During the last week of April I happened to see the play Water Station directed by Shankar Venkateshwaran for Neenasam Marutirugaata 2011, at Heggodu Shivarama Karantha Ranga Mandira. Like many, I too feared before entering the hall to watch the play because I was told by a few that the play moves in slow motion. A friend’s father said, “You have to make yourself sit and watch the play for the first half an hour and then it will grip you…” But the play gripped me from the moment it began. It kept giving a different kind of experience mainly through its slow motion.
Soon after the play I had sent sms to a few friends saying that I had watched the play Water Station written by the Japanese playwright Ohto Shogo and had liked it. While sending the message I had decided to watch the play again in Udupi on the 10 of May, which I did.
As I entered the hall I told my friend Shrisha that the stage at Ravindra Mantapa, MGM, Udupi, was too small for the play and spoilt the play, because of its space, to a certain extent. Now I read in a website comments complaining about how the audiences of Udupi were made to sweat while watching the play and also how the lights almost hitting the heads of the actors was causing discomfort for the audiences too.
While I totally agree that these factors did cause ‘rasa-bhanga’ I would not say that it was the fault in the play. The problem here was with the hall, which is not a hall for theater productions. It is for seminars. So now we must be speaking of the kind of halls we have for theater productions. We must accept, while we learn from this particular production, especially, how space of the stage itself can make a difference, that having a proper stage for theater productions is important for every city/ town and that not every stage can be used for theater productions. This must also push us to have decent halls with spacious stage, in every city and town, for theater productions.
The Ranga Mandira at Heggodu is spacious and so is the stage. In that stage the characters of the play looked small and weak which added to their weariness. But the shrunken space of stage in Udupi could not make the characters look as weak and weary as the Heggodu stage could, purely because of the space. It is sad that the play, in Udupi, appeared like nothing but a gimmick through slow motion because of the shrunken space.
I had told myself that I wouldn’t write about this production because I am still wondering how to understand the play and which entry point to take to look at the play. But the discussion in a website has made me pen down my observation of the play at Heggodu and in Udupi and say that the problem in Udupi was mainly because of the stage and space.
As I said I am still trying to understand the play completely and am asking myself, “what is it in the play which made me like it so much?” The slow motion, though caused irritation to quite a few, I liked it. In place of heightening the emotions, which usually theater does, this production, in place of heightening the emotions, was deepening the emotions by its slow motion.
The play experiments not only with its movement but also with the text and the space while it doesn’t have a story a plot or a drama as such. That is why when senior friend told me that the play was a display of post-modernism explaining why he disliked the play; I told him that I do not understand what post modernism is but the play, to me, appeared close to post-dramatic because it had divorced the drama element in it and had moved with theater alone.
But then we cannot forget the complaints that Safdar Hasmi had against Badal Sircar saying Badal concentrated more on the form making content secondary and concentrated more on how to do and not what to do.
I ask myself as to what did the content of the play have to tell me? To me it was a caravan of people torn apart by history who still have the quest for life and keep walking ahead. It showcased the optimism of the will even while not staging it as triumph of the will. This too can be seen as the history of Japan which gets up strong after every blow it receives. But then did its form emerge out of its content? Or are the content and form slightly disconnected from each other?
As I make these comments, I know that the play had something more or something else than what I could grasp in two viewings. I am yet to decipher the play but still am thinking aloud in my blog. The play is still unfolding within me and I am still trying to understand the play Water Station. But there is no doubt that I enjoyed the production, at Heggodu.
[The following is the mail i wrote to a few friends based on my first viewing notes after watching the film Guernica, directed by Alain Resnais and Robert Hessens.]
This mail is to share my experience of watching GUERNICA, a short non-fiction film made by Alain Resnais and Robert Hessens.
In this film (1950) the paintings and sculpture of Picasso, made between 1902 and 1949, are used to tell the tragic story of Guernica, a city in Spain which was bombed by the Nazis in 1937, as an experiment. This horrific incident shook many and it also shook Picasso who went on to make a painting on the bombing and its destruction (pic attached). After travelling through few other paintings of Picasso, the film comes to this famous painting and concludes with a poem by Paul Eluard.
This short film (13 mins) was terrific to me because the film is constructed with only still images. These images do not move. But the cinematic tongue of camera and editing and also sound is used in such a fashion that these still images, connected till now only through its creator Picasso, get connected yet again through the filmmakers in yet another form of art, to tell a tragic story. But while constructing its own narrative the film doesn’t construct it relying completely on the narrative that the paintings and the sculpture holds. Using those images the film constructs its own narrative without making it appear like a ‘filmed painting and sculpture’ but a film made using images of painting and sculpture.
