Back To The Theatre

Pritam Roy

After almost an eight-month lull, the theatres in Mumbai opened their doors to the audience once again in November, 2020. It was part of the gradual unlocking of economic activities post the pandemic induced lockdown. I was dying to get back to Prithvi Theatre, my favourite place for plays in Mumbai. Motley's EINSTEIN with Naseeruddin Shah as the protagonist was the first play which caught my attention. I read Naseeruddin Shah's interview in the newspapers, that as a performer, he was experiencing withdrawal symptoms for not being able to perform on stage during the lockdown period.

As an audience, I was probably experiencing a similar kind of reaction for not being able to sit on the other side. However, I had already watched EINSTEIN, so NOTHING LIKE LEAR, a solo act with Vinay Pathak, directed by Rajat Kapoor was the next on my list. A ticket was quickly purchased on BookMyShow for December 6, Sunday 6pm show and the countdown started.

I wasn't really apprehensive about watching a play during this global pandemic. After all, we have resumed most of our regular activities with an extra degree of caution. Why should theatres be any different? Outside the gate of Janki Kutir, Kutir, where Prithvi Theatre is located, I was stopped by a guy, who was taking reservations for Prithvi Café. He was there to ensure, that people don't crowd the café. I was told that, there aren't any tables available for the next hour or so. I told him, that I was there to watch a play and not for the café. But I felt reassured by his presence and the arrangement. Also, I realized that getting a table at Prithvi Café is always going to be a challenge, a pandemic notwithstanding. The café was full, though some tables have been blocked to ensure social distancing. I bought a chicken croissant and sat down on one of the benches which line up as the queue to the entrance. The middle section of benches was marked with a cross to ensure, people don't crowd them. I noticed that during the lockdown the family of cats at Prithvi has definitely grown and the place was literally overrun with them. They were emerging from all corners, while some of them preferred just casually lying on the steps and observing the proceedings.

Closer to the start time, the gathered audience in the queue was split up and some were moved to the other gate, at the rear end of the café, which usually serves as an exit. I was part of that group. As the bell rang, the security allowed us to enter the theatre, two at a time. Once inside, there was another security person who was handing out separators to be placed on the seat next to us. This ensured that there was adequate free space on both sides and gap between members of the audience (mostly young with a few middle-aged faces amidst them) as we took our seats. After the final bell, the lights were dimmed and Vinay Pathak took the stage. In addition to the customary, ‘switch off your mobile phone' announcement, we were also asked to keep our masks on at all times. Probably, this is going to be a part of the new normal at the theatres for a while. The theatre was a bit less than half full with all the social distancing norms in place. I was enthralled with Vinay Pathak's performance. And, from the audience reaction, it seemed that everyone else enjoyed the play as well, or may be, they were just happy to be back at the theatres like me. As I walked out of Prithvi Theatre, I was already thinking about the next play to watch.

*Pritam Roy loves movies and plays, in no particular order.

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