Monday, June 21, 2010

Final show done

A very enjoyable run of seven shows of Tughlaq has come to an end. After basking in praise from those who attended, and knowing that many more wanted to come but could not be accommodated, the cast and crew were elated and celebrated with a great party, with fun, dancing, drinks and great food. There was a sense of relief mixed with a little bit of sadness. All those days and weeks of relentless hard work and tough schedules are over and the life would be back on its old track. But what a ride it was!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Each performance is different..........

Three months of intense rehearsals - the whole goal is to get to a point where each of us can consistently deliver our character. But come performance time, you as an actor feel very different about every single show. 6 of 7 shows for TUGHLAQ are done and I have felt different after each show. So many things can affect it: Pre-show warm-up or last minute missing prop or a fumbled dialog or even a word or just that invisible / intangible something.

You tell yourself to block all the distractions out, get in the zone, don't let little (or even major) things affect you. The players psyche themselves - you see baseball pitchers talking to themselves on the mound, football (the World kind, not the American kind) getting in each other's face, Harbhajan Singh & Shoaib Akhtar throwing profanities at each other heard by the worldwide web audience.....all to get the adrenaline going, help excelling on the job, performing above and beyond any rehearsal, practice sessions they may have. That's what we do:  on the way to the performance in the car and while getting make-up done and in the pre-show warm-up and right before stepping on the stage.....then.....

.... then.... that invisible/intangible thing hits you making or breaking the performance - in YOUR mind. The audience loves them all but YOU as a performer can rank each of the performance from top to bottom. What is that thing?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sold Out !!!! The magical words a performer likes to hear

3 Shows of TUGHLAQ are coming up on Firday, Saturday and Sunday. I just got the news that we are all SOLD OUT!

Last week we had 4 shows - first 2 were sold out (Fri & Sat) but the other 2 were on Sunday and were only 75% full. It hurt to see those few empty seats. We all work so hard to put the production together - not just the actors on the stage but dozens of people behind the scenes: Sets, Props, Costumes, Make-up, Lights, Sound, Marketing, Spouses and Children whom we leave for long hours on the weekends to go to the rehearsals........all for passion, none for money.

Shouldn't every seat be filled? I think so.

So when I got the news few minutes back - I was a VERY HAPPY CAMPER! Looking forward to PERFORM!!

Friday, June 11, 2010

It's here - Opening Night!

Sentences cannot describe how I feel, so let's try a random smorgasword of words..

Excited. Nervous. Anxious. Eager. Petrified. Exhilirated. Adrenalin rush. Charged. Delirious. Energized. Giddy. Pumped. Prepped. Propped. ... good luck to cast and crew, actors and production, director and producer, lights and sound - break a leg!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

TUGHLAQ: the lights perspective

From the desk of Kamala Subramaniam
As Tughlaq embraces Giyasuddin, I am pretty sure I can see that glint in his eye which tells me he is up to something very Machiavellian. The next moment Tughlaq whirls him around to center stage where he maniacally thrusts his knife into him killing viciously. And then a few more thrusts on an already very dead Giyasuddin followed by a tilt of his head upward to depict one of India's most eccentric rulers. It is at this point that I sigh and rise up from my very comfortable position in the lights and sound booth in search of a ladder. To ensure that a slight tilt to the light above will enable every seat in the audience to witness what I just did: the cruelest cut of all which turned my blood cold causing the hair follicles to stand straight up.

Lighting also just seemed just perfect to witness the camaraderie of Aziz and Azam in the every well lit marketplace. The lightest moments of the play also turn out to be the best. Azam fooling around Aziz while Aziz throws his weight around is a must watch. And then there comes a point in a play where lights get challenging. With the same wash reduced in intensity, these two very innocous, jovial characters will make your stomach churn as they plot and execute murder. Did Azam really mean it when he asked Aziz not to kill? Why did he then run away only to come back out of the dark to hold the victim while Aziz drove the knife right in? While Azam walks into the lit stage after the kill, why is he panting in such a god-awful manner? As the lights shine on him, we will wonder if he just repenting or if he is playing us all?

