The lights flood a stage. A youngster, in his glittering attire, addresses the audience, introducing himself as Laxmi Vilas Palace, while a caricature rails past him to establish the proclamation. Welcome to the world of theatre in Vadodara, which is exploring new terrains, right from a Vad (Banyan Tree) looking for a place in Vadodara, a group of impoverished Russians living in a shelter near the Volga in the winter of 1901, a group of ten girls voicing their dissent against rape and atrocities against women, a modern-day poet conversing with Mirza Ghalib or two couples musing over love and their relationships – the city is exploring theatre like never before.
“When I was planning to stage Vadodara Ka Safarnaama, a play written by Prakash Gowda, which chronicles the history of Vadodara, I wanted the play to be both engaging, as well as informative. So we came up with this concept of monuments of Vadodara speaking to the audience and narrating their stories. We had created an ambience replete with live music and folk dance which were performed for the first time in Vadodara,” informs PS Chari, a veteran playwright and torchbearer of Triveni, a theatre group which was founded by Late Markand Bhatt.
While one traced the history of Vadodara, a talented youngster decided to recreate the winter of 1901 in Russia. Rasatal – a Hindi version of the classic play, ‘The Lower Depths’ written by writer Maxim Gorky, directed by Gaurav Chaturvedi was performed at Play Box, MSU – Department of Performing Arts, Vadodara. The original play has been source of inspiration for many filmmakers like Akira Kurosawa and closer home, Chetan Anand who directed Neecha Ghar, which won the Best Film Award at the first Cannes Film Festival in 1946, becoming the first Indian independent film to get international recognition.
Jay Merchant, a renowned name in Vadodara’s theatre, came up with the concept ‘Yun hota to kya hota’, a short play based on the book, ‘Ghalib Unplugged: a prose-poetic chronicle’ by Prakash Gowda. “We created a ‘what-if’ situation of a modern-day poet conversing with Mirza Ghalib. Their conversation draws parallels with both eras they dwelled in, only to realise that nothing much has changed. This 10-minute short play was extremely well-received by an educationist like Tejal Amin.”
In the recent college event, Paramarsh, Jay Merchant won the first prize in a state-level competition judged by Nisarg Trivedi, a theatre artist from Ahmedabad. The play, ‘To Mombattiyaan Bujha Do’ resonated with the angst among today’s youngsters against rape and molestation. A topic, often considered too bold for a college play, ‘To Mombattiyaan Bujha Do’ was performed by 10 girls and presented as a street play that made the audience wonder over how safe women are in our country.
‘Hot & Sour’, a play by Applause, a theatre group founded by Apsara Iyengar and Chitra Parmar, treaded a different path with a contemporary play divided into two stories. One has two girls contemplating over love in our times while savouring blueberry cheesecake, while the other had two couples pondering over their relationships over a bottle of wine.
Despite such varied endeavours, the theatre scenario in Vadodara isn’t able to cross the national threshold.
Ask Jay Merchant and he is quick to respond, “Where are the funds? Plays from Mumbai and Ahmedabad easily find producers and viewers. We have to shell out our own money. We are also planning a zero-budget short play concept called ‘Curtain Raiser – Theatre thrills without the frills’, which again, is dependent on venue partner. There are exceptions like Paramarsh, organised by Faculty of Technology, MSU, where students approach corporates to raise funds. But if writers, directors and actors start marketing themselves, when will they focus on their creativity?”
Well, this is a Third Bell Call for Barodians who can change the theatre scenario of their city. Curtains fall.