A Spanish opera told in Albanian by a French director using a mixed cast of actors ( Le Barbier de Seville); an ancient Greek comedy retold in Polish (The Song of Euripides); the legendary German tale of Dr Faustus, who sells his soul to the devil, becoming the Assamese Ojha Fanoosh ; and Rabindranath Tagore’s classic Bengali tale, A Wife’s Letter, retold in chaste Punjabi.
Perhaps it is a sign that the truly global is one that is deeply inward-seeking and ironically, local; or that the greatest drama will always be the universality of the human condition. It is only apt, however, that India’s national drama festival, two decades after globalization, should be showcasing works that are so culturally diverse and vibrant. The National School of Drama’s (NSD’s) 13th Bharat Rang Mahotsav (BRM) opens on Friday in the Capital and continues till 22 January with 81 Indian and international theatrical productions. The festival will run simultaneously in Chennai from 11-20 January with 19 of these productions.
A panel of 20 Indian theatre persons made the final selection after sifting through around 450 plays. “The idea is to maintain a balance between what we have to offer, and to promote new talent. Festivals such as this are essential to keep theatre as a medium alive. Most places in the world have festivals once in two years but the fact that we produce such a rich variety of works every year is a matter of great pride,” says Amal Allana, chairperson, NSD, New Delhi.
This year’s BRM captures an incredible variety—from the epic Ramayan to the fable of Vikram and Betaal. While the Ramayan production (directed by Delhi-based Anurupa Roy) is enacted through puppets, Vikram and Betaal morph into modern-day, English-speaking storytellers in a contemporary urban context in Creeper (directed by Bangalore-based Ram Ganesh Kamatham). Shakespeare’s Hamlet becomes a tool for explaining the fall of communism in Germany, speaking of a broken revolution and individuals who can’t move with the times (Hamlet Machine), and a Mughal prince, we’re told, can have ambitions other than political. Dara (directed by Shahid Nadeem of Pakistan), on the eldest son of Shahjahan who was later executed by his brother Aurangzeb, looks at the existential conflict between Dara the crown prince, and Dara the Sufi and artist.
“A lot of great classics are being reinterpreted and a lot of new kind of theatrical work is being showcased, such as puppetry and dance (contemporary dancers Navtej Johar and Preethi Athreya will be performing in Grey is also a Colour and Sweet Sorrow, respectively). The thrust of all these, however, is to examine the self, and the self in the world today,” says Allana. The production of Miranda, for instance, by the London-based Tara Arts gives expression to the diasporic community living abroad. The tale weaves questions of identity, decolonization and gender through dance, music and magic realism.
Another highlight in this year’s BRM is the staggering number of international productions being showcased—23 from 20 countries. There is a large chunk from Latin America, with productions from Chile, Bolivia and Argentina; Asia is represented by Japan, China, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh; and there are productions from the US, Ukraine, Italy, Poland, Albania, Norway, Egypt and France. A lot of the productions, in fact, are mixed, with foreign directors using Indian actors in their cast. French director Éric Vigner has cast, in Le Barbier de Seville, a mix of Albanian and Indian actors.
“While the opportunity to see such diverse works of art is incredible for one’s own learning, it also serves the more functional purpose of getting international exposure to our artistes, get them employment, and therefore, benefits Indian theatre ultimately,” says NSD director Anuradha Kapur. “There is great demand for Indian actors because they are very physical, they sing and dance, they put a lot of expression into their body. Such festivals highlight their work and put them in front of an international artistes’ community,” adds Allana. And already, Viger, for instance, is in the process of choosing an Indian cast for his next production in Brittany, France.
BRM will be held in New Delhi at Kamani Auditorium, Shri Ram Centre and NSD auditoriums; and in Chennai at Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao Concert Hall and Museum Theatre. For the schedule and ticket details, log on to www.nsdtheatrefest.com