Tag Archives: theatre

Silicon Valley’s South Asian Theater Weaves Women’s Narratives into Performance

Women in performance art are playing a pivotal role in crafting compelling cultural narratives, whether in the roles of founders, directors, costume designers, set managers, or music directors, they are increasingly helming the process of creation, rather than jumping into something already created.  

This new positive and empowering image of women is what you will see in EnActe Arts’ latest initiative WEFT (Women EnActe for themselves). A brave space for women, it presents writers to exercise their craft under the guidance of qualified mentors. Women may make up 50% of the population, but the representation of women in the Arts hovers between 16% to 20% globally, and EnActe is doing its bit to redress the balance. Launched last year, WEFT is a fellowship program offering female-identifying writers a space in which to work under the guidance of a global, incredibly talented group of mentors to craft their stories, workshop them with professional talent and produce them under the EnActe banner. Mentors for the program include such seasoned artists as Anita Ratnam, Patty Gallagher, Susan McCully and Roberta Katz.

This week Reena Kapoor, EnActe’s first WEFT Fellow, opens a showcase of the four pieces she has written and produced through WEFT. Kapoor was born and raised in mostly urban India. “And while I have been gone from India for over 30 years, growing up there in the 70s and 80s was formative. It is a culture, a way of life, a social metaphysics that is not easily erased. Ironically while India, especially in the metros, has changed and moved on, the Indian diaspora I have encountered here continues to reenact much of what I had hoped was left behind. In fact, in some ways the diaspora holds on even tighter to all that is Indian – good, bad, and ugly,” says Kapoor. 

Her stories are informed by what she saw, and grew up within her own extended family and among friends–even in social circles that professed modernity. Kapoor says her story inspiration came from her “surprise, and often disappointment, at the rigid and less desirable attitudes that the Indian diaspora continues to abide by here. Women are expected to occupy, and often submitting to, prescribed roles, dictated by stricture and double standards that deserve to be rejected; and women repeatedly asked to sublimate their own desires and self-respect in service of meaningless tradition.”

The first play she wrote from this vantage is Art Of The Possible and is a somewhat humorous look at a situation where a young woman decides she can no longer sustain a marriage with her “perfect” husband and worse she cannot come up with a “good” enough reason why. What is she to do? 

Bollywood Rules: For Women is a rather tongue-in-cheek rap song about the inherent patriarchy in Indian films, starring a host of aspiring Bay Area talent – from professional actors to Arts Council members. Highlighting the “double standards for women that Bollywood films have long embraced. I do not wholly blame Bollywood; in my view, it reflects and yes, perhaps amplifies, what we hold dear. But we can protest, and powerfully mock it and hopefully, as a result, dismiss its focus and amplification,” adds Kapoor.

Art Of The Possible, a 45-minute play, explores the beautiful relationship between a nervous mother and a determined daughter as she plans to walk away from a marriage, not because there is anything wrong with either partner, but because she wants other things out of life. The play stars Anita Ratnam from Chennai, Shubhangi Kuchbhotla from Baltimore, Sreejith Nair from LA, and Anususya Rao from Bay Area.

Burned is a deeply resilient response by the victim of an acid attack, addressed to her attacker, in which she finds the courage to live to the fullest the life he has attempted to rob her of. Starring Yeshaswini Channaiah from Bangalore. 

Oasis is an epistolary piece that traces the thoughts and memories of a child abandoned by an abusive father as she navigates through childhood and adolescence and reaches precarious adulthood.

The narrative that weaves through all of Kapoor’s work is that of urgency. “My character is a woman of Indian origin who finds herself in a situation that was visited upon her and in which she suffers. But she doesn’t succumb to a narrative of victimhood and instead reclaims her voice and life. Her savior is not out there but within. She suffers — and yet SHE rises!” 

While WEFT is a dedicated space for the feminine lens, other EnActe initiatives explore female relationships too. As physical interaction shuts down in the new reality of the pandemic, the world has moved to virtual communication, opening up avenues of global collaboration amongst artists not possible before. In a bid to capture this COVID-dictated reality, and to provide a platform for artists to stay engaged and collaborate internationally, EnActe Arts, USA and Rage Productions, India launched a Festival of New Plays by accomplished and aspiring playwrights on the subject of love, life, and family in the pandemic-altered reality of today.

The second play in this series How It Happens, opening April 30th, explores the shifts in the relationship between two former high school friends connected by a dark past. Set against lockdown despair of the raging pandemic, a positivity influencer accuses an essayist of adolescent bullying, a story that burns through social media, destroying the fragile trust between COVID infected friends. Written by the Bangalore-based playwright Deepika Arwind and played by Bay Area’s Roshni Dutt and Sonia Balsara. 