From a lights perspective, Tabard is a very interesting theater. Tabard not being our home-ground like Cubberly was definitely challenging. Also, Tabard being a not-for-profit theater meant we had to hang our own lights and pretty much do everything from scratch. Tabard is also interesting in that the audience is seated in three sections across the stage leading to a lot of cross-lighting across many planes to ensure minimal shadowing in every section. With the help of Sujit and Abhishek, we confronted these challenges so that the audience will be able to witness Tughlaq's eccentricities, follies, weakness and his fears.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Hindu, Muslims, Sikhs....... we all are ONE!

Looks are deceiving. Any of us can be anybody. Look at me! In 19 days, with the facial hair, certain kind of clothing and some accessories, I suddenly change from a Hindu "looking" guy to Muslim "looking guy". Add to that some learnt mannerisms, appropriate diction/pronunciations and you are a Muslim "sounding guy". One of the actors in TUGHLAQ is a Sardar - but cut his hair long time back.....he looks like me. I didnt know he was a sardar until he told me. Aren't Sardars supposed to be "different"? Aren't Muslims supposed to be completely opposite of Hindus? I just realized the answer - NO!

Different people at different times in our existence started drawing lines, created divisions - sometimes out of necessity and sometimes purely for power - and here we are. In different shades, different beliefs, different this and different that. It's all perception. The reality is .......

....... WE ALL ARE ONE!!!!!!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Actor's Physical Transformation for a role - sort of

When the Tughlaq Makeup ladies Nitya Kansal and Jyoti Iyer asked me if I would be comfortable with getting my eyebrows reshaped into an older eyebrow style, I was quite excited. I play Tughlaq’s step-mom and we are going for a 14th century look. This meant actually changing a portion of my physical appearance. My fellow actors have been growing/shaving/shaping their facial hair for months and I was excited at the opportunity to do something new with my appearance.

Now I must admit I know nothing about makeup and eyebrows (hence I trust my Makeup Goddesses Nitya and Jyoti). Like most Indian women, I get my eyebrows threaded every 3 – 4 weeks, but I just plop myself in the salon chair, close my eyes and let the beautician do her thing. When she’s done, I scramble to find my phone to check missed calls or texts. When she asks “Okay?” I briefly glance up from my phone, nod, say Thank You, pay up and zoom off.

This time, it was different. I showed up with these pics, asked for a particular senior beautician and waited half an hour until she was ready. I carefully explained the look that was needed, she nodded and proceeded to do her thing. After asking me to stretch my skin in various directions, she threaded, she called over her peers to get their expert opinion, more threading, she called over her mom-in-law to get an opinion from “that zamaana”, more threading, then she was done. I looked up and noticed….no difference. Huh? Where was the magical transformation? Where was the 14th century look?

I met Nitya later that day and to my surprise, she said that I did look different. It was not exactly what she wanted but definitely less contemporary than before. She explained and re-explained using the Waheeda Rahman picture. Huh? By this point, the other (male) actors had gathered around the Waheeda Rahman picture and had started sighing longingly :)

Though my “physical transformation” was anti-climactic, I have learned that some things are left best up to the experts. If its good enough for the Tughlaq Makeup Goddess, its good enough for me. I'm sure it will be great for the audience - you can judge for yourself when you see the show!

Monday, June 7, 2010

तुगलक मेरी नज़रों से

तुगलक का जन्म : Summer of 2007, जब Economy down थी | Manish के पास काफी खाली वक्त हुआ करता था | काफी दिनों से गौर कर रही थी, कोई Script पढ़े जा रहे थे | फिर एक दिन जनाब ने अपने खाली दिमाग में जगी हलचल को उगल ही दिया , " यह तो बड़ा ही दिलचस्प नाटक है , मैं इसे Direct करना चाहता हूँ |" "Are you crazy?" ठीक यही अलफ़ाज थे मेरे | मैंने सोचा यह भूत भी उतर जाएगा कुछ दिनों में | फिर Cricket world cup, India trip और कुछ नाकाम house projects और मैंने सोचा भूत उतर गया | पर ...

