Monday, January 25, 2010

Basheer Plays - The Prithvi Experience - 5 Jan 2010

Started out for Patna from Chennai at 11 am yesterday. Was supposed to go via Delhi. That got disrupted owing to weather conditions and instead, reached Kolkata last night. Spent the night at the client's guest-house and was booked on the 10 am flight from Kolkata to Patna. It is now 10.30. The flight is indefinitely delayed because visibility at Patna is zero. So, with more time than I want on my hands I thought I would do something which I had been planning for a long time - record some of those special things that made the Prithvi experience that much more enjoyable and memorable.

One of the images that come to mind is Kaveri taking on responsibility to see that everyone had eaten. In the morning if you needed a cup of tea, there she would be, ready to make a cup. If you picked up a slice of bread to munch on along with the tea she would take out the cheese slices from the fridge and offer it to you. Simple things, but it added so much warmth and goodness.

Then there was John and Kalpana working quietly in the background making sure the sets and props were all in the right places and correctly set. Kalpana and Madhavi working backstage helping with the costumes, ensuring the water bottles were full, and the props were in place. Anjana with her ownership of the make up and warm, ready hugs. Malavika and her artist friend sitting at the gate sketching their delightful pictures.

Another delightful image etched in memory is Malavika and her cats. Invariably lunch time for Malavika was lunch time for the cats. She would place bones and bits of meat, (even bones left over in the others' plates which she would pick up), and place them on the wall for the cautious cats to feed without fear. From that image of gentle caring she would transform into the highly 'muscle-conscious', aggressive Aanavaari, ever-ready to 'chop off noses and pickle them in salt'.

One of the most enjoyable aspects was the morning walk-jog with Anushka on the beach. After the walk we would walk past the apartment to the gates of the Army Institute where we would find a young boy vending tea from a cycle. Light tea, rather sugary, but as a ritual it was very enjoyable.

The plays were the central purpose. All the same it were these little unplanned, unexpected actions that added significant richness, warmth, and value to the experience as a whole.

To all these beautiful people, and to all those that I mentioned in my earlier updates, as well as to the group as a whole, deep thanks for enriching my life as well as my experience of theatre.

Basheer Plays - The Prithvi Experience - 21 Dec 2009

Am in the bus that will take me to Jet Airways flight 481 to Chennai. Feeling tired and sleepy and somewhat empty after the intense excitement and the challenge and the tension of the previous week - one of the most memorable in my life.

The last 2 days went off brilliantly well. Great performance space, wonderfully responsive audiences, resounding applause, and great feedback.

One of the highlights was a master stroke by Jagan. He comes on stage as 'Mandan Muthappa' - the pickpocket. In character he always spends a few minutes interacting with the audience. His genius is such that backstage we hear peals of surprised, delighted laughter. Group members who sit in the audience later recount to those who were backstage about what happened - what Jagan did and how the audience responded.

During the last show of Moonshine on 19th, Jagan noticed one person in the 3rd row, actually sleeping. The poor man must have been really tired. This was a particularly exciting part of the play and everyone else seemed to be wide awake.

Jagan went up to him and gently tapped him awake.

"Good Morning, saar", he said when the man woke up. "Mandan Muthappa, PGDPP. Post Graduate Diploma in pick-pocketing. What is your degree, saar?"

Caught unawares and probably embarrassed with the entire audience watching him and laughing, he tried to salvage some of his dignity. In a precise, clipped accent, emphasizing each word he said,

" I - have - no - degree "

"How can you get a degree, saar?", replied Jagan promptly, "you must have been sleeping in class".

The crowd broke into resounding laughter and deafening applause. The man's friend sitting next to him was clapping and laughing, jumping up and down on the seat in absolute delight. The laughter went on and on and it was quite some time before Jagan could take the next line.

This was one of my most memorable theatre experiences and a brilliant example of an actor's ability to improvise and respond to the impulse of the moment. Takes a great deal of freedom, presence of mind, and sheer guts.

As for our sleepy friend, he was wide awake through the rest of the show.

