The annual Prithvi Theatre Festival is a great indicator of talent and innovation in Indian theatre. Ever since the 1990s, the festival has hosted lesser known, but avant-garde theatre from different parts of the country. The Irish brew the Prithvi café is famous for is just a bonus.
Since the late 1990s, director Sanjna Kapoor has chosen to look within. “There’s so much dynamism and so much originality here, but not enough platforms,” says Kapoor. She says she never wanted the festival to go out of India for international recognition.
In 1998, Prithvi hosted the last of its purely international festivals. Groups from Italy, France, Hungary, Poland, Germany and the UK performed, and among the most memorable plays was Carmen Funebre, with the ethnic conflict raging in Bosnia at the time as its theme. It was performed by a Polish group on stilts at the Juhu aerodrome.
This year’s festival, Theatres of India, combines the works of artistes who have developed their own contemporary language and way of living through theatre in remote parts of the country, with those who fuse more than two art forms or new media to communicate visions of urban reality.
We pick what promises to be the best from the festival.
This year, Prithvi pays tribute to Habib Tanvir, who died in June, with an exhibition of his works. The exhibition was first held in 2004 at the Horniman Circle Garden. The festival opens today with a performance of the legendary play, Charandas Chor, by Naya Theatre, the group that Tanvir founded and nurtured. There’s a second performance of the play, banned in Chhattisgarh in August, on Sunday at the Horniman Circle Garden.
Heggodu is a small village in Karnataka’s Shivamogga district, where Akshara K.V. and his group have made theatre a way of life. They have a travelling repertoire that includes adaptations of Shakespeare, and their efforts to inculcate the arts in the local community include screening world cinema classics in villages. At this festival, they will perform four plays: a Kannada adaptation of The Merchant of Venice, called Venissina Vyaapaara, Aakaashabutti, Aakaashabheri and Yakshagana: Vidyunmati Kalyaana.
Theatre veteran Veenapani Chawla’s initiative in Vazhakulam, near Puducherry, that began in 1993 has evolved into an eclectic group, Adishakti, that uses elements of traditional art forms such as Kalaripayattu, Kathakali, Koodiyattam, Chhau and puppetry for its four major plays—Ganapati, Hare and the Tortoise, Impressions of Bhima and Rhinoceros—which will be staged at the festival.
The Elephant Project
This technically accomplished production by the Kerala-based group Theatre Roots and Wings of Sankar Venkateswaran has performed in cities across the world. The collaborative piece is based on a poem by Vyloppilly Sreedhara Menon, a Malayalee poet, and the lead is played by Micari, an acclaimed Japanese actor.
The performance reveals the inner world of a bull elephant who is bewildered by the wild, but has to grapple with the immediate reality of being a slave of man.
Nirman Kala Manch, Patna
Nirman Kala Manch’s Bidesia
This group, formed in 1988, is an amalgamation of local talent that has evolved under the aegis of its founder Sanjay Upadhyay. It’s a travelling group that educates rural communities in Bihar in the language of drama through folk traditions, music and dance. Prithvi will host five of their acclaimed plays: Neelkanth Nirala, Harsingar, Kahe Gaye Mere Ugna, Dharti Aaba and the most popular, Bidesia.
Jeet Thayil and Suman Sridhar give an edgy 21st century twist to opera in The Flying Wallas: Opera Noir, a conversation between a soprano and a ghost about God, murder and showbiz. The techniques and themes of opera are stripped down to a contemporary level.
Equusis an adaptation of the original play of the same name by Peter Shaffer. Kolkata-based director Vikram Iyengar of the group Ranan uses Kathak to tell this story of a teenaged boy and his fears and fetishes.
The Prithvi Theatre Festival begins tomorrow and ends on 20 November. For tickets, call 022-26149546 or log on here