SOME OF THE MOST MEMORABLE PERFORMANCES OF 2012 AS COMPILED BY STAGE IMPRESSIONS BY VIKRAM PHUKAN
Adhir Bhat, Gasha STAGE IMPRESSIONS SPECIAL MENTION LIST 2012
kashmir in his blood Far removed from the wastelands of the bourgeois comedies he usually inhabits, Adhir Bhat is a revelation in Gasha. Cast in a part that specifically called for a Kashmiri Pandit actor, the play emerged out of a collaboration between Bhat, writer Irawati Karnik and director Abhishek Majumdar—it was the third installment of Majumdar's Kashmir trilogy after Rizwan and Djinns of Eidgah. To the eponymous role of a local boy who returns to Kashmir after years in ‘exile’, Bhat imbues a stoic but heart-rending quality, and is faultless during the childhood sequences. Through multiple other parts, he peoples the setpiece with a sense of an entire community in transition—both those who went away and those who remained. Co-actor Sandeep Shikhar is a perfect foil for the more guarded Bhat, and adds that touch of rustic levity that allows the audience to warm up to a tale that seems poised to get murkier (but doesn’t quite). As characters fall away or are resurrected in a rush of accents, the ghosts of the valley acquire flesh and warmth in the able hands of the two actors. Even if the consummately cluttered set and the play's evanescent politics conspire to upset the natural ebb and flow of what is ultimately a tale of lilting cadences, Bhat steers us along like a boatman in the lake who is finally back on his turf.
Bhat (left) and Sandeep Shikhar in Gasha. PIC COURTESY INDIAN ENSEMBLE, ©VIRGINIA RODRIGUES, 2012
Bugs Bhargava Krishna, The Bureaucrat STAGE IMPRESSIONS SPECIAL MENTION LIST 2012
the weight of satire It is always refreshing to discover nuance in a play that is broad and gestural and generally conniving to give its patrons a jolly good time. Bugs Bhargava Krishna isn't really exempt from the vaudevillian interludes in Rahul Da Cunha’s The Bureaucrat, but in his person, Krishna carries the weight of political satire, even if it is in the form of a civil servant (named Gupta), slowly being driven aground by the same hallowed institutions that had once served as his fiefdom (Aseem Hattangady plays his younger self and prattles on like an imaginary friend). Krishna works with a kind of disoriented dizziness that allows him to stand out in this mêlée, not quite a paragon of anything, but decidedly human, and more avuncular than mercenary even if he has been sullied with the same slop brush as the debauched politicians around him. Somewhere, deep down, there is still a conscience within Gupta, that Krishna holds on to with a fisted grip.
Krishna with Aseem Hattangady in The Bureaucrat. PIC COURTESY RAGE PRODUCTIONS
Faisal Rashid, Baghdad Wedding STAGE IMPRESSIONS SPECIAL MENTION LIST 2012
gravitas man Faisal Rashid is one of those actors who can take on a complementary part, that of the classic foil, and giving it more than just a semblance of a spine, he mounts a parallel narrative that is entirely his own. Even in smaller parts, like in Sir Sir Sarla where he plays a staid husband to an effervescent Aahana Kumra, or when offsetting Lucky Vakharia’s sunniness in Our Town, he brings in that definite quality of gravitas that he had most preciously unveiled in Akarsh Khurana’s Baghdad Wedding. There, as an Iraqi expat living in London who must return to brave his country’s rapid descent into postwar chaos, he is pitted opposite the animated Nimrat Kaur and the flamboyant Karan Pandit, bur even when playing a character that seems mired in passivity, he still allows us to live through the loss and longing clear and present in every moment. Rashid has now acquired a certain stature as an actor, but strong performing parts are still scarce for this second generation of Prithvi-honed thespians.
Rashid in a scene from Baghdad Wedding. PIC COURTESY AKVARIOUS PRODUCTIONS
Gandharv Dewan, Still & Still Moving STAGE IMPRESSIONS SPECIAL MENTION LIST 2012
forbidden love In Neel Chaudhuri's stunning Still and Still Moving, one of the best (and most criminally unperformed) plays of the past year, as a young gay man at the cusp of a relationship, Gandharv Dewan has to draw a perhaps parochial audience into an alternative space without the easy tics that mar the depiction of homosexuals in popular culture. It's an everyman portrayal that is winning and persuasive as Dewan engages in the kind of verbal foreplay that lends character and heart to his â€˜illicitâ€™ love affair with a much older man (poignantly played by Oroon Das). As the narrative straddles two cities, Delhi and Gurgaon, that are to be joined irrevocably in the hip by an emerging metro train service, the collapse of time and space allows us to glimpse Dewan at various points of his journey, and the subtle shifts are very clearly underscored by the young actor even as his gum-chewing gawkiness gives way to an edified presence shaped as much by love as by life.