Director का जन्म : नाटक में official पंडित का रोल तो कई बार अदा किया ही था ?मैंने पूछा ,"तुम्हे ये direction की क्या सूझी?" जबाब मिला "जब acting करते हैं तब मन में ख्याल आता है कि अगर मैं इस scene ko direct करता तो , कुछ तब्दीली करके इसका रुख बदल देता , वगैरह वगैरह

शानदार सफ़र की शुरूआत : आखिर वह दिन आ ही गया | Theater भी book हो गया |Best Producer एक साल पहले ही वादा कर चुके थे | सारे बेहतरीन Actors भी मिल गए | नाटक खानदान में कई अज़ीज़ सदस्य शामिल हुए | और तो और Manish की consulting job में traveling भी अब दम तोड रही थी जिसकी जगह conference calls ने ले ली थी | वो कहते है ना कि "जब हम किसी चीज को दिल से चाहते है तो सारी कायनात हमारा साथ देती है उसे पाने के लिए |"

अब दिल्ली दूर नहीं : जब सर पर कफ़न बांध ही लिया था तो फिर क्या था | cast aur production के तीस लोग, और, नाटक के रास्ते में आने वाली पचास रुकावटें, उन सबका सबने साथ में डटकर मुकाबला किया | गिरीश कर्नाड के लिखे उन पन्नों को आखिर एक ख़ूबसूरत अंजाम दे ही दिया |

बस चंद दिनों , चंद लम्हों में यह सफ़र एक हसीन यादगार बनकर रह जाएगा कि एक जंग उस तुगलक ने लड़ी थी और एक इस तुगलक ने | उसने अपनी आवाम को हिला कर रख दिया था, गोया कुछ ऐसा ही जूनून इधर भी है |

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Tughlaq in the 21st century.

  • The CEO announces that the company's headquarters are moving from Dublin to Delaware starting next Monday because his girlfriend fell in love with a German Shepherd not willing to move out of Delaware.
  • Another day he says, the VP of marketing will be VP of operations because it's just a job and I said so.
  • Then he sells off his most profitable business unit to the #1 rival.
  • Then he sacks his entire board of directors and announces nuns on the Board (and his company is not a church).
  • He then moves the headquarters back to Dublin when the girlfriend started missing her Irish Parakeet.
This my friends would be the modern day Tughlaq. If you want to see how the 14th century Tughlaq was, come on over and check him out. June 11-June 20th, 2010 at the Tabard Theatre, San Jose. Details at:

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Not part of Tughlaq Production? tugh laq...

Dhoop Kinare Pays off - Mogambo KHush hua!

Remember those Pakistani sitcoms from the 80’s/90’s? Tanhaiyan? Dhoop Kinare? Padosi? The crazy antics of Qabacha? Endearing Dr. Zoya? I remember sitting cross-legged on my parent’s living room floor in the afternoons and watching rerun episode after episode on video-tape. Not only was the story-line interesting, but the acting was great and the language – oh the language! I remember most of the Urdu went over my head. I had no idea what the words meant, but they sounded so magical and BEAUTIFUL and in context, I was able to follow the plot perfectly. It was a great tool in my procrastination toolbox, especially around the time of homework deadlines and board exams.

Finally, all those hours spent hearing the “KHaalis Urdu” in these TV serials has paid off as I rehearse the dialogues for Tughlaq. I am surprised that I can tell the difference between the “kh” in KHamosh and khilona, the “gh” in GHum and ghoda, the “K” in yaKeen and karela (last word not in Play). Hopefully, with our efforts, the audience will be able to hear the difference too. Even if every single Urdu word cannot be understood, the actors’ expressions, the context and the English Supertitles will help. And then, the audience can say “Shabash! Bahut KHoob! Wah - Kya KHaalis Urdu hai!”

I am now itching to YouTube Mr. India to see if Amrish Puri actually said "Mogambo KHush hua!"

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Hot Saturday for the Sets Team

A few members of the Sets team (Snigdha, Juhi, Siddharth, Soumya and myself) assembled at Harish's backyard last Saturday (June 29) to complete a few set pieces. I am attaching a few snapshots of that warm afternoon. The pictures show in turn- Siddharth covering the edges of a set-piece with terracotta color, I am installing some 14th century crude nails on the court door, , Soumya laying in an intricate design on the palace door, Snigdha putting "bark" on a tree stump I fabricated out of a planter box, and Juhi putting ornamental decoration on platform skirts.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Thoughts from Producer

The production of Tughlaq, including sets, costume and make-up was a challenge.