More Info About WEFT:

WEFT(Women EnActe for Themselves)  is a program designed to support women writers writing on women’s issues to take their nascent stories to completion, and work with a sisterhood of creatives to bring those stories to life as a performative art, first presented by EnActe.

In this program women writers research, create and write stories that are pertinent to women, and bring these stories to life in theatrical performances that can reach audiences in meaningful, resonant, and entertaining ways.

The program works as follows: 

Phase 1: Ideation & Research

Phase 2: Story/scriptwriting through workshops

Phase 3: Script/story development as a performance piece

Phase 4: preparation of the piece(s) as a live presentation workshop

Phase 5: Event creation & rehearsals

Phase 6: Premiere Performance

Bollywood Rules For Women & Art of The Possible

Sat, Apr 10

5:00 pm PST, 8 pm EST, 5.30 am (Apr 11th) IST

Pay What you Can Tickets: $0-$25

Burned & Oasis

Sun, April 25

10:00 am PST, 1 pm EST, 10.30 pm IST

Pay What you Can Tickets: $0-$25

How It Happens by Deepika Arwind

Fri, April 30, 8 pm PST  

Sat, May 1, 5 pm PST

Sun, May 2, 4 pm  PST

Tickets: $15 – $100

Pay-it-Forward All-Access Pass for the entire 2021 Season:

https://enacte.org/seasonpass/


Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter and LinkedIn for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor, her experience spans television, cable news, and magazines. An avid traveler and foodie, she loves artisan food and finding hidden gems: restaurants, recipes, destinations. She can be reached at: mona@indiacurrents.com


 

Unlocked: Eight Monologues. One Lockdown

The lockdown has affected us in different ways – introspective, illuminating, irritating, igniting, isolating. Needless to say, we’ll never be the same again. So, why not combine theatre with technology and capture our lives during the lockdown. EnActe Arts attempts to do just that by bringing together India’s finest actors, most talented playwrights, and some of our best-known directors. 

They, through their diverse stories, give us a tongue-in-cheek perspective on how 150 days of solitude shaped their lives. The eight monologues in Hindi and English vary from the hilarious to the heartwarming, from eureka moments to experiential thoughts. From conversations to unseen companions to stream of consciousness bursts of solo thought.

Enjoy the ride and stay for the talkbacks!

THE MONOLOGUES (All times PST)

  • Fri Jan 8 – 5:30 p.m. 8:30 p.m.
    Sat Jan 9 – 5:30 p.m.
    Sun Jan 10 – 5:30 p..m
    Tickets: $15 
  • For Age: 16+
  • Language: English & Hindi
  • Duration: 90 min (with interval)

AAWAZEIN (Hindi)

Written by Purva Naresh; directed by Rajit Kapur; performed by Seema Biswas

A concerned mother tries to reach out to her daughter in a big city. 

BRAND NEW WORLD (English) 

Written by Adhir Bhat; directed by Q; performed by Veronica Gautam

A hospital intern tries to explain the meaning of lockdown to a patient just out of a coma.

CHAMGAADAD KA INTEQAAM (Hindi) 

Written & performed by Raghav Dutt; directed by Sukant Goel

As Lockdown 1.0 begins, forced to stay back in the madarsa, a young, wayward boy finds his own way to battle both, the pandemic and his fear.

HAAN NANDUBHAI (English)

Written by Rahul da Cunha; directed by Gurleen Judge; performed by Aahana Kumra

A young actress, trapped inside her Goregaon flat feels the effects of the lockdown, her lack of starring roles and pangs of loneliness.

HAWALDAR HAWA SINGH HAAZIR HAI! (Hindi) 

Written by Ashok Mishra; directed by Rajit Kapur; performed by Gagan Dev Riar

An exasperated Hawaldar tries hard to convince people to stay at home.

I’M LOBO LOBO, MEN (English)

Written by Rahul da Cunha, directed by Nadir Khan, performed by Joy Fernandes

A satellite cable repair guy visits the home of a very fussy, CoVid- paranoid couple during lockdown, with hilarious consequences.

MIDDLE CLASS (Hindi)

Written & performed by Hussain Dalal; directed by Akarsh Khurana

A Corona warrior shares his experience as a compounder in a quarantine center and the friendships he made there that changed his life. 

RAASHAN (Hindi)

Written by Abhishek Majumdar; directed by Anand Tiwari; performed by Rajit Kapur 

An upper middle-class man visits the slum in his area to borrow alcohol from his friend.  The piece deals with the relative value of hunger, thirst, and poetry.


Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter and LinkedIn for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor, her experience spans television, cable news, and magazines. An avid traveler and foodie, she loves artisan food and finding hidden gems: restaurants, recipes, destinations. She can be reached at: mona@indiacurrents.com

A Play on Nehru’s Letters to His Daughter From Prison

In 1928, Jawaharlal Nehru was put in an Allahabad jail during India’s freedom struggle. That summer he started writing letters to his 10-year old daughter, Indira, who was in Mussoorie at the time. In the first series of letters, Book of Nature, he told her the story of how and when the earth was made, how human and animal life began, and how civilizations and societies evolved all over the world. In subsequent letters, he speaks to his daughter on a wide range of topics, including languages, trade, history, geography, science, epics, and evolution.

When Indira was about to turn 13, Nehru started sending her more detailed letters. These letters contained his understanding of the world, his deep commitment to building not only the country’s future, but also his daughter’s as he carefully and sometimes lyrically opens up the world to her from afar, and sets the groundwork for her own ambitious emergence on the world stage years later.

Bringing this rich content to life is Bay Area-based, EnActe Arts with a virtual adaptation of Lavonne Mueller’s Letters to a Daughter from Prison. The original play made its debut in 1988 during the first International Festival of the Arts in New York City before going on to tour India. It has been adapted for this production by Deesh Mariwala (Director), Denzil Smith, and Vinita Sud Belani (Founder and Artistic Director of EnActe Arts). 

Set against the backdrop of the freedom struggle and Gandhi’s non-violent protests, the play reveals the richness of the father-daughter relationship in the formative years, before her eventual emergence on the world stage, as Indira Gandhi.  

The playwright was inspired to write the story because Nehru, the statesman, was being continually separated from his shy, intellectual daughter due to the turmoil that came with the freeing and building of the world’s largest democracy. “They forged the bonds of a loving, nurturing and formative relationship through their detailed, prolific letters to each other. I felt compelled to write this story because I could not find a parallel in the Western world of a statesman father who nurtured his daughter in such a way.” 

The play’s director Deesh Mariwala: “Funnily enough what started as a delving into the lives of two Prime Ministers who shaped the land I grew up in, has become a warm, companionable relationship with two people I have never met, but now feel I know almost intimately.”

“We could not have picked a play more en point for our times and our audiences,” says EnActe Artistic Director Belani. “In a time when conversation is rife on gender roles, and female representation, when the U.S. may possibly have their first female Vice President (with part Indian origins) in the White House, and when the Gandhian style of non-violent protest espoused by Martin Luther King is being reprised in so many countries, the relevance of this play to audiences young and old is unarguable.” 
 
“Assaying the role of Indira across the decades would of course be exhilarating for any actor” says Belani “but it’s also intimidating – hugely so! Portraying a real person requires a commitment to their authenticity, and Indira was not just any person – she was the female Prime Minister of the largest democracy in the world for decades.” 
 
“This project is profoundly personal for all four of us,” says Belani. Take Denzil’s relationship with Nehru – he has played Nehru in this play and in other films before; he has also played Nehru’s friend Jinnah. His appreciation of Nehru’s character is deep. Deesh’s family has been a part of the freedom fight with Nehru; he co-wrote a series on the family that got pulled in the 2008 financial crisis. Raashina’s grandfather was a freedom fighter too. I was born in the mid-sixties in Kolkata and my formative years from the mid-sixties to the mid-eighties were influenced almost solely by two incredible women – Indira Gandhi at the helm of the country, and Mother Teresa on the ground. I met Indira once, in person. I still have her autograph! All of my female peers ended up strong, successful career women at the helm of their organizations.”  

What: EnActe Arts Presents Letters to a Daughter From Prison
When: October 23-25 
Time: October 23, 8:30 p.m.; October 24, 5 p.m.; October 25, 7:30 a.m. & 12 p.m. 
Where: Will stream via Zoom
Tickets: $15.00; they can be purchased HERE

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/letters-to-a-daughter-from-prison-tickets-118689983937


Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter, Facebook for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor, her experience spans television, cable news, and magazines. 

 

Gandhi by Naatak: the Man Behind the Legend

“No man’s life can be encompassed in one telling. There is no way to give each year its allotted weight, to include each event, each person who helped to shape a lifetime. What can be done is to be faithful in spirit to the record and try and find one’s way to the heart of the man…”

Thus begins Richard Attenborough’s epic 1982 film Gandhi with the extraordinary Ben Kingsley as Gandhi. The much-lauded film, a deeply moving homage, was made by an Englishman, for an international audience. Every word spoken in that film is in English. Even Gandhi’s unforgettable words on being shot, “He Ram!” known to every Indian, are spoken as “Oh God!” in the film.

