Sunday, 30 December 2012

As you like it (as long as it's in Georgian)

I don't pick out the finer nuances in dialogue delivery, body language, voice modulation, language, diction etc. I can't quote dialogues. I don't notice the detailing in the stage props, lighting and sound effects. I am not an intellectual although I like to think otherwise. The truth is, at worst I am a pseudo intellectual and at best I enjoy watching theater. I am not even sure if I have placed the comma at the right place in the previous sentence. I also confess that I have to fight the urge to wear a kurta every time I go out to watch a play.

Until recently, I used to think the only reason Shakespeare's plays continued to be staged was for the pompous value that actors got from delivering those oft-quoted quotable quotes. The plays have been rehashed, remade, Indianised, Malayalilised, Wodehouseised etc. to no longer hold any novelty value for me. The only reason that I wanted to watch the performance of Marjanishvili Theatre's version of 'As you like it' (Rogorts Genebot in Georgian) was for the '(pseudo)intellectual quotient' I would gain by going around telling people that I watched a Georgian play with English subtitles.

So one Sunday morning in early November, we woke up and got ourselves to Ranga Shankara to watch the performance of a Georgian troupe without quite knowing how the subtitles will appear. I was thinking there would be some guy holding charts/placards in front of the stage. It turned out to be a boring projection of a PPT slideshow. The subtitles were more like subtexts but they really didn't matter. At some points during the performance the slides were wrong and they were either changed late or the person handling the PPT slide show ended up jumping slides. Like I said, it really didn't matter.

Within a matter of seconds, the stage at Ranga Shankara turned into another stage. There was a play within a play. As you like it was being played out by the Marjanishvili Theatre on a mini-stage and the rest of the Ranga Shankara stage turned out to be the backstage of the mini-stage. I wish I had a better picture that could explain the mess of the previous statements than the photo below that came up first in Google. But I think this Guardian review has done a better job - "Its conception of Arden is of a small, makeshift stage – theatre within theatre. Throughout, you see the cast offstage: their camaraderie, chess games, squabbles, vanities. It's charming but also fitting..."


All the action that happens backstage happens on stage and you really lose track of the slide show with the subtexts. There are cast members hiding behind cupboards and making out. One actor having a dialogue coach prompting him throughout. Stunt dummies used for a fight sequence. Dry autumn leaves falling on stage. A fish doll prop being thrown on to the stage followed by a pair of boots. Cast members mimicking bird sounds and singing the background score and providing the sound effects. In between all of this, 'As you like it' is played out in its entirety (or so I think because a.It was in Georgian and b.I haven't read it yet). I didn't know the famous line "All the world's a stage" was from this play. After finding out that the line was from this play I could understand why the Guardian reviewer called the play within play treatment fitting. When you have a stage on a stage and an actor spouting those words - All the world's a stage - the setting reiterates the line. Now that I think of it, I am not even sure where the line came during the whole performance but what a performance it was!

The music was super. The cast was animated, energetic and brilliant! The lady who played the role of Celia was extremely pretty! It was, by far, my most memorable theater watching experience. Evam's rendition of '39 Steps' comes close in terms of energy but it did have its flaws. I couldn't pick out a single flaw in Marjanishvili Theatre's performance (maybe because of the fact that I don't know Georgian). There was the bungling up of the subtitle PPT slides but the slide show, like I have mentioned before, really didn't matter.

At the end of the performance, probably the only thing that had me flummoxed was how on earth did the person sitting next to me manage to fall asleep during some parts of the play.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

On the search for a Goddess in God's own country.

She. With freshly washed, moist tresses glistening with the shine of coconut oil. Fair in complexion, a pearly white smile adorning her face. A small stroke of sandalwood paste smeared across her forehead and the hint more sandalwood peeping out of her neck. She. The one with the golden bordered ivory coloured blouse and pavada (a long skirt for the uninitiated) or, on those special occasions, if one gets especially lucky  dressed in traditional white saree with the gold border blouse. She. A divine vision!

