By Madhusree Chatterjee
New Delhi: Theatre is continuously trying to re-invent itself, especially at a time when performances and live mediums are becoming rare and scarce, says noted writer-poet, lyricist and director Gulzar.
“Somehow you will feel entertained, but the level of feelings and emotions has gone down. The number of regional film festivals has decreased because of commercialisation of cinema. But, strangely, literature festivals in regional languages have gone up. The need for the survival of regional languages is important now,” Gulzar told IANS at the announcement of a three-day theatre festival, “Mera Kuch Samaan: Celebrating Gulzar” in the national capital June 20-23.
New forms of theatre, “one of the most popular live performance formats, play a vital role at this point in keeping regional literature, language and live mediums alive,” he added.
“Indian literature has to reach the Indian audiences.”
Explaining the context for continuous re-invention of theatre, Gulzar said: “The healthy and thinking Indian mind was always finding new ways to reach out, which was why despite all the ‘brashtachar (corruption)’, Indian democracy is still alive.”
The Gulzar festival is one such exercise in redefining theatre for its survival and evolution.
Conceived to celebrate Gulzar’s legacy, it began with a play, “Kharaashein”, and will feature “Sunte Ho” and “Arre! O’ Henry” on subsequent days.
The festival will end with Gulzar reading from his collection of poetry and discussing the art of theatre with Mumbai-based director Salim Arif.
The festival is named after the lyrics of a song, “Mera Kuch Samaan…” written by Gulzar as an elegy for estranged lovers in the movie “Ijaazat”.
“It is an emotional baggage I want to share. People may talk about time being the best healer but over the years, there are some scars that never heal,” the poet said about the song and the title of the festival.
The plays are adaptations of Gulzar’s poetry and short stories. “Kharaashein” is a dramatised avatar of several of Gulzar’s poems and stories about communal riots since partition in 1947.
“I have taken four stories and several poems to weave a stage presentation. The thoughts in his poems are put to the audience as questions like why could a nine-year-old boy killed in the riots not choose his religion, his parents or even his country. I have not tried to sentimentalise poetry; I have used his poetry as a kind of reflective pause,” director Salim Arif told IANS.
The play “Sunte Ho” is Gulzar’s reflections on the status of women down the ages, while “Arre! O’Henry” is an adaptation of four of American writer O’Henry’s short tales. Gulzar said the O’Henry plays were re-adapations of the stories dramatised in the tele-serial “Ek Kahaani Aur Milli”.
The plays feature established actors like Atul Kulkarni, Yashpal Sharma and Lubna Salim with several first-timers, the director said.
“Literature and performing arts are a shared experience. The words are the source of the performance. I have used Gulzar’s words as my story-telling narrative. It is a re-invention of the theatrical format,” Arif said.
A 1984 alumnus of the National School of Drama, Arif has learnt from masters like Habib Tanvir and Ratan Thyam. “They taught me early in life that I should be doing something of my own. Something innovative and not the stock song-and-dance stuff,” Arif said.
Tapping the pool of literature was a natural choice for the director. “I am proud to associate with Gulzar,” he said.
The festival is an example of the growing corporate pitch for theatre.
It has been presented by Chandgi Ram Real Estate in association with Assotech and Echelon Institute of Technology and hosted by Spandan Communications.
Over the years, corporate entities like the Mahindra Group and the Bhilwara Group have been promoting Indian theatre with festivals and awards. “Theatre needs support of this scale from corporate organisations. If tickets for my plays sell for Rs.2,500, I will be doing justice to the Indian theatre. The stage needs rejuvenation…repertory theatre is almost dead,” Arif said.
This is the second edition of the festival.