In pleasing contrast, Naatak’s play, Gandhi, musical theater in the tradition of Naatak’s own “Mahabharat,” is multilingual, capturing India’s vibrancy in its many tongues. Hindi, Gujarati, Tamil are spoken, Bengali is sung along with Hindi and Gujarati, and we even see a couple of signs in Malayalam. Supertitles in English make the languages accessible to all. I watched it on September 20 at the Cubberley auditorium in Palo Alto.

In writer and director Sujit Saraf’s telling, the story begins with Mahatma Gandhi‘s journey to England, where he went to study law.

He returned to Bombay as a barrister, and after an unsuccessful 2-year stint, left for Durban, South Africa for work. Armed with his legal degree, he successfully represented oppressed Indian laborers, and gained stature and respect, both in South Africa, and in India. On returning to India as a well-known figure, he took on his historic role in India’s independence movement, transforming in time to “the little brown man in a loincloth who led his country to freedom” in the words of American broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow at Gandhi’s funeral.

Attenborough’s film has been criticized by some as hagiography. as it unquestionably and admiringly portrays the saintly qualities of the man. Gandhi also had his eccentricities and odd, extreme behaviors. Sujit Saraf’s telling paints a more balanced portrait of the man, with his idiosyncrasies. He was not born, after all, as the Father of the Nation. In a few clever scenes, Naatak shows Gandhi’s foibles. He stops drinking cow’s milk, believing that the milk meant for calves is taken forcibly from a mother. When asked why it was OK to drink goat’s milk, and why he didn’t have the same reservations, he smiles and shrugs.

Then, the experiments with celibacy. As asked in the play, “Shouldn’t his wife have a say in the matter?” The play shows his early life and career in great detail, and humanizes the legend. Listen to more about this portrayal at KQED radio, where Sujit Saraf spoke with Michael Krasny on Forum earlier this month.

Naatak presents with fitting respect, Gandhi’s coining the term Satyagraha, the force of truth: the term for peaceful protests and civil resistance that are among his greatest contributions to society. Gandhi emerges as a man of conviction, a believer in fairness and justice, a calm, skilled negotiator in the face of racist opposition.

What runs most deeply through the play, as in his life, is Gandhi’s deep desire to unite Hindus and Muslims. On being told that “there is too much bad blood” in Noakhali, Bangladesh, he responded movingly “It is the same blood, good or bad.”

One of the most egregious and dishonorable attacks by Britain on Indian soil, the massacre of Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, is depicted with tremendous artistry and power. As General Dyer commands his troops “Take your positions!” and continues with “Fire!”, the dancers fall to the ground, one by one, until none are standing. This, for me, was the most powerful scene in the play.

It was on the anniversary of this day that Gandhi planned to peacefully protest British oppression by marching to the coastline and making salt from the Indian Ocean. With civil resistance, he broke the British resolve.

In addition to NehruJinnahMaulana Azad, and Sardar Patel, Naatak’s play is inclusive of more of the major historical figures and freedom fighters of the time:  Bhagat SinghRabindranath TagoreSarojini Naidu, and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.  Soon after Tagore appears, we hear one of his most famous patriotic songs “Ekla Chalo Re” (“If no one comes when you call, then go on alone”).

Then independence and the bloodbath following Partition, was shown with a stage lit in blood-red.

The play ends with Gandhi’s assassination, the shock of the nation and the heartbreak of his loss permeating the audience. He fell to the volatile religious sentiment and animosity that he worked so hard to quench.

The play focuses much time on the making of the man. I wondered if a trade-off could have been made with more time devoted to the independence movement.

The acting overall is impressive and moving, even though some attempts to show his culture shock when he arrived in England to study law, being taught how to dance and play the violin, were a little slapstick.

The set is made of newspaper reports from Gandhi’s times: a period of extraordinary historic importance, World War II, India’s independence and Partition. The mood and import of the scenes are accentuated by the changing lighting that one sees through the set pieces.

The inclusion of live music and dance continues to enrich Naatak’s impressive productions. The dances are colorful and engaging, complementing the seriousness of the lyrics, set in South Africa in the early 19th century, and pre-Independence India. The music was extraordinary. Music director Nachiketa Yakkundi and his troupe are jewels at the edge of the stage.

Performances continue for the next two weekends, with a special performance on Oct 2, 2019, the 150th anniversary of Gandhi’s birth. Tickets are available (if any are left!) at www.naatak.org.

This article was originally published at www.rajiwrites.com and is included here with permission.

This article was edited by Culture and Media Editor Geetika Pathania Jain, Ph.D.

Cover photo credit: Kyle Adler