From the backrow
I FINALLY went and saw some theatre after nearly two years of not having seen a single play. The two plays I saw were IPTA’s Kashmakash at Prithv theatre and the second one was Yatri’s Chinta Chodo Chintamani at Veer Savarkar auditorium
For both plays, I realised I had the evening to myself after a very long time, and instead of calling up friends to catch up with them or taking myself home to fall asleep to Netflix- I decided to go watch some theatre.
I love theatre. It’s what I studied in college- and so most of my favorite college memories occur in and around theatres- the numerous times I have been caught trying to sneak in my water bottle into the auditorium (what? I get thirsty, and I swear I have not spilled a DROP in the times that I have managed to sneak a water bottle in), the numerous times I have fallen asleep when a show has not held my attention or I’ve had a long day (and the AC temperature and darkness and silence of the audience is JUST enough to lull me into a nap), the multiple occasions that I have cried silently at the emotional bits, laughed out loud at unexpected places getting well deserved stares from my fellow audience members.
When I walked into the back row at Prithvi the other day I remembered how much I loved it. The announcement to silence our phones at the top of the show made me so excited I switched off my phone and flung it deep into my bag. I had mentioned to mom that I would be watching a play, and nothing was going to be important enough to interrupt my next 120 minutes.
Now here’s the thing- both the plays I say were commercial Hindi plays.I am told that both these plays are not high-brow theatre- but commercial mass-appealing plays. I don’t know what that means in the context of theatre to be honest- but that’s what I was told.
Kashmakash was a Bengali play, translated to Hindi starring stalwarts such as Anjan Shrivastav and Sulbha Arya and Avtar Gill. To anyone who’s watched movies in the 80’s and 90’s these names might ring familiar. It’s because these very theatre actors populated the character roles of all these films. Chinta Chod Chintamani was a Marathi play translated to Hindi with actors such as Om Katare and Paromita Chatterjee (I have worked with her in the past, and so I am ABSOLUTELY biased about how wonderful she is)
I’m not qualified (or have even seen enough theatre in the past few years) to “review” theatre but I did it immensely enjoy the experience of seeing both. Both plays had similar themes- the struggles of a common man. Both stage sets were similar too- just a simple living room in the houses of the protagonists. Both were also family dramas (as does anything that is set in a living room becomes- since it does serve as the backdrop life to every charecter that walks in and out of said room) In terms of this- I think Chinta Chod Chintamani- as cast of 12 people had a much more in depth relationship with their sets. There was much more use of space. In Kashmakash- even though the set was modest-er and the actors fewer, they did not do much to claim the space as their own- it left me feeling like I was watching OUTSIDERS interact with a strange setting sometimes.
Kashmakash follows the life of a poor man who decides to pose as a freedom fighter so that he can get a pension out of the government since he has just lost his job. The play weighs in on themes of sacrifice for your country and the lament of the common man being trapped in a system and morality that allows and even compels him to seek out the wrong ways in to obtain a livelihood. Anjan Shrivasta as the protagonist and Sulbha Arya literally LOOK the part, these are roles we have seen them play several times before so it’s not much of a stretch of the imagination as an audience member to be invested in them. Avtar Gill as the somewhat antagonist is perfect. His comedic timing in the first half turns beautifully into menace in the second half. The end of the play is all too abrupt and very rushed. As if they were running out of time and so they wrapped everything up in one rushed sweeping reductive gesture. All the time setting up dramatic conflict over the themes of the play , was brushed under the carpet and wrapped into a neat little spotlight and fade out in the end.
Chinta Chod Chintamani is a play I have heard TONS about in it’s Marathi avatar. So I was excited to see this one. The casting in this case was spot on and I of course loved Paromita Chatterjee as a the wife of the family. It’s TOUGH not like her, once again- she just looks the part- sweet faced, sassy and hilarious all at the same time. CCC explores the differences of generation between a large joint family. It was SURPRISINGLY liberal in places. The young kids were pursuing non-traditional jobs (1 a cricketer, 1 a student who wants to be an actor and the other a professional Baba worshipper (more on this later)), the father was in a traditional banking job, the mother a housewife and the grandparents were the classic stay-at-home bickering couple who also served as sounding boards and advice givers to the generations below them. The parents openly encourage their children to seek a partner and even invite them into a home (the son AND the daughter) and most importantly question religion and caste.
The chemistry between the grandfather and his grand daughter’s latest Baba is fantastic. My fav interaction between them coz something along these lines
Baba: Agar main shrap doon toh main iss poore makaan ka vansh kar sata hoon.
Grandfather: Badhiya, toh aap Bharatiya Sena ki kyoon nahi madad karte? Bas saare dumshmanon ko shraap de do aur humain ek bhi sipahi ki jaan khoni nahi padegi.
There was a whole scene dedicated gay-shaming jokes with a deeply offensive portrayal of a famous gay directer- these also got massive laughs out the of the audience I was sitting in. Also- live in relationships were termed a “vahiyat khayal” which only I found hilarious.
Once again- CCC wrapped up all too soon. With both plays I felt like I was watching an extended set up with a very abrupt resolution. If anything though- this has reminded me of how much I love going to the theatre- to admire the resolve and committment of people who come together for months in advance so that they can create a magical world for just 120 mins, for just those people, in just that theatre, at just that show. The hard work that goes into it is very humbling and I want to pay as much tribute to it with my time, energy and of course, ticket buying.