The sets were affected by the uniqueness of Tabard theatre. Tabard is setup like a baseball park, with the stage located at the home-plate. Our past plays such as Surya Ki Antim Kiran, and Final Solutions, performed at Cubberley in Mountain View, were on a proscenium stage, with the audience only in front of the stage. Tabard stage, on the other hand, faces the audience on three sides. That makes a set design more challenging for establishing the desired allusion. For example, while a column in Cubberly would be a facade with detailing only one side, Tabard required three sides finished. Moreover, Tabard is an intimate theatre lacking wing spaces, set/props holding areas etc. So we had to devise elaborate procedures to change sets between scenes without distraction. To illustrate, changing from a street scene to a palace scene required us to make two faced scenery-pieces which could be pivoted around

For costumes, Snigdha researched the historical books and websites to come up with unique costumes for actors. She, then, got them made in India and brought over for the play. For make-up, Nitya went through several iterations with Manish and others to come up with facial details including beards and mustaches. Some actors preferred to grow their own facial hair for the play. Others in production have similar stories to tell.

All in all, it has been a challenging and very enjoyable journey for all of us in Production.


A Naatak Newcomer’s Journey : A new reference point

When we first started practicing for Tughlaq, I was excited and enthusiastic. I was still experiencing the thrill of getting the part of Tughlaq’s Step-mom. In a narcissistic way, I think most actors enjoy this beginning part of the play process – you’ve just bagged a part, you’ve “beaten out” all the others at the auditions, the play date seems far far away, you’re meeting new people and old friends, you’re beginning to act out scenes, experiment, you’re working on your costume and makeup and anything is possible.

But two weeks from opening night, I feel different. I obsess over every scene, every line, every blocking movement, every mannerism, every projection point in the dialogue… Opening night is near, run-throughs are going on and the pressure is on. I really felt the pressure at last week’s run-through (May 26th) and could not figure out the main trigger. Of course, the approaching show-date is an obvious one. And then it hit me – the bar is raised.

Before Naatak, my reference point were non-actors – folks who are highly skilled in a lot of different fields where they could put me to shame - but not necessarily always in the field of acting.

After Naatak, my reference point is the other actors – of course, we are one team, everybody is cooperative and helpful. But come on, comparison is only human. Its not like I want to “beat them”, I try to be like them, I yearn to be like them, I aim to be like them. And when I see how far I have to go, I realize that my acting sucks.

So what’s the positive here? Well, I am also INSPIRED to be like them, I am ENCOURAGED to be like them and am also ENABLED to be like them. They observe, they give constructive feedback, they help me improve and most importantly, they spend the time to help me out.

So now I’ve established a new reference point – myself Pre Naatak. With all the help I’ve received from the Naatak actors, I will be able to act better than Manisha – Pre Naatak and “beat her”. Now, that will feel great.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Naatak Newcomer Mandar Deolalikar Speaketh

What's up with these new guys to Naatak's aversion to contributing to this blog by themselves? Are they anti-social to social media?  Now, I am writing on behalf of Mandar Deolalikar who bagged 2 roles through his kick-ass performance at the auditions. This is what he says ..........

"We are into the final stretch of the rehearsals and things are looking good! This is my first time working with Naatak and so far, I must say I am impressed. Tughlaq has a firm foundation in an eloquently written script by Girish Karnad and things are looking up! We have a team of really talented people here - from actors, to set designers, to costume, make-up artists, lights and sound engineers... All of them burning the midnight oil to bring such a succulent play to life. Hope you all like it as much as we're enjoying bringing it to you!"

Monday, May 24, 2010

Sandeep Gawai's Take on Tughlaq

(Sandeep Gawai is new to Naatak, has a small role in the play and hates all things Google....that's not going to last for too long....i am surprised he has survived so far. Anyways, I am posting for him. Yours, Rajiv Nema)
The life of Tughlaq is a life of conflict.  And not just wars and rebellions.  Because he has to face off not only the kingdoms of the south of India, but also fierce, land-hungry Mongols and the Tatars.

