Theatre Speaks

Pratima Kulkarni
Writer, Director
[English and Marathi Theatre ]
Pratima KulkarniWhich is the last best play you saw?

ILHAM by Manav Kaul: for its out-of-the-ordinary content and superlative performance by Kumud Mishra. ILHAM is not the kind of play which speaks about any day-to-day experience. It is about an exclusive, almost unique experience and yet it is portrayed poignantly. It appealed to me deeply.

Your favourite 'adda' to see a play

Used to be Chhabildas School. Probably because that is where I began as a theatre worker, and spent some of the happiest days of my life. No other venue has quite taken the place of Chhabildas in my heart. Also, the old Ravindra Natya Mandir, especially during the State Competition days. But I am talking about things 40 years ago!

Your favourite playwright

Jaywant Dalvi. For the sheer soul of his characters. Dalvi was not a writer well-known for his craft. His characters descend deeply into our hearts and live there forever.

Your favourite play-character

Hamidabai from HAMIDABAICHI KOTHI by Anil Barve. She belongs to another world, with another set of values. She is highly spiritual in her perspective of art and life; even ready to sacrifice everything. For her, her art is god.

A play you would like to see filmed. Why?

HAMIDABAICHI KOTHI again. It lends itself beautifully to a screen subject, has larger-than-life characters. Vjayabai's (Vijaya Mehta) production had music by Bhaskar Chandavarkar, which was haunting to say the least. The subject is a strange mixture of romanticism and decadence. It is an end-of-an-era subject, which is heart rending, yet beautiful.

A novel/short story you would like to see on stage? Why?

Novel: 'Dev Chalale' by Di. Ba. Mokashi. I have made it myself for the small screen. It is a moment caught in history where a joint family is breaking up. The last brick falls when different members of the family converge into the ancestral home and move the family deity out. As they carry the deity out, that is a moment where they are all going to go apart. Characters are beautifully etched. In a short span of about a few pages, the entire history, tradition of that family, and the social milieu is brought out beautifully and very effectively, with a lot of insight and depth.

The most hilarious play you have seen

ALA ADANYACHA GAADA, a children's play by Awishkar. Great performances by Nana Patekar, Bapu Kamerkar, Ramnath Tharwal. Again, about 35 years ago!

A play which is over-hyped

There are so many! CHAR CHOUGHI, AAI RETIRE HOTEY... but these are just a few names... These are in Marathi, but I'm sure there are many in Hindi too... and in other languages for that matter!

An important play (but ignored)

WADA CHIREBANDI, written by Mahesh Elkunchwar, and directed by Vijaya Mehta in 1985. Later it was celebrated as the first of a trilogy of plays. But when it was first staged, it was largely ignored. For me, it is one of the most important plays written in Marathi. Once again, like HAMIDABAI...it is an end-of-an-era play. A sad tale of people who cannot come to terms with the changing times.

HAMIDABAI ends with a bang. WADA... ends with a whimper.

A play character you would like to ''dialogue'' with

Hamidabai again. For the same reasons that I value the play.

A passage from an important play that you can recite

Not really. But I vividly remember Alekar's lines in both MAHANIRVAN and MAHAPUR, and of course HAMIDABAICHI KOTHI, from BARRISTER and other plays

A classical play that you should have read

CHERRY ORCHARD by Anton Chekov and A DOLL'S HOUSE by Henrik Ibsen

A play that changed your perception about theatre

KATYAR KALJAT GHUSLI by Purushottam Darvekar.

How do you regard the Mumbai Theatre scene?

Highly vibrant.

Have you read any interesying books/articles concerning the theatre? Why did you find them interesting?

Book- 'Tyanchi Natake' by Vijay Kenkre. In that book he has written in great detail about some of the great and not-so-great plays on Broadway, off-Broadway, Off-off Broadway and West End and National Theatre. In fact that book changed my perception about theatre to a great extent.

If you have ever been a part of a theatre production/s, can you recall an event that was insightful, significant or simply humorous?

I'm afraid this will have to be a rather long answer. I directed a play SURYACHI PILLE in 2010 for the Project Herbarium. It was a project of reviving five plays of the Marathi Theatre from the golden era. Surya in that play is a freedom fighter long dead and the pille are his sons and self-proclaimed heirs to his legacy. That play opens with two of the sons waiting impatiently for people to gather for a meeting to commemorate his death anniversary. That scene is supposed to open on a certain high note and the play takes off from there. By the way it is a sad tale told in a light-hearted humorous vein, with never a dull moment. In one of the shows, for some reason, one character decided to 'enter' after the curtain had gone up. I happened to be present at that show and the actor did tell me that he plans to 'enter' instead of already being on stage. I didn't see any problem so I gave my consent. When the play started, it started on a very dull note and the first scene never took off. I realised that just one person 'entering' has set back the scene by about 20 minutes and the characters did not get enough time to get impatient and high-pitched. So, once more I learnt NEVER to allow any change without rehearsing and finding out what it entails. Now my favourite line to all my actors and technicians is- no theory, show me the practical. Don't talk, show me!!

Can you think of a foreign production that you found remarkable? Why?

KING LEAR at the National Theatre, London. They had dressed Lear and others in modern-day clothes and Lear showed a clear psychological decline with accompanying symptoms. Technically, the sets, the rain were all beautiful. The rain brought out Lear's pathos very poignantly.

Your favourite director/actor/music or set designer

Favourite director: Vijaya Mehta

Actor: Mohan Joshi

Music: Jitendra Abhisheki

A significant Indian production that you may have witnessed

Cannot talk about any one particular play.

Life in the theatre without the humble batata-wada or the cutting chai... or can you recall the best gastronomic experience you've had in the precincts of the theatre to date?

I am not much fond of wadas. What I really like is the cheese sandwich at the NCPA with coffee.

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