Dewan in a scene from Still & Still Moving. PIC COURTESY THE TADPOLE REPERTORY
Geetanjali Kulkarni, Piya Behroopiya STAGE IMPRESSIONS SPECIAL MENTION LIST 2012
feminine swagger Long known for parts that called for heavy-duty theatrics, like the passive aggressive Lakshmi in S*x, M*rality and Cens*rship, and the sagacious elephant in Aasakta’s Gajab Kahani, an adaptation of José Saramago’s The Elephant’s Journey, the past year has allowed Geetanjali Kulkarni to let her hair down. Not literally, because for the most part she is trussed up in men’s clothes, as Viola in Twelfth Night’s Hindi adaptation, Piya Behroopiya. It isn’t a stiff gruff-voiced avatar, but one in which Kulkarni is an impish prankster and an ardent serenader rolled into one, allowing her to blend a natural flair for comedy with a predilection for always seeking out the emotional truth behind each character she dissolves into. The craft is clearly still in evidence, but there are those carefree moments in which we see a more spontaneous actor revel in the joy of pure performance.
Kulkarni in Piya Behroopiya. PIC COURTESY THE ARTS DESK, ©SIMON ANNAND, 2012
Manasi Parekh, Maro Piyu Gayo Rangoon STAGE IMPRESSIONS SPECIAL MENTION LIST 2012
music for the soul In Maro Piyu Gayo Rangoon, Sunil Shanbag's Gujarati adaptation of All's Well That Ends Well, Shakespeare's soliloquies are set to music by Uday Mazumdar and become songs for the soul. It is a masterstroke of appropriation, because if nothing else, it allows us to savor leading lady Mansi Parekh's soaring vocals that give a woman's inner world free flowing expression, with all the colors and emotions that only singing that is truly heartfelt can summon. That aside, in Parekh's work, as a woman determined to win back the husband who abandoned her, one can observe the parallel performance of the ‘close up’, in the way the flicker of emotions lights up her face as if she were courting an imagined camera rather than holding forth on a stage, which in the world of Gujarati theatre is, more often than not, a stodgy proscenium plonked at a distance from a restive audience unaccustomed to such subtleties. Even if the underpinnings of self-loathing (and it is one of the bard's more regressive parts) are given up for the winsomeness that Parekh more easily commands, she creates a character that is miraculously beyond reproach despite kowtowing to the patriarchal mindset in which the play's universe seems to be deeply entrenched.
Parekh singing in Maro Piyu Gayo Rangoon. PIC COURTESY THEATRE ARPANA ©VIVEK VENKATRAMAN, 2012
Namit Das, Stories in a Song STAGE IMPRESSIONS SPECIAL MENTION LIST 2012
leading man with verve While his growing legions of fans may already know what lies in store for them, first-timers take only a moment longer to succumb to Namit Dasâ€™ charms as he starts scaling the higher registers where he will comfortably ensconce himself for the remainder of his well received turn in Sunil Shanbagâ€™s Stories in a Song. There is something suitably meta about Das performing with such assurance, a character that itself plays to the gallery in the performance within, especially in the closing number, in which his riffs and licks upstage the other actors on stage, even as he brusquely brushes them aside while parlaying come-hither looks to those in the audience who are already feeding off his palm. It's the kind of charismatic star turn that offsets the obsequious mousiness he brings to his other parts, in plays like Bombay Talkies and The President is Coming where his performances are well-observed and satirical, almost as if to betray some range, but his selling point continues to remain in the realm of true blue entertainment, mired in music and levity and brightness.
