Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Theatre of Rangashankara

Part of the thrill of doing Lucky Lobster was performing in Rangashankara. The place is as inviting as ever and the cafe is serving great food. But there was another reason why I was so excited about being in the space. I have a history with Rangashankara and have been told many times by different people that my plays are banned there. But it never really made any difference. If at all I started feeling very important that the staff out there was discussing how they are not going to allow me to do any plays when I had consciously made a decision not to do theatre for the last few years.

The last time I felt somewhat mobilised to stage a play was three years ago and that was because I had an excellent production manager Veena Appiah working with me. Then she found out she was going to have a baby and quit and I lost all enthusiasm. The thing is when you are starting out, you have the energy to chase actors and ensure they are kept happy during rehearsals. Most actors I have worked with are like little children wanting to be pampered all the time and I find that very difficult as I am growing old. In any setting I feel I should be pampered. Why should I pamper someone else?

The bad blood was about a mail I wrote to Arundhati Nag because Rangashankara had changed the dates of some play that was being done by another playwright director under the Still Waters banner. I was irritated that day about something and when this guy landed up all upset, I dashed off a mail to Arundhati accusing her of surrounding herself with a coterie. In hindsight I feel I should have just gone across and spoken to her and sorted out the matter. It is always worse when you make accusations in writing. It just leaves a lingering residue.

A few months later I met her and realized the mail hadn’t made much of a difference to her. She was cordial as usual and talked about how tired she was after all the running around she had done to raise funds to build the theatre. But the coterie found it difficult to forgive me, especially since I have never subscribed to this ‘adulatory’ stance we take to performers and performing spaces. I think any creative person or space needs a healthy dose of valid criticism to flourish and invariably it is the chamcha types with no skill or talent who are always schmoozing the powers that be. So I would make it a point to be critical about Rangashankara in the columns I would write on theatre. And it was not criticism for the heck of it. The world is a small place and the world of theatre even smaller. So I was supplied with a constant flow of cribs about Rangashankara by those who were staging plays in the space.

Those days I used to write a column for a Bangalore tabloid and one day when I visited the office, I found the editor in a very good mood. He told me he had a phone call from some idiot who claimed he was from Rangashankara and demanded my columns be banned. Of course nothing of that sort happened. Eventually the tabloid folded up and I moved on to writing columns for Bangalore Mirror and wrote a few more columns criticising Ranga Shankara until I got sick of it. I wonder if Arundhati Nag knew about this phone call. I suspect she didn’t and if she does find out about it someday, she may find it as amusing as the editor did.

It is very strange but all through this tension with Rangashankara, I have never stopped respecting Arundhati Nag. I have always felt she is a diva and I am fascinated by divas. Besides she is such a fantastic actor on stage and screen. We are fortunate to have her in the city. A number of theatre folks who were close to her at one time now speak about their disillusionment. But I think they are idiots. You should never expect a great artist to be a nice person. If you want to meet nice human beings you should work in an ashram. Artists have to be selfish to protect their art and vision.

As for the coterie, I don’t know if anyone in the audience noticed I had my tongue out during the curtain call.

It was meant for the guy who made that mysterious call.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Year... Of Living Dangerously

2011 has been a year of taking risks.

I started the year by publishing a book on Indian organizations that is not exactly a feel good tale that CEOs are going to recommend to their managers. I know for a fact that I lost one sturdy client I have had for years because of writing this book. But never mind...writing the book was a great joy last year and looks like it is giving as much joy to the readers from the feedback that I keep receiving. And reading the book has made some of my friends as brave if not more. One of them decided to tell her boss exactly what she thought of her before quitting the organization. But she was also smart enough to build a case and ensure that she got paid her bonus for the previous year that the organization was trying hard to slime out of paying her. Now that’s enterprise.

Next I went for a back breaking trek for which I had hardly prepared myself for and managed to live to write about it...besides building enduring friendships with some of the others who were with me that I suspect would last a lifetime.

Then I was asked to act in a play as a demented academic and I jumped at the offer. Forget the acting, I managed to remember all my lines on stage, although most of them I had to read out from a script.

Lately I have developed a new workshop module on the art of telling stories in organizations. I have discovered most managers have a story they want to tell...provided if you are willing to listen to them.

My publishers tell me that they have planned to bring out my latest work of fiction, a murder mystery in December and that means I end the year as I had started it...with a book.

Thank you 2011, you have been good to me.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Ek Thaali Ke Chatte Batte or Dyed in the Wool

So it’s all back to square one.

