The play is not at all black, in fact, it is very colourful," says Anahita Oberoi, director of Bombay Black. The play’s title is a reference to a cheap drug of the same name. “It is a passionate mind game. Quite a trip in itself," adds Oberoi.

The musica:Sharon Prabhakar performing in Razzmatazz

This story of a relationship between a mujra dancer and a blind man; a liberal girl’s marriage to a Dalit; and a middle class banker called Bhagwan (God) who stumbles upon “enlightenment" are just some of the tales that will be spun on the stage at the annual Old World Theatre Festival at the India Habitat Centre (IHC), New Delhi.

The centre is a hospitality and cultural facility, which also seeks to connect different organizations that work in fields related to the habitat and environment. IHC has one of the premier auditoria in the country, equipped with state-of-the-art infrastructure, which will be put to good use at this annual event. The festival was started with the intent to promote not only good professional theatre but also collegiate theatre in New Delhi.

This year, the Annual Old World Theatre Festival will host eight plays in 11 days, and the subjects will range from the best of Indian theatre to the works of George Bernard Shaw. “I was first impressed by Shaw during my PhD and have since worked to bring his plays to India," says Vinodbala Sharma, founder president of Shaw’s Corner India, which has brought the plays to IHC. Two one-act plays, Village Wooing and Not Pygmalion Likely, will be staged at the festival. The first is a play by Shaw about a man pursuing a woman, only to discover that he has become the pursuee; the second is a story of Shaw’s infatuation with Mrs Patrick Campbell. In addition to these, Shaw Cornered will depict the turmoils of Shaw’s life as he dreams he is dead and engaged in a dialogue with a she-devil and Shakespeare.

Another play that will make its way from England to India is Mistaken...Annie Besant in India. Performed by the Vayu Naidu Company, Mistaken... follows the life of Englishwoman Annie Besant—a friend of M.K. Gandhi, surrogate mother of philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti and woman extraordinaire. “The play asks the audience to reflect on whether Annie was ‘mistaken’ in her political views and methods, which differed from Gandhi’s, and also in her actions," says Jenny Campbell, general manager of the Vayu Naidu Company.

In fact, the festival promises to portray several strong female characters on stage, though with each one, the shades of grey grow stronger. These women and their lives reflect the decisions of millions of women around the world. For example, there’s Jyoti, from Vijay Tendulkar’s Kanyadaan. Jyoti is a strong woman raised with liberal political values, but when she decides to marry a talented Dalit man, she realizes that life is not just about ideals. Apte, who plays Apsara in Bombay Black, is also the protagonist of Kanyadaan. “I spent a lot of time rehearsing both the plays. The women in both are beyond comparison. One is from a socialist family while the other is a mujra dancer," says Apte.

The festival, however, is not just about serious issues, philosophical musings, societal barriers, and forbidden love; the dark side is balanced out by the razzle-dazzle of Razzmatazz, in which Sharon Prabhakar and Siddharth Meghani will light up the stage with a glamorous musical performance. “I just wanted to see some of my favourite all-time hits performed in a slick show with truly professional performers," says director Raell Padamsee.

Live action, histrionics, great storytelling and powerful performances, at one of the best venues in the country. If you haven’t already booked your slots for the Old World Theatre Festival, then it’s about time you did.

The Old World Theatre Festival takes place from 2-12 December. Tickets are available for Rs300, Rs200, Rs100 and Rs50. For more information, contact the programme desk at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, 011-43663090/94