Other highlights were first time lighting by Sridhar, which was very good, and the excellence with which Anushka and KiKi handled the sound. It was a delight to watch KiKi coming down from the sound booth to walk around the auditorium to listen to each track, again and again, asking for feedback on sound levels. Absolute commitment. I have raved and raved about KiKi's perfect synchronisation of the soundtrack with the gramophone. Can't get over the sheer delight of hearing the crackle of the old gramophone record exactly as I take my fingers off the improvised 'stylus'.

The last day was very exciting. With no more shows to go, actors put in all their energy and performances and audience response was deeply rewarding.

The cast party went on till around 5 this morning. I slept at 3 as I had to catch the morning flight.

With the Prithvi series Perch becomes more bonded, more confident, and more committed to doing and enjoying good theatre.

Waiting for the Feb show to work with the group again.

What a week !!

Basheer Plays - The Prithvi Experience - 19 Dec 2009

2 more days and 4 more shows over. Once again, standing ovations! Shabana Azmi came for the afternoon show. Some of my ex-friends at work from Godrej were also in the audience. After the show I went up to my Godrej friends and was talking to them when one of them told me, "Shabana wants to talk to you". I turned around and saw her standing behind me.

"Fabulous", she said. "You guys were fabulous. I want to meet the other actors." I took her backstage and she congratulated the others.

The evening show was quite a learning experience. There was very little audible audience reaction and I felt my confidence and energy going lower and lower. At one point I had to make a deliberate effort to focus on the feeling behind the lines and the here-and-now of the play. I was surprised therefore, when they all stood up to applaud after the show. All the same, when I thanked the audience my heart was not in it. Washed off the make-up, washed and changed and was walking out of the auditorium when Rajiv came up to me, shook hands and said, "Great show. One of our best, and one of your best performances". I thought he was pulling my leg. After he moved away I asked Anushka,

"Is he serious?"

"I'm sure he is", she replied. "Otherwise he wouldn't be going around congratulating all the actors".

So I went back to Rajiv, and he explained how an audible reaction need not be the yardstick for measuring the quality of performance. Sometimes an audience can be silent and very attentive. Great new learning!

Another very important lesson that I learned last night is that your performance need not depend on your moods. You can consciously focus on experiencing the lines and the character, even when you are feeling low on confidence or energy, and still turn out a good performance. When acting on stage, you may not always be the best judge of what the audience is experiencing. Just put in all that you have, don't audit the performance or the play, and trust the process.

It is 9.40 am, Saturday, the penultimate day and the last day here for 'Moonshine'. Something tells me that we will have two great shows today and full audiences.


Basheer Plays - The Prithvi Experience - 17 Dec 2009

We performed "Sangathi Arinhya" yesterday. 6 pm and 9 pm. We had only a 35 minute break between the 2 shows. So did not even take off the costumes or make up. Just had a tea and egg sandwich. Needed the protein.

Both shows got standing ovations. The crowd was rather thin, though. Just about 50 people each show. Understandable for a weekday. However as the capacity is only 200 the hall feels comfortably full.

Shashi Kapoor came again. As we were rearranging the sets for the second show I saw Shashi Kapoor sitting alone in the auditorium. He hadn't left. So I bowed to him, joining my palms in a Namaste. A simple, sincere, salute to a veteran actor from another generation. He smiled and namste-d back. Later he sent a person to us with a simple message. "Shashi Kapoor saab asked me to tell you that he liked the play". A return salute from the veteran actor from another generation.

Mathrubhumi, Asianet, and Malayala Manorama teams came to meet us before the show and shot some excerpts from the play as well as some interviews. Manorama News is telecasting it this evening on their programme - "Sakala Kala". I think it is at 8.30 pm. They came backstage after the play and said they liked it immensely. Said they would come again today.

That's 4 shows down. 8 more to go. Need to conserve energies. The midnight walk along the beach back to the apartment after the show is a great way to relax and unwind after the high. Hope to catch at least 6 hours of sleep every day. Also need to eat carefully. The body and mind have to be kept in prime condition.