A vision that has been sighted more often in the recent past. Thanks to e-mail forwards from gratification starved male IT friends seeking divine intervention in their daily mundane routines.

A weekend trip to Kerala beckoned and it had all the likely sighting spots conveniently ticked off. The largest city in Kerala, the famous backwaters, a houseboat ride, an unplanned halt at a toddy shop (maybe not quite the best spot for a goddess to appear), temples and last but not the least - a traditional Malayali Nair wedding. I was quietly confident that this trip to Kerala should help me see the Goddess in all her glory. My trips to Kerala in the more recent past has been restricted to jaunts in forests, where one finds it hard to spot tigers and other animals. Forget goddesses.

The search started off on an auspicious enough note - Ambalapuzha Temple. The temple had enough and more to keep a tourist interested. Traditional architecture and truck loads of legends and myths associated with it. A poet who changed the course of Malayalam literature and culture.  A legendary Payasam, which suppposedly - as most of these legends tend to be - tasted a lot better and cost a lot lesser when my parents were my age. Nothing tastes better than nostalgia.

The temple even has a rather auspicious annual food fight. One of those days many years back, the lord decided to leave his sanctum and start serving food to the people in the dining hall of the temple. When someone spotted the God (a version of Krishna) serving he started chasing him. This led to much chaos in the dining hall and in order to keep that memory alive they decided to have an annual food fight. (Watch from 1:50 of the video below to see what I mean)

Note to self - Make sure to try to come to the temple in the night the next time around. The view of the temple from across the temple tank is brilliant. The vision of the temple's reflection on the water body, all lit up with oil wicks, should be a sight worth seeing.

Temple visit check. No divine sightings. No complaints. There has to be a goddess in the backwaters. A mermaid to attract the tourists. There has to be. Right? Wrong. What there is though is houseboats. A whole bloody lot of them. I am certain that the below image has been photo-shopped brilliantly and the 10 other boats have been removed with studied expertise!

But the area is beautiful. Allepey-Kuttanad-Cochin, the entire stretch of backwaters is well, for the lack of a better word, beautiful! National Geographic, I am fairly certain, has better coverage given to the backwaters of Kerala so i just decide to continue my search for my goddess. But the boat man decides to halt at a small little Devi temple instead and I get this sneaky suspicion that the boat man is a cynical mind reader!

The Devi in the temple has got herself a great view of the backwaters and her back is to a sprawling cultivation of paddy. Such agriculture, I am told, is extremely hard given the excess water and its saline content. The native Malayali, proud of his literate self, mentions in pride that such agriculture is a rarity in the world and its only in Netherlands one would see its likes.

Note to self - check out more than just the agriculture if  you ever happen to go to Holland!

The houseboat ride comes with traditional Kerala cuisine. Fish curry and Kappa, Karimeen Porichathu, Avial, red rice, chicken curry and a whole lot more. But we still weren't satiated and this idyllic toddy shop beckoned. The shop, or 'shaapu' as the native speaker refers to it, has a picture perfect location. The toddy tastes like a sweet lassi gone bad but the food that accompanies it is as fresh as fresh can be. Mussels stir fried with an extraordinarily generous amount of red chilli powder, coconut and shallots. Prawns that are so fresh that you can taste the happiness that they felt while crawling around in the depths of the backwaters an hour back. In god's own country, the non-vegetarian's idea of heaven is just a toddy shop away.

Weddings could and should be filled with goddesses. But that only happens when the wedding is not happening in your family. Which, in my humble opinion, is a good thing. One wouldn't want to be appreciating (or ogling, call it what you may) the divine beauty of some distant cousin you last saw as a 7 year old in pink frocks some 15 years back.

The rest of the trip was time spent with family and it struck me that the entire itinerary was wrong. The next time I am in Kerala the trip should begin with an extensive and exhaustive lunch at a toddy shop!