14th Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards reflect contemporary social struggles

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Updated: February 24, 2019 12:56:58 AM

The play won six nominations, including Best Production, Best Director and Best Costume Design, making it a serious contender at the awards next month. Eight of the 10 plays vying for the awards this year are first-time nominees, a major boost to emerging talent in Indian theatre.

Kola (The Pond) by Achuta Kumar is a Kannada play about social decadenceKola (The Pond) by Achuta Kumar is a Kannada play about social decadence

Somewhere in the middle of Gujarati play Andha Yug, an adaptation of the iconic 1954 anti-war drama by legendary Hindi author Dharamvir Bharati, is a fashion show by three models. In the play’s politically-surcharged narrative, the models represent religion, politics and money. “Why are we doing The Mahabharata today?” asks Andha Yug’s director Chavan Pramod R, referring to the original play by Bharati that put the epic at the centre to talk of a post-Partition India. An independent production by 22 current and former students of Baroda University’s dramatics department and their teacher Pramod, the play points at the social inequalities in the country today. “Politics, religion and business have the power to change society and make the world a better place,” says Pramod. “When they don’t do it, we are left with a restless society and political turmoil,” he adds.

When nominations to the 14th edition of the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards (META) were announced last week, Pramod and his students found their play part of the 10 productions on the list. The play won six nominations, including Best Production, Best Director and Best Costume Design, making it a serious contender at the awards next month. Eight of the 10 plays vying for the awards this year are first-time nominees, a major boost to emerging talent in Indian theatre. Along with Andha Yug, the first-time nominees include Pulijanmam (Malayalam) directed by Bineesh K and Kannada play Kola by Achuta Kumar. Bharati’s Andha Yug is also retold in physical theatre by Manipuri director Joy Maisnam.

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Caste & class
The vicious caste system is the focus in at least two plays this year. Malayalam director Bineesh uses the powerful medium of Kerala’s Theyyam ritual in Pulijanmam to question casteism. Adapted from Malayalam novelist and playwright N Prabhakaran’s famous play by the same name, Pulijanmam tells the story of a man from a lower caste sent in search of a tiger tail to heal his upper-caste master. The play has won 10 META nominations. “It is important in today’s divided society to talk about casteism,” says Bineesh.

After winning four awards at META last year, Puducherry-based director Koumarane Valavane returns with his new Tamil play Chandala, Impure, an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet set in the backdrop of the caste system in the country. The play, which won four nominations, combines the classical story of Shakespeare with the real-life murder of a Dalit boy in Tamil Nadu two years ago for marrying a girl from an upper caste. “Everywhere in India, there is violence against members of the Dalit community,” says Valavane, who has assembled a diverse cast for the play. There is an actor from Assam, another from Kerala and Purisai Kannappa Sambandan, a Sangeet Natak Akademi Award-winning Therukoothu folk art practitioner, from Tamil Nadu. “The caste system is a shape-shifting monster, which is adapting itself to the situations and our time, even as laws are being put in place to eradicate this evil,” says Valavane.

In his new production, Kola (The Pond), Kannada actor-director Achuta Kumar portrays the collapse of a feudal family in the Vidarbha region after its own inner struggles. Adapted from Marathi play Magna Talyakathi by Mahesh Elkunchwar, it tells the story of three generations of a family. Kola, which won three nominations, is Kumar’s first play to be nominated for META. “I formed our theatre company with 14 other students who passed out of our theatre school in Shimoga district of Karnataka,” says Kumar, who acted in Kannada filmmaker Girish Kasaravalli’s TV series Gruhabhanga, based on SL Bhyrappa’s 1970 novel of the same name.

Diversity & style
Festival producer and Teamwork Arts head Sanjoy Roy says it is heartening to see the diversity and vibrancy in Indian theatre. “META is not just a festival, but a platform to showcase the best of Indian theatre, highlighting the incredible energy and passion that theatrepersons bring to the stage against all odds,” says Roy. The META nominations this year were selected from over 400 entries by a four-member jury of actor-producer Denzil Smith, director Jyothish MG, producer-director Veena Bakshi and playwright-critic Vikram Phukan. “Theatre in the country is evolving and while there is enough material inspired by the classics, there are also original scripts, lots of devised techniques and treatment, and the folk idiom is very prominent. The diversity within the country enriches its stagecraft fully and completely,” says Smith.

The other nominated plays are Agarbatti (Hindi and Bundeli) directed by Swati Dubey, Bhagi Hui Ladkiyaan (Hindustani) by Dhwani Vij, Chillara Samaram (Malayalam) by Arun Lal, Detective 9-2-11 by Atul Kumar, and Loose Woman by Maya Krishna Rao. The awards ceremony in New Delhi on March 12 will be preceded by the staging of all nominated plays during March 6-11.

Faizal Khan is a freelancer

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