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Kaumudi: Directed by Abhishek Majumdar
Kaumudi: Directed by Abhishek Majumdar

Stage charge

Strong plays and performances comprise the line-up at the forthcoming Prithvi Theatre Festival

While there are a host of familiar names on the rolls at the forthcoming Prithvi Theatre Festival, it is intriguing to see Palestinian playwright Amir Nizar Zuabi in the festival line-up for the second year running.

Last year, his intimate Oh My Sweet Land, performed by Corinne Jaber, was set against the humanitarian crisis in Syria. This year, Mohit Takalkar of Pune’s well-regarded Aasakta group, will present Zuabi’s I Am Yusuf And This is My Brother, in a Hindustani translation by Salima Raza. The 1948 Palestinian exodus, or the nakba, when more than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled from their homes, provides the backdrop to this tale of interpersonal relationships. Zuabi’s own version, the first from his Haifa-based touring theatre company ShiberHur, opened in London’s Young Vic theatre in 2010. Takalkar’s strong sense of visual poetry, evident in so many of his aesthetically realized productions, will work well to bring out the tale’s melancholic soul.

The play points to an ongoing engagement with Palestinian issues by Indian theatre makers. Earlier this year, the Freedom Theatre, based in a West Bank refugee camp, toured India with their play, The Island, and collaborated with Delhi’s Jana Natya Manch, comparing notes on the politics of cultural resistance.

Enjoying a big-ticket premiere at the festival will be Mahesh Dattani’s Gauhar, directed by Lillete Dubey, in which the classically trained Rajeshwari Sachdev will step into the shoes of noted Indo-Armenian chanteuse Gauhar Jaan, famous for her signature gramophone recordings, among India’s earliest. Dattani has certainly drawn from the well-researched tome by Vikram Sampath, My Name Is Gauhar Jaan, but his script is powered by speculative drama that offers access to the inner world of an accomplished yet mercurial personality.

In a casting coup of sorts, vocalist Zila Khan of the Imdadkhani gharana, and daughter of sitar maestro Ustad Vilayat Khan, will play Gauhar’s mother, Malika Jaan, a part properly fleshed out in Dattani’s script. The play is part of a series of collaborations between Dubey and Dattani, of which the long-running Dance Like A Man, set in the world of Bharatanatyam dancers, remains the most significant.

Ek Punjab Yeh Bhi
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Ek Punjab Yeh Bhi

The work of Pakistan’s Ali Akbar Natiq, a powerful contemporary voice in the world of Urdu literature, will be showcased as Ek Punjab Yeh Bhi by Danish Husain, best known for his popular Dastangoi offerings. A 12-person ensemble, including seasoned actors Sadiya Siddiqui, Imran Rasheed and Gagan Dev Riar, will animate Natiq’s sharply observational tales, drawn from his own life.

Also in the programme is Bombay Dying, a darkly satiric tale of a crumbling city, co-written by Hussain Dalal and director Akarsh Khurana. Festival staple Makrand Deshpande’s Maa In Transit continues his preoccupation with human frailty and death, especially that of a parent.

It is fitting that a festival which features strong texts should open with Abhishek Majumdar’s Kaumudi, which premiered at Bengaluru’s Ranga Shankara in April 2014, and has toured the country since then, with a stint at Prithvi Theatre too. With its focus on the father-son dynamic between a pair of thespians, the dense play hasn’t always gone down well with audiences, but it is a meticulously mounted production, set in 1960s Allahabad, that can yield dividends to those prepared to stay with the material.

The Prithvi Theatre Festival, featuring plays, music concerts, fringe acts and live interviews with theatre personalities, will be held from 5-15 November. Timings vary. For details and tickets, 500, visit in.bookmyshow.com

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