All that Lokpal Bill sound and fury finally ended with a free for all name calling and we know now not just the politicians but the civil society members are also a shameless, whiny lot. Look at that joker Anna Hazare. He wrote another letter to Sonia Gandhi complaining her party men were calling him names. Is that what we expect from a leader? And pray who is Sonia Gandhi? She’s just the president of the same political party that has put Anna in the dock. As of now there has been no news about Sonia chiding any of her men. For all you know they must have cursed Anna after checking with her and she may have taught them a bad word or two in Italian. Sonia Gandhi is very clever. When Indira Gandhi was throwing Maneka Gandhi out of her house, she went and quickly hid in the bathroom lest her hand be suspected in the whole tamasha. But I am sure she was quietly winding up her mother- in- law against Maneka for days altogether like one of those evil bahus in an Ekta Kapoor serial. How do I know all this? Kyonki Sonia bhi kabhi bahu thi.

And it is not just the politicians and the civil society members who are the only guilty parties here. Our media persons are no better. The other day after Hussain’s death, Arnab Goswami was presiding over a talk show to determine the politician’s culpability in Hussain’s death. Anyone who reads my blog would know I am no fan of the political establishment and as for the BJP, I wish their leaders were also in that train on that fateful day in Godhra, but I think all this hype about the government not doing anything to protect Hussain when he got those death threats is silly. He chose to go. No one forced him and as for death threats, don’t all our film stars and directors get them all the time. Rajiv Rai got them and he fled to London with his wife. Preity Zinta also got a threat unless she was making it all up but she went to a court and testified against the underworld and she’s still alive and owns an IPL team and needlessly jumps up and down whether her team is doing well or not. No one has targeted her as yet. We should say only good things about the dead and all I will like to say about Hussain is that he liked publicity and nubile young female actors of Bollywood. He seems to have had a good life until he died at the ripe old age of 93 and may his soul rest in peace. He once gifted my wife a sketch and if that work appreciates in value and is worth millions one day, I will bless his soul even more.

Anyway, I was on the topic of Arnab Goswami and his strange antics during the show. He dropped his voice in that pseudo manner and asked ‘Can our politicians drop their compulsions for once and do the right thing?’ Yes...they will do the right thing if journalists do the right thing! How come our media persons are always haranguing the politicians but sparing the corporate honchos? If one is a bribe taker, the other is a bribe giver. They are the two faces of the same coin. But you can never expect to see a talk show where the chairman of a corporate conglomerate is being quizzed for his role in the scams, not at least in this country. How come there has been no probing report on why the Tatas were given a clean chit in the 2G scam by the CBI. Tomorrow if the Talwars are let off similarly, Goswami will make us sick with all his antics but who wants to take on the Tatas? Certainly not those who depend on them for their ad revenues. If Goswami even talks about implicating a large corporate house, his masters will pack him off to Siberia and he knows this. And such a person wants to be the messiah of the common man. Heaven help us.

The other two journalists who are pissing me off big time are Manu Joseph and Hartosh Singh Bal. When ‘Open’ magazine did the expose’ on the Radia tapes last year, I felt admiration for both of them. But they turned out to be like Bhakti Barve in ‘Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron.’ They recently did a cover story on how some research by the Tatas is path breaking. For the Tatas, in these troubled times, the cover story achieves what full page advertisements in every page, including the front and back covers would achieve. And as you know the corporates always pay well for the advertisements. To add insult to injury, Manu Joseph is always heckling the educated middle classes forgetting the same middle class was squarely on his side when Barkha Dutt and Sonia Verma placed him in that chair during the show on NDTV that ‘hurt’ his bum so much that he whined about it afterwards. We could have also laughed at him like I am sure generation after generation of Barkha Dutt’s family will laugh playing the tape of Manu’s expressions when the chair was poking him where it hurts the most. But we didn’t as we happen to be decent folks.

His colleague Hartosh Singh Bal is no better. He talked about the Jaipur literary festival being racist with William Dalrymple as the head. At that time one of the festival organizers had mentioned in an interview Hartosh was saying all this because he was not invited. I had felt bad for him then. But turned out she was right after all. For not only did he go for the festival but was also photographed having a lot of fun and he never wrote anything bad about the festival or the organizers after that.

Well, they are welcome to invite themselves to festivals and parties thrown by the research wing of the corporate entities who not so long ago they were busy 'exposing.'

I have decided not to watch ‘Times Now’ or buy ‘Open’ Magazine. That is my peaceful way of protesting.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Hanna and Shaitan

It has been two Fridays and two matinees at a trot, both about a young female damaged protagonist, one in English and one in Hindi.

Let me start with ‘Hanna’ because I watched that one last week. I suspect it is soon going to turn into a cult classic. It is directed by that young British auteur Joe Wright, who didn’t get a high school diploma because of his dyslexia but is the youngest director to have his film ‘Atonement’ premier at the Venice Film Festival. That should tell us something about how redundant formal education is.