Das (in red) jostles with Ketaki Thatte in Stories in a Song. PIC COURTESY THEATRE ARPANA
Neha Saraf, Piya Behroopiya STAGE IMPRESSIONS SPECIAL MENTION LIST 2012
a clown with character Atul Kumar wields an unlikely ensemble in his risqué (but full of heart) send up of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Piya Behroopiya, and as Feste (a man in the original), Neha Saraf is the one actor who manages to upstage the other worthies with her untaught skill at clowning, and her wonderfully poised femininity, which is not at loggerheads with Feste's guttural braggadocio, lifted as it is by a rich throaty voice that seems born to sing folk numbers. It's an intriguing showcase of Saraf's natural faculties that needed a certain kind of eccentricity to come to the fore with this kind of aplomb, when earlier in plays like Preth and Raju Master Drama Company, she failed to take off similarly. It is all very well that Piya Behroopiya sets the stage for a consummate performer to find her métier, and Saraf is very clearly one of the principal authors of her own performance, culled out of hours and hours of the intensive devised work that went into the making of the play.
Saraf (right) with Trupti Khamkar and Geetanjali Kulkarni (centre) in Piya Behroopiya. PIC COURTESY THE ARTS DESK, ©SIMON ANNAND, 2012
Padma Damodaran, So Many Socks STAGE IMPRESSIONS SPECIAL MENTION LIST 2012
beautiful stillness For much of So Many Socks’ running time, Padma Damodaran’s character, Momo, is in a coma, trapped in a kind of repose perhaps but it is a powerful stillness around which swirl the play’s actors and the themes they are attempting to give expression to. Before being shot as she attempts to cross over into Tibet, she is the genial grandmother who recounts her memories selectively to her grandson, disguised as fables, but full of the residual meanings that she may herself have excised from her own understanding of the world around her. As refugees from Tibet, there is the numbing uncertainty that she and her daughter (played stoically by Bhavna Pani) must submit to, but Damodaran invests Momo with a deeply grounding presence that evokes the comforting murmur of a wood-burner and the illusion of hearth and home.
Damodaran in a scene from So Many Socks. PIC COURTESY Q THEATRE PRODUCTIONS
Rajit Kapur, Djinns of Eidgah STAGE IMPRESSIONS SPECIAL MENTION LIST 2012
down to earth stalwart Rajit Kapur is one of those seasoned performers who casts his halo aside each time he steps on stage. Not relying on the disingenuous sleight-ofhand his accumulated skills may guarantee, he continues to grapple (quite visibly) with his parts, and delve into his own well of personal despair (perhaps) to pull off the kind of deeply affecting catharsis that we witnessed in Abhishek Majumdar’s Djinns of Eidgah. Kapur is compelling and raw as a doctor of the mind, still dealing with having lost his own son to militancy—the echoes of that loss live on in the embittered souls that are his patients, who he must lead back to a happier place. There is a harrowing journey that Kapur undergoes, with real penitence, and real lessons, even as he must mark himself out as the play’s rational centre. Of course, there are still walk-on parts that allow him to enter a setting with his signature tics—the slow drone of Royston Abel’s Flowers, or elsewhere in A Walk in the Woods, where Naseeruddin Shah and he put up an acting master-class that stays close to the surface, but that outing is the kind of cerebral entertainment we can do with a lot more anyway.
Kapur in a scene from Djinns of Eidgah. PIC COURTESY RAGE THEATRE
Rasika Duggal, Bombay Talkies STAGE IMPRESSIONS SPECIAL MENTION LIST 2012
her big moment Even as Rasika Duggal readies herself for a tryst with the casting couch in Vikram Kapadia's Bombay Talkies, you don't need her to take off her sari to remind you of the nakedness and vulnerability that she has already made eerily palpable in the ten odd minutes of stage time given to her character (the play is a series of monologues). Duggal draws a lot from the somewhat weak material at her disposal, putting on a brave face, but giving us a glimpse of the despair and insecurities that loom large underneath the sheen of facile glamour. The overriding theme of compromise and delusion that is the lot of the average film struggler, is writ large in a script that leaves little to the imagination, but Duggal handily fills that vacancy of nuance with her touching portrayal.
