Master Takes


By Naseeruddin Shah


The bare stage A still from Mumtazbhai Patangwale
The bare stage A still from Mumtazbhai Patangwale
Photo: Monica Dawar

In the past few years, Atul Kumar’s marvellous inventiveness and Manav Kaul’s prolific output both as writer and director are surely the most stimulating fare to come the way of discerning theatre audiences in Mumbai. Kumar’s concern seems to be with the discovery of a new theatrical idiom. His use of gibberish is as eloquent as Kaul’s crisp economical dialogue, and the watchword for both seems to be extreme austerity in their approach. In contrast to the pathetic attempts to Broadway-ise our theatre by using the ever ludicrous device of slide projections and gargantuan sets, both these directors operate on a bare stage, which funnily never seems bare with the actors on it. True theatre; no gimmickry, no creating of illusion being attempted, no accursed “fourth wall”, both these gentlemen are hip to the fact that stimulating the audience’s imagination is the real magic. Fill the stage with energy and heart, and you are home.

‘Completely actor-centric and contentdriven, the play is meticulously directed’

Kaul’s production of Mumtazbhai Patangwale is the most wonderfully staged, moving play I have seen in a long time. Completely actor-centric and contentdriven, meticulously directed and acted with verve and joy by a wonderful young cast. In the hands of these two (and not forgetting Sunil Shanbag’s ‘documentary’ theatre and Makarand Deshpande’s madness, of course) the future of experimental theatre in Mumbai seems safe.


Provoked A still from Bol
Provoked A still from Bol

Shoaib Mansoor reminds me of Kundan Shah—reclusive, loath to give expression to his off-centre perception and empathy except via celluloid. Despite unprecedented box-office success in Pakistan, Mansoor is not content to rest on his laurels or toe the line. He still feels compelled to stay small and to draw both an accurate picture of life as he sees it and his idea of how it ought to be. He makes films on subjects that draw his rightful ire, consequences be damned. In Bol, he deals with gender discrimination and goes for the jugular. The result: a dark harrowing portrait of hidebound masculine tradition masquerading as propriety and religious orthodoxy, not without a mordant humour and an unbreakably optimistic resolve. The casting is spot-on, the writing is pungent, some startling visual effects are achieved, the acting though uneven does not detract from the strength of the narrative. Not a single Indian filmmaker has examined as incisively subjects that truly matter like Khuda Kay Liye or Bol. But, hell, it took an Englishman to tell us about Gandhi! It would be no surprise if in the coming decades, truly great films were to emerge from Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar — all, at one point or another, traumatised societies (as in recent Chinese, Vietnamese and Iranian films and earlier, post-World War II Italian, French and Polish ones.) As for us, we are just too fat, happy and complacent. Bbuddah… Hoga Tera Baap is what we deserve.


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