If you are a theatre buff, here is a festival of plays hand-picked from across the country. These 10 plays—all nominated for the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre awards—will be staged in Delhi from 5 March to 9 March; you can also catch some of them at venues in Mumbai, hosted on other platforms. We got the directors to tell you why their plays are a must-watch.
Chekov ki Duniya (Hindi)
Director: Ranjit Kapoor
This play is based on Neil Simon’s adaptation of six Anton Chekhov stories. These are not interlinked and each protagonist has many layers, so that every time you see the play, you will be surprised by what you missed.
Director’s pitch: “Chekhov was a master storyteller who is detached from the characters he creates and seems to be laughing at them. They are real people, not heroes, and that is what finally makes them attractive and irresistible. Another thing about this particular play is that Simon has used Chekhov as a sutradhar who links the stories through his observations.”
5 March, 4.30pm, Shri Ram Centre, Delhi
Bali aur Shambhu(Hindi)
Writer-Director: Manav Kaul
The central characters of the play are two fun-loving men in an old-age home who must grapple with the problems of ageing.
Director’s pitch: “Though this is a story about senior citizens, it is not full of pathos. It talks about the philosophy of loneliness. Young people have even more reason to see this play because they have fewer crutches than the old when they deal with loneliness.”
9 March, 7.30pm, Kamani, Delhi. 17, 18 March, 6pm and 9pm on both days, Prithvi, Mumbai
Nati Binodini(Hindi, Bengali)
Director: Amal Allana
Based on Aamar Katha (My Story), the autobiography of theatre actress Binodini, this play is set in 1910. It traces the struggle of an actress thrown into the world of theatre at 12 who, tragically, burns out by 23.
Director’s pitch: “This play charts a woman’s struggle to survive in the world of theatre, though she is exploited morally, financially and emotionally. Binodini’s autobiography traces the early years of urban theatre in India and that’s what makes this play interesting, not just for me, but all theatre lovers. The sets and acting are superb.”
5 March, 7.30pm, Kamani, Delhi
Peer Gynt (Hindi)
This Henrik Ibsen play tracks the journey of Peer Gynt, a dreamer who abandons responsibility to inhabit a fantasy world of easy fame and fortune. When he returns to his village as an older and wiser man, he finds himself unwelcome. Will he be forgiven for wasting his life?
Director’s pitch: “Though the theme is serious, we’ve interpreted it in a way that both children and adults could enjoy. It is a musical with grand sets and lavish costumes. I have always believed that theatre should be a family affair.”
6 March, 4.30pm, Shri Ram Centre, Delhi. In June (dates yet to be announced), Prithvi, Mumbai
Dark Horse (English)
Writer-director: Gowri Ramnarayan
This is a semi-autobiographical account of a journalist’s single meeting with poet Arun Kolatkar. She traces the events that led to this encounter and relives it.
Director’s pitch: “I met Kolatkar only once about 15 years ago, but never wrote the interview because he did not wish it. Twelve years later, when I dug out those notes after his demise, I ended up creating the poet out of his poetry. I have used 10 of Kolatkar’s poems and set them to various types of music. Actor Dhritman Chatterji’s performance is excellent because he understands the nuances of the reclusive poet perfectly.”
6 March, 7.30pm, Kamani, Delhi
Peyythther (Mirage) Tamil
Writer-director: V. Arumugham
A philosophical play that examines the relationship between the mystery of the universe and the existential problems of man and society. Arumugham uses his study of the philosophy of siddhantas.
Director’s pitch: “It is a visual treat and should not be missed for this reason alone. Even though the introductory dialogues are in Tamil, this play actually belongs to the non-verbal genre of theatre and is about movements, music and lights.”
7 March, 4.30pm, Shri Ram Centre, Delhi
Director: Mohit Takalkar, Writer: Sati
This is a play about a young couple who are deeply in love. They part and then set off on a mystic journey, during which they meet a dervish. The play follows the story of the enlightenment each receives during the journey. It makes use of Rumi’s verses to create an ensemble of poetry, dance and music.
Director’s pitch : “Marathi theatre has always been associated with wordy, living-room dramas. This is a big departure. Though it is in Marathi, it will appeal to all audiences because it relives the magic of Rumi’s verses, which have universal appeal.”
9 March, 4.30pm, Shri Ram Centre, Delhi . Today, 11am, Prithvi, Mumbai
Director: Baharul Islam
Based on the novel, Do Tal Hatir Wooye Khowa Haoda, by Indira Goswami, this is a play about the journey of two Brahmin widows. It is set against the backdrop of monastries and male-dominated establishments in the post-Independence era.
Director’s pitch: “The play, even though it is set in the 1950s, is still relevant. I have tried to portray not just the journey of the two widows, but also touch upon the circumstances of the era that shaped their destinies. For me, the performances make the play, not the production design.”
7 March, 7.30pm, Kamani, Delhi
Numbers in the Dark (English)
Writer-Director: Atul Kumar
This play is about how young Indians connect with the world around them. It is drawn from the real-life experiences of the young actors. The play is both realistic and abstract.
Director’s pitch: “The urban young in India have no real link with the social, economic and political world around them. This is not to say that they are inert or uncaring, it is just that the scope of their daily existence is limited. It is a very contemporary play that will appeal to audiences anywhere. We are taking this play to Pakistan next month.”
8 March, 4.30pm, Shri Ram Centre, Delhi. 5 May, 7pm, Horniman Circle, Mumbai (Prithvi event)
Cotton 56, Polyester 84 (Hindi)
Director: Sunil Shanbag, Writer: Ramu Ramanathan
This play deals with a very important part of Mumbai’s industrial history. It is about the textile mill district, which formed the city’s backbone.
Director’s pitch: “This play is not just a nostalgia trip, it is about a piece of history that should not be forgotten. After all, this textile industry gave Mumbai its working-class tradition, made it the one city where dignity of labour is respected. The play has tremendous energy, there is live music and the performances are top-rate.”
8 March, 7.30pm, Kamani, Delhi
Malini Nair contributed to this story