An unexpected highlight yesterday was the arrival of Rajiv's (the Director) sister, Divya. She actually flew down all the way from Tokyo just to see the play. Returned to Tokyo last night after the show.

The tension and anxiety is less now. We know the plays work. We also have an idea about what we need to improve or change. From now on the experience becomes more fun. In the process it also becomes more powerful.

Its a marvellous feeling !

Basheer Plays - The Prithvi Experience - 16 Dec 2009

The first 2 shows over. The 6 pm show had an audience of around 60 (theatre capacity is 200) and the 9 pm show had over 150. (Incidentally we had Shashi Kapoor at the 6 pm show. He said he's coming again tomorrow.) Very satisfying for the first shows on a weekday. Still more satisfying were the standing ovations for both shows. After the shows many of us walked back along the beach to the apartment. Dinner was already set, thanks to Kaveri, and after eating some have settled down for a drink.

Past midnight. 2 shows coming up tomorrow - oops - today! Different play. More actors. The group has become such a wonderful community that there is always the underlying trust that we are going to enjoy working together - those on stage as well as the invaluable performers off stage. We also know that unexpected things will inevitably happen - brilliant enhancements and value additions, the discovery of new possibilities, as well as mistakes and blunders. But then, that is the magic of theatre - the uncertainty that leads to experiences beyond expectations.

Basheer Plays - The Prithvi Experience - 15 December 2009

Yesterday the group spent the entire day at Prithvi. It was a great feeling, seeing the pictures of great plays and great actors who have performed there over the decades. Our pictures were also put up alongside.

We are staying, all together _ nearly 18 of us in a 3 bedroom apartment on the beach. This has been given to us free of cost by an actor friend who is passionate about theatre. She owns a fleet of helicopters and the spacious apartment must be worth at least 8 to 10 crores at the least. She has given it to us to use with a computer connected to the internet, music system, lots of mattresses, a stack of bedsheets and pillow covers, a well stocked fridge, and a Nepali butler who makes delicious tea and buttered toast for us in the morning. (God bless her with a thousand performances, and thunderous applause.)

The tea and buttered toast is not breakfast. Breakfast and lunch are at Prithvi and we all eat together in between the rehearsals and run-throughs. Its a wonderful community experience. It is beautiful to see the entire group sleeping all over the floor, sharing 3 washrooms without anyone having to hurry anybody up (the group has been staying together for various shows across the years and are used to each other's timings and routines), partying together in the evenings, and moving together as one unit with the underlying, overriding commitment to the performances.

The apartment is just a 10 minute walk ON THE BEACH away from Prithvi. What more could we possibly ask for? It also helps with the fitness routine. I and several others go for a walk-cum-jog on the beach around 6.30 in the morning. Here again groups club together based on shared preferences in terms of speed, distance, and direction.

Prithvi has a well stocked cafeteria - wide variety of food and beverages and very reasonably priced. Many well known people use the place to meet, plan productions, discuss theatre and other arts, or just chill out. Its got a certain ambience and you can sense that the people who come there respect the place. A special attraction is a very dignified elderly gentleman, with a grey pony-tail at the base of his shiny bald pate, who comes there religiously every evening, with a flute and a sruthi box. He sits on a parapet under a tree in one corner of the cafe, playing his flute, as some listen, some continue to chat, everyone respectfully and gratefully aware of the flute player. (May he play on for years to come).

Today is the first show day. Two shows. 6 pm and 9 pm. The tension lurks in the pit of the stomach. So won't be eating much today. Just enough to keep hunger away. It helps to have that lean feeling when the body needs to surrender to another character, a shared illusion, and 200 people who are watching every move, sharing and experiencing the dream that you and your co-actors are weaving with your physical forms and energy patterns.

Infinite magic. Profound meditation. Theatre is spirituality without the trappings and frills of 'holiness'.

Wish us luck. Wish the audience luck that they may have an unforgettable experience. Break a leg !

An excited, nervous, actor.