Duggal in a promotional still from Bombay Talkies. PIC COURTESY THE ORCHID ROOM EXPERIMENT
Sadia Siddiqui, Mahua STAGE IMPRESSIONS SPECIAL MENTION LIST 2012
a self possessed humanity Early on in Akash Mohimenâ€™s Mahua, there are allusions to Sadia Siddiqui's character, Gilli, as the much-derided witch of the hamlet. When the protagonist, Birsa (played by Dhanendra Kawade), is saddled with her in an act of coerced matrimony and she finally steps onto the stage, we soon realize that she isn't quite a fishwife for the ages, but a battleworn woman with real character and a deep-seated empathyâ€”qualities that are brought to the fore quite effectively by Siddiqui, despite her being constrained by the crusty demeanor that is her character's lot. Some of the dramatic choices in Mahua lack ingenuity, and the direction by Rajit Kapur is strictly by the numbers, but you leave the playhouse with a degree of satisfaction, a feat accomplished not least because of Siddiqui's brusque but self-possessed humanity.
Siddiqui with Dhanendra Kawade in Mahua. PIC COURTESY RAGE PRODUCTIONS
Shrunga B V, Boy With A Suitcase STAGE IMPRESSIONS SPECIAL MENTION LIST 2012
life of naz Apart from looking suitably elf-like, actors playing children also have to embrace a childish impetuousness that can perhaps miss the mark with audiences outside the target age group of so-called ‘children’s theatre’. This is a stumbling block avoided handily by Shrunga B V in last year’s wonderful Boy with a Suitcase, an Indo-German coproduction. He gets the porridge of childhood emotions just right—the right sweetness, the right consistency. As a young boy, Naz, who undertakes a perilous journey by land and sea to the chosen land of illegal immigrants, he straddles an engaging and endearing innocence with the wisdom slowly being acquired by an uncommon rites of passage, even if it is not completely made sense of (a task left to coactor David Benito Juarez who plays his older avatar). We see an extension of this persona in The Afterlife of Birds in which he plays a young Muslim boy drawn to militancy. The play is a rare misfire from emerging auteur Abhishek Majumdar, and Shrunga appears to be repeating himself but not at the cost of that sense of monumental loss his character evokes.
Shrunga B V (left) with David Benito Juarez in Boy With a Suitcase. PIC COURTESY RANGA SHANKARA
Umesh Jagtap, Various STAGE IMPRESSIONS SPECIAL MENTION LIST 2012
jack of all trades It's rather easy to think of Umesh Jagtap as just another journeyman, because a truly author-backed role has eluded him of late. Then there is his penchant for flying below the radar, despite his ubiquitousness on stage with so many current productions on his roster. Sometimes he manages to muscle his way centrestage by dint of sheer presence. As fortune-hunter Jimmy in Chandan Roy Sanyal's train-wreck Chugad Dham's Sym-phoney, he is the lone voice of reason in a chaotic ensemble, lending stature to an embittered fable with the swagger of a warlord and an unstilted evocation of Bretchtian prose belying the 'language theatre' tag and that uncanny ability to invest crass invective with dramatic weight that sometimes pushes him to proletarian parts (like that thankless one in Spunk). In the end, though, he is a resolutely contemporary actor, as evinced in the urbane Papa, where characters in a drawing-room setting recount tales of their fathers and Jagtap shines through because he binds pathos and pithiness with the truthfulness that is his legitimate calling card.
Jagtap in a scene from Papa. PIC COURTESY RANGBAAZ
Vinay Pathak, Nothing Like Lear STAGE IMPRESSIONS SPECIAL MENTION LIST 2012
getting into his stride Vinay Pathak has come a long way since Nothing Like Lear’s early shows, where his director Rajat Kapoor, in a spot of ‘on-court coaching’, egged him on with a finger on the lips or a nod to the side. Those first few hesitant steps serves the character he goes on to create rather well. His is the humble Lear, unlike Atul Kumar’s more cynical clown (the play is performed separately by both actors). Those who thought that Pathak’s would be the taster session to Kumar’s full meal, despite his marquee credentials, were drawn to his warmth and affable goofiness. Sometimes the bumbling idiot looks out dolefully, and although he never seems likely to be the father of three daughters, the unraveling of his psyche is something Pathak affects rather well. At close range we are not drawn completely and irrevocably into the play’s underlying ethos, as we were in Kapoor’s contemporary classic Hamlet—the Clown Prince, but there are flashes of virtuosity in Pathak’s turn that may make even such resolutely crowd-friendly fare seem like fine art.
Pathak in a promotional still from Nothing Like Lear. PIC COURTESY THE COMPANY THEATRE