This is all i can write, as of now, though others thoughts are still unfolding in my mind. Before i go back to watching the film again and before i close this mail i have to share this with you: It seems when the painting Guernica was first exhibited a Nazi soldier came to Picasso and asked “Is it you who did the painting?” to which Picasso is said to have answered, “No. Not me, its you…”
– Samvartha ‘Sahil’
“I have to get an article published for Mother’s day,” said a friend speaking of her work as a PR. The article, as my friend said, had an advertisement touch to it for a particular brand. When my friend said so, it reminded me of an argument that a senior friend, associated closely with the right-wing politics, said few years ago. He had said, as one can expect, “This is not our culture. This is western culture. We don’t have one particular day to celebrate for our mothers. Our culture sees mother in the earth, in the nation state, in water, in food. Ours is the land which said maatra devo bhava equating mother to God…” and a lot. Saying this he made a connection to market, marketing and the celebration of these days, which made sense. The sentiments attached to mother, as my senior friend saw, was being encashed, for selling of products and this made him uncomfortable and also angry.
As I listened to my friend speak of her official duties and recollected my senior friend’s arguments there were two narratives which I remembered. One, what Shabnam Hashmi recollected in an article which went unpublished. Second one, the story from the life of Tripti Mitra, as recollected by Shamik Bandhopadhyay.
Recently ‘Tribune’ asked Shabnam Hashmi to write an article on the status of Muslim women in Gujarat. Once she gave her article they refused to publish it and said they would publish her writings some other time provided it was less controversial. In her article Shabnam begins the series of narrative with the story where a mother, during the Gujarat 2002 riots, is hiding in bushes, clutching her two children close to her chest while her elder daughter is being brutalized, stripped naked, gang raped; her breasts cut off and burnt to death. Shabnam writes, “The helplessness of the mother, the choice of being killed herself along with the two children or letting the daughter be massacred without registering a protest haunts me,” and adds “In the initial months every time I met her she kept mumbling,’ I am ashamed to be a mother; I am ashamed to be a mother’.”
Shamik Bandhopadhyay sir, while speaking at Heggodu this year, recollected an episode from the life of Tripti Mitra which was narrated to him by the artist herself in an interview. Tripti Mitra, said Shamik sir, was working as a volunteer during Bengal famine. She was cooking food and distributing it to the hungry. This experience is said to have affected her a lot and its impact on her was seen later during her performance in the play Nabanna. Once near the food camp Tripti Mitra is said to have seena lady with her children who, once saw the rice starch flowing out of the kitchen outlet ran towards it and drinking it. Her children came running after her to get some rice starch. But the mother pushed them away and continued to drink the rice starch. The children cried as they stood away in fear. After a while the mother realized what she had done and feeling ashamed started crying. Recollecting this episode tripti Mitra said Shamik Sir that the children later consoled the mother.
The world which encashes on human sentiments for business purposes is sickening but what is more painful and sickening is the way we have structured this world where within the large framework of violence we see a mother helplessly watching violence being unleashed on her daughter and a mother who gets, I use the word hesitantly, violent over her own children.
But then I ask myself, how to understand the cases of honor killings where, at times, the mother herself leads the community in killing her own daughter or a son? Is it the structure of society which has shaped the mother in such a way to believe that honour is more important and get violent over her own children? Or am I romanticizing the idea of a mother too much, as a friend of mine tells me always? Then I remember the writing of a new friend where my friend writes in the lines of ‘my mother betrayed me’ without elaborating what the story is. No, I can’t buy arguments once placed before me by my parents saying, there can be a bad son or daughter but there can’t be a bad mother. I had argued saying that one doesn’t become a mother just for having given birth to a child.
But as and when I believe that every child gives birth to a mother, I do not completely believe that biology has much to do with motherhood. This is what Anand Patwardhan once told me when I told him that I feel sad because I can never be a mother. Then Anand had told me that a teacher is also a mother. Vaidehi, I remember, once saying that there is a motherly quality in men too. Quoting the example of Gandhi and many more she had said, “It is this motherly quality which will save the world.” So the warmth of a mother makes a mother, I think I can say. This warmth is important.
We have constructed a world of violence where mothers are helpless and we, in this world, need the warmth of a mother to make us more humane and liberate us from the violence that surrounds us. And what is also important, as another senior friend of mine (Shivasunder) says, is to have a motherly affection for the world.