a natural choice as everyone back home expected me to opt for an engineering degree and then work for Infosys!”

Narayan’s destination was also a fortunate one. He discovered his flair for drama while studying the works of literary giants. One thing led to another and before he knew it, Narayan was directing Girish Karnad’s “The Fire and the Rain” for St. Xavier’s much awaited annual theatre festival — Ithaka in 2003. Studying at St. Xavier’s also led to a dramatic partnership with close friend Warren D’Sylva. After graduating in 2005, D’Sylva and Narayan formed the charmingly named Shoestring Theatre, a company they launched with the staging of the play “Ends and Beginnings” based on Samuel Beckett’s “Endgame”. It was an auspicious start, as the play picked up six awards, including Best Play and Best Director (Narayan) at the national-level theatre fest, Thespo 8.

Like a lot of young people his age, Narayan is angst-ridden enough about existentialism. The result was all his artistic energy being channelled into the writing of the abstract drama, “Mime X: Too Close to the Pixels”. In his words, “The idea at the time was to play the experience vs the meta-experience. The consciousness vs the positional. But as I wrote, my ideas changed and the play became about how the two characters/actors/people played off each other.” After writing “Mime X”, Narayan is now working hard on “A Dog’s Life”, which is an allegory about the mass culling of dogs in China. An admirer of Samuel Beckett and Ramu Ramnathan, Narayan is now preparing for a lifetime in theatre. Come September, the young director-in-waiting is winging his way to Royal Holloway at the University of London for an MA in theatre direction.


* * *

Being home elsewhere
Abhishek Majumdar, who has written his ?fth play, is trying to unlearn everything

Writer-director-actor Abhishek Majumdar only had to live a year on the high street parallel to Harlesden in London to write a play about a first and second generation Pakistani immigrant family. The 27-year-old Charles Wallace and LISPA scholar (2006-07) has just written his fifth play “Harlesden High Street”.

Majumdar realised the immigrant community fostered bonds that were beyond cultural or political dynamics. “I found that the Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Indians were far more liberated outside than they are inside their own country. And this will be impossible if they were back in their own country of origin.” For someone who has lived in eight cities, Majumdar says, “What touches me most about any immigrant community is definitely their optimism and willingness to survive.” He also finds that they will do anything to do so — even sell bananas.

Majumdar found the street-performing culture of busking in London a striking influence as a student of the performing arts. For someone who has grown up in Delhi and calls it “the city of immigrants”, Majumdar feels: “‘Harlesden High Street’ was always a play in my head when I was living in London.”

Interestingly, his own father hails from Bangladesh and fled to Kolkata and then Delhi during the 1971 war. Immigrant stories were a part of his growing-up years. He adds, “Immigrants are people with real issues and that’s what fascinates and saddens me.” When it comes to immigrant literature, Majumdar admires Naguib Mahfouz and Saadat Hasan Manto.The notion of a home for the immigrant is blurred, according to Majumdar, who ends his play in verse form about a home. “Even for Indians who are moving away from their homes around the country due to their jobs.” He concludes: “For them, there is no place called home.” He is currently engaged in conducting a children’s summer workshop at the Ranga Shankara and rehearsals for “Lucknow ‘76”. “There is so much to learn from children. I am learning to unlearn everything!”


Theatre and politics
This play explores the politics of governance in an imagined was perhaps the most difficult to write.

Set in an imagined land, “Samara’s Song” works on a literal and metaphoric level. The main narrative revolves around the presidential family, the bureaucracy and the citizens. The equations between the three are highlighted during t he unrest of the elections. While “Samara’s Song” studies the institution of democracy, it also examines the recording of history. Three characters, one blind, one mute and one deaf, play the role of an individualised chorus. Like a chorus, they comment on the action.

But they are also fleshed out as characters. Their disabilities hint that history is not recorded completely. Accounts of history overlook the subaltern while chronicling the rulers.

For Sengupta, political comment is best delivered through theatre. “People watch and respond in front of you.” She finds this immediacy “fascinating and frightening”.

Having written numerous books for children, Sengupta is a novelist as well. But she believes that a different skill-set is required to write a play.

“It needs to be put on stage. That brings a restriction with it,” she continues, “But there are also the additional inputs of visual elements. It’s not like writing a novel.”

A play script is hinged on dialogue and fleshed out through technical detailing. Sengupta provides the technical requirements for “Samara’s Song”, including the set and light design. While she has not trained formally, being an actor and hailing from a theatre oriented family has familiarised her with the craft. She feels that this play has musical possibilities. Since it has no regional rooting, she feels “perhaps modern fusion or just percussion” would best suit it.

But, what is her relationship with her play once she has surrendered it to the director? She pensively says, “It’s often forgotten that Krishna had two mothers. Yashoda and Devaki.

Devaki was the natural mother. But it was Yashoda, the foster mother, with whom he did all the antics. No one remembers Devaki. A playwright is Devaki.” But isn’t a script only a text, till a director blows life into it? “Yes…a playwright has to give up the play for adoption. It’s difficult. But it has to be done. You can’t dictate to the director. But sometimes the director sees a whole new angle and that’s fantastic.”


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