Girish Karnad wrote this now legendary play after India had enjoyed 17 years of self-rule without any progress of note to show for it.  He wrote a play of idealism degenerating into a murky morality when faced by practicality, of grand vision muddied and dragged through reality, of broken dreams.  Dreams that were once articulated not just by the wise who had set out on the discovery of India, but by the common people.  People, who stormed hotels and restaurants on the eve of independence which they had never dared to enter, thinking that at last that everyone was equal.

But, 1964 is a very different time from 2010.  Or is it?  The whole world is now a thick soup that boils in a cauldron owned by the megacorporations.  And the cost of cauldron is extracted in the form of bailouts and handouts and subsidies.  All pretensions of equality, fraternity, and liberty have been discarded, in favor of GDP and stock indexes.

But Tughlaq not only had to face wars and rebellions.  The greater conflict, just as in our lives, is played on the psychological battlefield.  Here's a deeply ambivalent emperor who has unshakable belief in Allah, but executes Imams because he cannot stand religious interference.  He's a loving father to his subjects whose orders cause decimation of half of them when moving across the subcontinent.  Not surprisingly, the heaviest weight on his mind is that of parricide, one of the greatest taboos.  Having killed his father to become the emperor, he can never find peace with himself.  So much so that he keeps reminding everyone around him of this act; even the guardsmen.  He hates those who accuse him of killing his father and can't stand those who are indifferent.  And in this state of mind, it's no wonder he loses his grip on reality, thus damning a rare opportunity of establishing a liberal, progressive, and visionary empire.

Run Through 5/23/2010 (19 days before the play)

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Tughlaq and Shatranj Ke Khiladi

The movie “Shatranj Ke Khiladi” was released way before my movie-watching years and I must confess I have not watched the entire thing from beginning to end. However, bits and pieces of this movie have returned to my mind often throughout the years. I have visions of sunlight seeped royal bed chambers with music in background, hookah within convenient reach, and endless rounds of Sharbat and Avadhi Kababs being served where Saeed Jaffrey and Sanjeev Kumar play game after game of Chess and devise grand (unimplemented) schemes to combat the East India Company. I imagine Shabana Azmi and Amzad Khan eating Paan and delivering perfectly enunciated lines out of the side of their Betel lined mouths. I imagine the dialogue having several onion layers, which the audience delightfully peels off one by one to reveal one diabolical plot after another.

When I first heard of this play Tughlaq, that movie was the first thing that came to my mind. I do not know how similar the play is to the actual movie, but so far, it has several similarities to my childhood memories of the movie:

  • Yes there is no Sharbat and no Avadhi Kababs involved, much to the chagrin of my palate.
  • However, there is lots of Hookah, Paan (even Supaari and Nusvaar) being consumed and passed around. Yes, the substance use is all pretend. However, who doesn’t love to hear someone speaking eloquently with a Paan filled mouth?
  • The plot is layered with several complexities which make for a tense and interesting storyline. Sultan Muhammad Bin Tughlaq is compassionate yet cruel yet childlike and eccentric. He is an innovator and a visionary, yet a fool. His step-mom in turn is fond of him, yet scared of him. Azeez is overly slimy and greedy, yet with a conscience. Shabuddin is......I could go on and on but you get the idea and it would spoil the suspense. Pretty much every character in this play has two (some even three) sides to their personality, which the actors are trying to surface for the audience.
  • Finally, and I think this is where the analogy to my version of “Shatranj Ke Khiladi” really comes through, there is no end to the diabolical Schemes and “Aha!” moments for the audience. The play provides lots of suspense, drama and double-crossing when you least expect it (the best kind of double-crossing, of course).

Play practice has definitely been fun, entertaining and inspiring. It is a great experience to be able to learn emotion, projection, modulation and of course, the all-important skill of pretending to eat Paan (hey, its tougher than you think). I look forward to the show and hope that the audience enjoys the story, suspense and idiosyncrasy of the play. Once the show is done and I have a little bit more time on my hands, I will have to put “Shatranj Ke Khiladi” on my Netflix queue and see if it matches up to what I’m sure will be a great production of Tughlaq

Video Snip-it from Shatranj Ke Khiladi

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Poster

I am artistically challenged i.e. the painting, drawing kind. But luckily NAATAK is full of people who are not and its open door policy allows immensely talented new people to join and showcase their talents. One of such talented newcomers is our new graphics artist Shveta Hora. Following is the pictorial journey of how our POSTER came together.