Naseeruddin Shah has dedicated his entire life to the arts. To acting, directing, performing and producing. His childlike enthusiasm. His power packed performances. His 38- year-old theatre group ‘Motley’. All stand testimony of this very passion.
To quote the stalwart, “Except theatre, there wasn’t and still isn’t another activity in the world I’d give up everything for.” With his latest production The Father, the actor is set to prove just that. Perform a continuous run of a single play over a period of months. Who knows? This time around, Shah’s lead might just change the theatre-scape of India forever.
A Single Play Marathon
Motley’s new play The Father opened on September 1 this year at Mumbai’s NCPA (National Centre for the Performing Arts). It is scheduled to have a marathon run till December 2017. At NCPA, the play will be performed daily all through September. This would be followed by similar runs at Prithvi in November and December. While running a play for six months at a stretch is a rampant stage practice in the West, this would be a first for a theatre production in India.
A Mammoth Experiment.
Braving logistic challenges and struggles that engulf the theatre scene in our country, Motley has embarked upon this experimental journey. To provide a unique experience to its actors and audience alike. In his note to the press, Shah writes, “Apart from giving the whole company a taste of what professional theatre involves, this experiment will allow everyone to really chew upon the play intensely for the period of a month… guided by the experience of being continually observed by an audience, which is something stage actors in India seldom get the opportunity to do.”
With an intense and extensive showcase like this, Shah is well aware of the financial risk and the consequences of exhausting the actors and the audiences. But the actor-director is confident of the beneficial results of this process.
Shah’s The Father is a story of an elderly man suffering from dementia. It’s an adaptation of the 2012 French play by the same name. Written by Florian Zeller. Co-directed by Shah and his wife Ratna Pathak Shah, the play stars theatre actors like Heeba Shah and Neeraj Kabi among others. There are no props or sets and the play has two to three actors share one part. Which means the logistics of a play running for such an extended period have been considered and somewhat taken care of.
This experiment poses an interesting question – will this trend set by a theatre veteran and a stalwart of an actor like Naseeruddin Shah change the dynamics of the Indian stage for the better? Although The Father will probably be the first play to have a continuous run for over a month, there have been shows like Zangoora – The Gypsy Prince (India’s first Bollywood musical) to have a similar run for years at Delhi’s Kingdom of Dreams. Of course, purists may disapprove of the musical touted as ‘India’s answer to Broadway’ being theatre at all. Further, it has been made for a particular venue and audience. Not necessarily including only avid theatre goers. In addition, it is backed by solid corporate funding. Is an out and out commercial event.
Bengaluru based performance art space Jagriti Theatre on the other hand, has been bringing together plays for an 18-show run (now an 11-show run), for their ‘Jagriti Season’ every year. Here, the emphasis is on performance and not economics. The season is dedicated to giving local theatre companies and performers an opportunity to create an artistic experience by allowing them to showcase their work night after night at one venue.
For the Future
Larger questions persist. Will continuous play-runs over an extended period bring in the required moolah and end the theatre woes in the country? Would it provide the financial backing theatre groups are so much in need of or squeeze them off further with a heavy investment? What if a play is not received well and is forced to carry along for months at a particular venue?
On a more positive note, Shah’s The Father definitely provides hope for theatre in India. What the future holds, only time will tell.
SEPTEMBER SHOWS AT NCPA (EXPERIMENTAL) – [ 7 PM shows]
1st to 4th Daily
6th to 10th Daily
12th to 17th Daily
19th to 24th Daily
26th to 30th Daily
NOVEMBER SHOWS AT PRITHVI –
21st – 24th 9PM
25th & 26th – 6 & 9PM
27th – 30th – 9PM shows
DECEMBER SHOWS AT PRITHVI –
1st – 9PM
2nd & 3rd – 6 & 9PM
4th – 8th – 9PM
9th & 10th – 6 & 9PM
11th – 15th – 9PM
16th & 17th – 6 & 9PM