Hanna is about this seventeen year old who has been raised in isolation in a forest by her father. She has been trained to be a killing machine to help her survive against the violent machinations of an evil CIA agent played by that genius actor Cate Blanchett. The rest of the cast is equally effective. Saoirse Ronan, the delightful Irish actor introduced by Wright in ‘Atonement’ plays Hanna with sprite agility, mining the meaty role for all its sub textual richness of loneliness and wonderment. Eric Bana is equally effective as her noble father. There is this interesting twist in the story that educates the audience about the unconventional upbringing Hanna has had that we are both prepared for and yet not prepared for, which is what a thriller giving you your money’s worth is all about. I am amazed at Wright’s versatility. He is in his late thirties currently and that means he was younger when he directed this one and the ones that came before including ‘Atonement.’ I am sure I will catch all the subsequent movies he makes and can’t wait for the DVD of ‘Hanna’ to come out to add to my collection.

Bejoy Nambiar is in his thirties too and has made a stunning debut with ‘Shaitan,’ produced by Anurag Kashyap. I think of Kashyap as a modern day ‘Jung’ to Ram Gopal Varma’s ‘Freud’. Kashyap started out with Varma and was as responsible for Satya’s success, having written the screenplay. Now Varma has been reduced to a paranoid shadow of his earlier creative self, churning out one horrible film after another whereas Kashyap is having a great innings. Not only did’ Dev D’ that Kashyap directed change the rule of film making in Bollywood and made us realise how ‘thoo-thoo’ the films of Karan Johar and Aditya Chopra are, but his banner has also introduced some young talented directors who have made kick ass films like Vikramaditya Motwane and ‘Udaan’ and now Nambiar and ‘Shaitan.’

I think a lot of the film critics get jealous of the young directors Kashyap introduces, as they want to be discovered too. I certainly picked up a tinge of envy in Raja Sen’s review. He was trying too hard to attribute the film’s strengths to Kashyap rather than Nambiar. That’s just slimy behaviour rather than an honest critique. The film has been made by Nambiar and the credit or discredit for the film goes to him and not to anyone else. Kashyap comes across as someone who has a lot of integrity speaking on behalf of other directors like Onir and Dibakar Banerjee when they get into trouble with publicity hungry starlets. He doesn’t need a front to make his films.

‘Shaitan’ is also about a young damaged female protagonist played by Kalki Koechlin. Now Koechlin has a long way to go before she can come anywhere near Ronan as far as acting chops are concerned but she has one great quality none of the female Indian actors have. She is not afraid of making herself ugly in front of the camera. That’s a terrific trait to have for an actor and helps her to make her character believable despite the inconsistencies in her interpretation. Much has been made about the acting of the other young actors in the ensemble cast but really I don’t think there was much of a demand placed on them. I am sure none of them are addicts but apart from that character trait, they pretty much interact like most urban youngsters do, cracking poor jokes and appreciating each other for the ‘come backs’ in the barbs that fly to and fro among them. Any other set of young intelligent actors would have done as well if asked to have fun in front of the camera. Rajiv Khandelwal is very good though and the unknown female actor who plays his wife has the most interesting and haunting face I have seen for a long time in Hindi films. Who is she?

But the star of the show is undoubtedly Nambiar. His shot taking is unusual and sometimes his scenes play out inordinately long like in a Tarentino film but he keeps the audience riveted and the film stays with you long after it is over. Nambiar spent some time in Bangalore and even directed a play in the city and he pays a tribute to his theatre days by including the veteran playwright and theatre person Poile Sengupta in the cast of his film

He moved to Mumbai and got married to Juhi Babbar. That must have been terrible. The Babbars are probably the most clownish theatre and film family in Mumbai. The matriarch Nadira Babbar runs a theatre group in Mumbai that along with Dinesh Thakur’s troupe stages the most god-awful plays in Prithvi. The two talentless ugly kids –Juhi and Arya play significant lead roles in most of the home productions. The patriarch Raj Babbar tried to make his mark as a slimy rapist in his debut film in the early eighties. Afterwards he tried to be a hero but all his films flopped, so he turned into a UP politician. His innings in politics has been as sidey as his films but he is a hoot to watch whenever he tries to speak in English. If you want to have some cheap thrills, you can always invite the Senior Babbar for an event and ask him to give his speech in English. The audience will die laughing. Raj Babbar is also the father of Prateik Babbar, Smita Patil’s son. Pratiek has been sensible enough to drop the surname. Nambiar and juhi Babbar are divorced now.

Thank god Nambiar made the intelligent transition from the Babbars to Kashyap and discovered the ‘Shaitan’ in him.