My recent reconnect with theatre scene in Delhi was enabled by Asmita Theatre Group and their 2-month long summer festival. If you are in Delhi, do check out Asmita’s plays, they are in the last leg of their Summer Theatre festival and I can guarantee you will not be disappointed at the experience!
I was introduced to plays in 2000 (or around that time). 4 years into my career, at the height of dot-com boom, I was back in Delhi after my first stint in US and had time on my hands as I was figuring out how to set up my own company. One day, I don’t remember why, we went to India Habitat Centre, 2-3 of us, to watch a play “Final Solutions”. We were led to a basement hall in IHC where I was sitting in the 3rd or 4th row, and it was amazing to see the actors from up close. We went again after a few weeks, and this time we sat in the front row. It was even more amazing – seeing the actor right in front of me, performing with a finesse, but also with the fragility of a live performance – I was praying they don’t forget a line or miss a cue! I was hooked.
We watched 3-4 plays during those couple of months and they left an indelible stamp on me. All of these happened to be Asmita Theatre Group‘s plays but the name never registered, only the experience.
Life pulled me away from Delhi to Hyderabad, then to US, China, and back to US. After spending 12 years outside Delhi, we came back to Delhi in 2012 – me, my wife and 2 adorable daughters. I had the dreams of building my own business (again!), I also had a slight hope that I would reconnect to my past – reliving that experience of watching a performance up so close. I was going back to same set of friends who accompanied me to theatre those few weeks in 2000. However, 12 years is a very long time – it had taken a toll on all of us. We were all family men, or company men, and had too many important and urgent things to worry about to revive an old interest. Sure enough, we talked about it sometime, but we never took any step in that direction.
This summer of 2014, everything changed. A few friends (and families) and we went on a vacation to mountains together. With kids giving company to kids, and ladies engaging each other, we had some time to reflect on life and pursuits we had left as we built careers and family – poetry reading and writing, theatre, debating passionately about topics of our country, politics and technology. That conversation sparked a desire to relive some of those, and some plans were made. Nothing concrete, but stirrings were there.
Two weeks later, with families going to parents’ houses, it so happened that 2 of us found ourselves home alone on one Sunday! I tried finding what the best outing could be and we zoomed in on a play in IHC Amphitheatre, which again happened to be Asmita’s. I was so surprised to see Asmita still in existence – I never thought theatre groups could live so long!
The designated time arrived and we landed in IHC, with many nostalgic memories. As we watched their pre-play ‘nukkad natak’, I saw a familiar face walking around – white beard, half-shirt, smiling, and a brisk walk that suggested confidence. It took a few minutes and a few glances around to realize this was Mr. Arvind Gaur, the iconic resident director of Asmita. And then I remembered seeing him in 2000. I was again surprised – how can the group stay for so long, AND with the director being same all along!
The play was Chukayenge? Nahi, and we were in for a treat. It was a house-full show, I was in the second row and thoroughly enjoyed the show, again getting mesmerized by the proximity to the real actor and real acts. Films have dulled our senses so much, we don’t realize how powerful real performance can be if we let it come in. The lead lady looked familiar, but she was too young to be in the plays we saw in 2000. She was speaking at the top of her voice all the time (which I later realized, is what you have to do if you do nukkad natak and when performing in open air theatres). She was a marvelous actor, and when the show was over, I strained my ears to catch her name, Shilpi Marwaha – I made a mental note to Google her up. Arvind Gaur mentioned a few actors had worked in Ranjhaana movie and that made me realize why I had liked that movie so much – it had a very theatre feel to it.
While walking out, actors were lined up and personally thanking us for coming! Really? Can actors be so humble? I don’t visualize Shahrukh Khan within 10 kms of the theatre I watch his movies! I congratulated Shilpi on her performance and her voice was so hoarse I could barely hear her, but I was so awed by me talking to an actress whose performance I saw just now, that it didn’t matter what she said to me. It was late in the night by the time we went back home and I crashed in the bed knowing I had one of the best days of my life in years.
Early morning next day, suddenly I remembered why Shilpi Marwaha looked familiar: she too had worked in Ranjhaana; as Abhay Deol’s sister and Sonam Kapoor’s friend! I picked up the phone and let my friend know this, all excited!
Then the irony of it struck me – it was as if I was legitimizing her claim to acting ability by showing she worked in a movie – a movie where her role was much smaller compared to what I had seen last night, and where she was paired with a lead actress whose acting abilities are not worth commenting.
I was embarrassed; while I wanted to put the blame on movies killing theatre, I realized no one had stopped me from engaging more with the theatre scene all this while – I had killed my sense of arts, culture and creativity. If anyone was to blame, it was me. And it was time for me to change myself.
Thanks to Asmita Theatre Group, I can do so now. I have decided to try my best to reconnect with the theatre scene in Delhi, and reconnect to myself. I don’t want to kill my sensibilities anymore, I want to live a richer life. I am taking my daughters on this journey; I don’t want them to stay ignorant of such a fine form of art and expression. I definitely don’t want them to hold me or my generation responsible for letting this art form wither away.
Together, we have watched 2 plays now – Log-Baag, and Ek Maamoli Aadmi. While my younger one (5 yr.) had trouble sitting through Ek Maamoli Aadmi (it was decidedly more sombre than Log-Baag which she liked), I was happy watching her staying engaged most of the time and not wanting to walk out (which she has done with movies). I am sure a right selection of plays will keep her glued. My elder one has been enjoying these so far.
I was also intrigued by who these actors are – what do they do in their daily life, what brings them to theatre. I wanted to know them better, given I had shaken hands with so many of them and had been thoroughly entertained by them. I started researching them (thanks to Google and their facebook pages). I now have another story to tell about Asmita and its actors that will form my next post in this series.