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FEST OF FOLK FORMS

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FEST OF FOLK FORMS

We have tried to bring the entire dramatic fraternity into Theatre Olympics with the purpose to project Indian theatre across the globe, says Waman Kendre. By Ramya Palisetty

During the first year at NSD, a professor asked a room full of students to name a few songs from their own traditional backgrounds. Most of them sang  Bollywood songs since they belonged to the metropolitan cities. But when Waman Kendre was asked the same question, his reply shocked the professor because he knew 400 folk songs. To see if there was any truth, he was asked to recite a few songs and as he sang each, his rich inheritance was there for everyone to see. Even today in his village, every child knows at least 50 songs because it is the tradition of that area.

The director of National School Of Drama believes that theatre is not just about the play you finally see on the stage. It is much more, from story to set design, to actors, and finally interpretation based on your origin and culture. In the end, everything has to be planned. “Theatre for the audience is merely a form of entertainment. In today’s era, laughter is considered to be a refreshing activity with a lot of takers. Also, thought-provoking content, tears in your eyes, raw anger, disturbances are all part of entertaining the audience.” For the academician, the definition of entertainment encompasses all the rasas in the Indian context. One rasa has to emerge in your mind and there it becomes a form of entertainment.

The audience gathers to watch a play and leaves once the curtains fall. It is their first encounter and the duration is extremely important for the viewers. But for creating the experience, an arduous process takes place. “The creation of a play begins with an idea. The playwright ponders over it for years on end. The corner of his/her brain is occupied, where the concept is slowly taking shape. The playwright prepares hundreds of drafts before being satisfied with his work. Later, the director enters into the picture, taking hold of the writing and casting the designers, producers, and actors,” said he.

Jaan-e-man, one of the plays directed by Waman, took five years of his life. Based on eunuchs, he stayed with them to derive the truth about their struggles, pain and the harsh reality they face every day. “Each production is like a baby and one play is like delivering the miracle of life.”

Prof Kendre is currently deep into the eighth Theatre Olympics, which began in Delhi on February 17. Spread over 51 days, it is travelling across 17 cities with 450 performances. The difficulties and challenges that arise to set up an event of this magnitude is unimaginable. The director feels that it has been an interesting experience for the faculty and students alike. “We started Bharat Rang Mahotsav and for the past 19 years, we have successfully captured the imagination of the audience. Though we have in-depth experience in handling events, this festival is five times bigger scattered in various cities.”

The plan was conceived two and a half years ago with an aim to host 1000 shows within 20 cities but due to a handful of constraints and limitations, it was brought down to 500 shows. The plays performed during the Olympics include all the productions that have been a part of  Bharat Rang Mahotsav, a few international performances and the various other plays performed at embassies.

The selection process was carried out by a three-tier committee which took 11 days. Said Prof Kendre, “We have tried to bring the entire dramatics fraternity into Theatre Olympics with the purpose to project the Indian theatre across the globe. Indian theatre has a rich tradition and tremendous depth but we have never promoted it on an international platform. I think it was the time to draw attention of the globe towards us and form a dialogue with the world-renowned as well as Indian theatre practitioners, academicians, and researchers.”

The NSD director has also observed that the biggest theatre festival has given a moral boost and confidence to the India’s theatre fraternity. “A lot of opportunities have been created to learn from each other and to compare ourselves with regional and world theatre. There is a strong need to get back the position we have lost in the cultural arena. The entire country, in all its nooks and crannies, is vibrating with creativity.”

Theatre was the sole form of entertainment during the reign of kings and queens but in the past 30 years with the arrival of digital media, it has been pushed into a corner. But the writer feels that since it’s a form of live entertainment, it will never die. There are eight seminars being held during the course of the festival. Two of them are based on Natya-Shastra and the philosophies behind it. “The idea is to go back in time and see our roots, heritage, and the enriched culture to inspire ourselves.”

Theatre is a medium which runs with the pulse of life. “We have a diversity found nowhere else — there is classical, folk, traditional, tribal, musical, comedy, tragedy, melodrama, abstraction, verbal and non-verbal theatre.” The beauty of Theatre Olympics is that individuals can choose what they want to watch based on their taste and inclination.

The incorporation of multimedia, visuals, and technology in theatre these days is an effort towards improving this artform. The new media is becoming a tool used cleverly, rationally and innovatively to bring out the best in theatre. Giving an example from one of the plays of the festival, solely based on light and smoke creating magic on the stage, he asserted, “Indian theatre’s strength lies in the actor, creating the mystery and captivating the audience. We are developing as far as the use of technology and its grammar are concerned but we are also aware of the fact that ultimately theatre belongs to an actor majorly.”

Some theatre artists assert that theatre is not for puritans because it’s a mixed art. Said Prof Kendre, “Theatre is a khichdi Kala where if all the ingredients are added in right proproportion, the end product comes out beautifully. But with a puritan attitude, there will be no innovation or transformation.Theatre is the fastest experimenting medium. In one round, the entire world changes and that is it’s beauty.”

The experience of hosting the Theatre Olympics for the past 20 days has been a wonderful encounter for him. “We have explored the nuances and tried to work on the finer points to perfect the event. More than 700 individuals are working simultaneously around the clock to keep up with the schedule all over India. The first eight days were chaotic where we were trying to understand the inner workings since there were numerous openings and it was like the entire bogie was shaking but since then, the ride has been smooth. A lot of planning has gone into this project and hence we are able to overcome the obstacles. We have been on our toes committed to doing this mega event and are trying to sustain our energies for the next 30 days.”

The planning of the festival was done in a very different manner though. Delhi is the heart of Hindi theatre and every year enthusiasts get a chance to watch Hindi plays but the committee hasn’t scheduled the same language production for the city. “We have spread it out in a way that Kolkata should see Hindi theatre and Delhi should be exposed to Bengali theatre. The intention is to bring regional theatre to the mainstream space as unless we understand regional theatre thoroughly, we can never understand Indian theatre entirety.” The buzz around the festival is also moderate as rather than 20 days which was the case with Bharat Rang Mahotsav, this festival is for 51 days, happening all over India which is why there’s not a lot of crowd gathering at various venues around Delhi.

The music composer and designer also feels that it has been a long journey. “I belonged to a farmer’s family, born and brought up in a small village in Maharashtra. The folk music, theatre, and traditions in the village are agriculture-based encapsulating the system. During my childhood, I was exposed to the variations in folk forms which was my inheritance, something that was bestowed upon me. I had my modern training at NSD where I was given a fellowship to work on the folk and ritualistic theatre of Kerala. I have imbibed everything on my way with a conscious mind. With a thirst to venture into professional theatre, I had to train myself. I worked for almost 10 years at NCPA as a research associate. Thereafter, I worked with Mumbai University for another decade as a professor and director of Academy of Theatre Arts.”

The director firmly believes in the fruits of hard work and is fond of tough grind to achieve perfection and his goals in life.

 
 
 
 
 

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