Theater versus Theater

The National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) gives Mumbai audiences the taste of Gujarati theater by introducing Gujarati Natya Utsav.

With the commercialisation of Gujarati theater and in order to generate interest in the parallel one, Mumbai's NCPA has come up with its first-ever Gujarati theater festival.

This three day event, called as the Vasant - Gujarati Natya Utsav, is to be held from March 18 to 20. The event plans to bring to the fore the out-of-the-usual, exciting and inventive side of Gujarati theater and includes five plays along with poetry sessions, discussions and more.

Talking about the need to organise this festival, Deepa Gahlot, Head Programming (Theatre and Film) says, "We are trying to focus the theatre in different languages. After the success of Marathi theater festival organised at NCPA, we came up with this idea. We want to promote NCPA as a Gujarati friendly place."

During the round table conferen-ce to announce the event, which was held at NCPA's Little theater, the major topic of discussion was the promotion of off-beat Gujarati plays and ways to garner audiences for the same.

According to senior journalist Utpal Bhayani from a Gujarati publication, Gujarati theater is completely commercial wherein people come to enjoy, laugh and get entertained. For them, content doesn't matter. Thus, there is a strict need of introducing parallel theater such that they will take this form of art in a serious way.

Backing Utpal's thoughts, director, actress and a critic, Jyoti Vyas, said, "Checking the condition and the interest of the people towards the commercial theater, it seems it is difficult to cultivate a liking towards the off-beat theater in such a scenario." She further added that Gujarati plays are simply copied from other plays in terms of content, sets, direction and are presented to the audience, who in turn enjoy them immensely. She says, "The play Aamey Le Gaya, Tame Reh Gaya is a copy of the popular Marathi play Sahi Re Sahi, right from content to acting."

But it is not the case only in Mumbai. Even in Gujarat, the local crowd prefers dramas from Mumbai production houses. They also prefer big stars in the plays and comedy scripts.

Writer-director, Manish Parekh, who hails from Rajkot, giving a clear picture on the preferences of Gujarat's audiences, said, "In Rajkot, the audience only wants to see Mumbai plays i.e preference is more for plays coming from Mumbai production houses. Even when journalists call us to do a story on the play and learn that a play does not have big stars, there is no coverage given to it."

In order to generate interest in the off-beat plays, and to make it popular, director Kamlesh Mota has targeted the youth. He used to organise parallel theater shows at Mumbai's Bhavans College. These shows had no money involved. Lights and sets were raised for free; acting and direction was done for no cost and there were no tickets involved. Audiences got free entry to such shows. These experimental shows ran for a certain period but after a while they were called off. Explained Kamlesh, "After a while, technicians and artists turned away from showing support as they wanted money. Also, these plays had no known faces. Hence there was no support from media too. So after a while I stopped organising such shows."

While the ever-lasting debate of commercial versus parallel theater continued, the panel came to a conclusion that NCPA should conduct festivals at regular intervals with an expectation of 150 to 200 audiences. Kids should be targeted. Fresh scripts and no straight lifts of other plays should be given importance. Government should provide grants so that the ticket prices can be cut down. And there should be slots in the Gujarati media, be it in broadcast or print, to promote theater.

This three day event will host five plays at the Tata Theater and NCPA. The tickets rage from Rs 375 to Rs 150 for members and between Rs 200 to Rs 500 for the public.

Plays at Vasant - Gujarati Natya Utsav

*Vishwamanvi: Umashankar Joshi - Directed by Manish Parekh, it is a two-act musical play and is based on the life and works of Umashan-kar Joshi, a renowned Gujarati poet, scholar and writer. This play is to commemorate his birth centenary year.

* Sutarfeni - It is a fantasy woven around a lovable old man, a pet sparrow and a family of mice that is visited by a fairy. This play is targeted for kids and aims at encouraging joy and optimism in children.

* Apurva Avsar - It is based on the biography and work of Shrimad Rajchandra, a recognised Jain sage of modern times. It also portrays how Jainism has made an immense and significant contribution to Indian heritage, religion, literature and philosophy.

* Bhabhu Retire Thai Chhe - It is a hilarious journey that demonstrates Gujarati theater's past, present and future.

* Koi Bheethe Thi Aayna Uttaro - This play revolves around the story of a man whose brain is transplanted. His mind and intelligence belong to someone else and he starts thinking and living like his donor.

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