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.

The Stage

Just look at this theatre:
(Click on the photo once more to Zoom-In)

This is the stage at the Tabard theatre in downtown San Jose. I am thrilled to be performing my next play, TUGHLAQ, over here. I love performing this close to the audience. My best memories have been performing at The Stage in downtown San Jose, and watching Naatak's other productions presented as "Naatak-in-a-Room" at AIF (America India Foundation) MIlpitas and ICC Milpitas (the old building).

BTW, did you notice that there is bar right behind the last row. HOW COOL IS THAT?