Even though the organizers of this year’s edition of the International Theatre Festival of Kerala (ITFoK) were late off the blocks, releasing the full schedule only minutes before online booking began on 13 February, the tickets allotted for several shows were all sold out within a few hours. This should not deter those who are planning to station themselves indefinitely in Thrissur from 20 February, when the nine-day festival commences. Some tickets are kept for current booking—the bonhomie of those waiting in the serpentine queues for the slim pickings on offer adds considerably to the ambience of a festival that is now considered one of the best of its kind in the country. That aside, adventurous curatorial choices, the politically surcharged atmosphere and the impassioned post-show discussions over beef and beer, make it a bastion of artistic permissiveness.
With the festival’s focus on street theatre, many of the best offerings are unticketed affairs that will disarmingly spring up at the most unlikely places, from the town hall to the local swimming pool. In the mix this time are 16 international theatre companies, and almost as many Indian ones, with eight national offerings and seven Malayalam picks. One of the curators is Anuradha Kapur, a former director of the National School of Drama in New Delhi. Some of the works, she says, will “reimagine the street; cars, buses, squares, crossroads all thrown up in the air and recombined as theatre objects”. The lines between fiction and the real world are expected to be blurred.
For instance, the Kamchàtka company from Barcelona has been workshopping its piece on immigration, Migrar, with local participants and the collective experience it presents will allow onlookers to “discover the city they have arrived in, or which they have never left”, with a new unprejudiced outlook. Arrived, a street theatre performance by the Spanish-Lithuanian duo Adrian Schvarzstein and Jūratė Širvytė-Rukštelė, will feature them as “wonderfully naive” vintage travellers, replete with fedoras and leather suitcases, liable to intercept unsuspecting passers-by and draw them into surreal situations not of their own making.
From this neck of the woods, Mohit Takalkar’s Main Huun Yusuf Aur Yeh Hai Mera Bhai, which transports us to the time of the 1948 Palestinian exodus (or the Nakba), and Gurleen Judge’s Dohri Zindagi, a clever take on a tale by noted Rajasthani storyteller Vijaydan Detha, are part of the official selection this year.
Especially commissioned by the ITFoK is the sharply political piece, Not Our Business…???, a collaboration between local group Theatre Connekt Performing Arts Society and Poland’s ArtJunction Foundation. This is a response to the helplessness that director Jaroslaw Siejkowski felt after reading Martín Caparrós’ eye-opening Hunger last year. Not being able to change, in his limited personal capacity, the huge inequities that characterize the world, Siejkowski has brought together a motley crew of performers in a quiet village near Thrissur, and their personal stories will attempt to give voice to an outrage that otherwise remains muted.
The International Theatre Festival of Kerala will be held from 20-28 February at multiple venues across Thrissur. For more details, visit Theatrefestivalkerala.com.