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For Sudesh Sharma, this time of the year is always special. Each year, January infuses him with a fresh spirit to stage the seven-day-long Winter National Theatre Festival. "This is the seventh edition of the festival, which is an endeavour to give the people of Chandigarh a chance to view varied work of directors from across India," says Sharma.
Along with a bunch of like-minded theatre enthusiasts, Sharma started Theatre For Theatre (TFT) in 1999. Five years later, TFT hosted the first winter festival with three local plays. The journey has seen many challenges, but the audience has grown every year. The festival is now supported by the Ministry of Culture, Haryana, and the Department of Cultural Affairs, Chandigarh.
"The biggest high is that the audience is now open and receptive to experiments and off-beat themes," says Sharma.
Starting January 24, this year's edition opens with TFT's production, Tri Yatra, directed by Sharma, a dramatisation of three stories written by Chandigarh-based writers Madan Rakesh, Madan Lal Spatu and Moini. These stories explore the common theme of old age and its ensuing problems.
There will also be the nautanki ó an old form of folk theatre where men narrate the story of women, dressed as women. Directed by Tripurari Sharma, Roop Aroop is the story of nautanki actor, Chandra Roop, wherein the female character of Roopmati will be played by Delhi-based award-winning theatre actor, Happy Ranajit. "Gradually, Chandra Roop realises that he loves becoming Roopmati and cannot bear to lose her," says Ranajit about his role.
Varied themes and treatments by a range of directors is the hallmark of the festival, and Sharma says that the selection is done keeping in mind that the audience always enjoys varied subjects. For instance, the play Hum Tum is based on Arbuzov's Original Russian Play, Old World. Directed by Suresh Bhardwaj of the Aks Group, it is the story of Sarita Hazarika, who is in a sanatorium, but according to Dr Singh, the head of sanatorium, there is hardly anything wrong with her physically. Her unpredictable ways, funny ideas and impulsive actions have completely upturned his familiar, orderly world.