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Theatre Of The Extraordinary

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The Hindu MetroPlus Playwright award was instituted in 2008. It carries a cash prize of rupees one lakh for the best new and original English script that has neither been published nor performed before submission. The entry must be a full-length play on any subject of your choice. It can either be an adaptation of a novel or a text, but translations are not eligible. It is open to any citizen of India, above the age of eighteen or those who have been residents of India over the last five years. The Hindu MetroPlus has been organising a theatre fest in Chennai since 2006.

Abhishek Majumdar's Harlesden High Street is a disturbing account of being immigrants in London. It does not matter whether you are from Bangladesh, Pakistan or India, but the bottom line is that you are not originally from Britain. The three characters, Rehan, Karim and Ammi are discussing their life in England as South Asian immigrants. The hard fact is that their life is reduced to eking out an existence of being vegetable and fruit sellers, instead of being say, a geography teacher as Rehan's father aspired to be-"He hated Pakistan. All he ever wanted to do was …To teach geography to the Gora children." Instead, "at the age of sixty-five, he managed tickets, passport, visa." The sad irony is that this life is inherited by their children as well. Rehan, for instance, tried being a printer of world maps, but it went kaput when the police, mistakenly, while investigating the scene of a botched attempt of a suicide-bomber, made the "immediate link…Pakistan…Muslim printer, overnight had to shut the business."  They seem to be caught in a rut, of which there seems to be no way of moving up the social ladder. There is a sense of disillusionment and of being without roots, as if it is impossible now to call any geographically-specific place as home. The concept of home is completely shattered by having acquired the tag of immigrants and it is no longer possible to even to refer to the country of origin as home as there is no sense of allegiance with it. The children of immigrants, though born and brought up in London, like their parents, continue to feel displaced and try to come to peace with their daily existence and referring to it as home.

Prashant Prakash and Kalki Koechlin's Skeleton Woman is an equally disturbing play, although it's a love story, loosely based on an Inuit folktale. It is about A and B, who are together against all odds. A is a young woman, with probably a corporate job and is the long-suffering wife of B, who is a fisherman-turned-writer with the most outrageous imagination. The play deals with the concept of love and the demands of keeping the relationship stable, including, "…doing things that don't always suit you, doing things even when you don't want to do them simply because they mean something to the other person." Sometimes the pressure of maintaining appearances in society puts undue pressure on the marriage and it may implode, leaving not even the ghostly semblance of the original relationship.

Neel Chaudhuri's Taramandal is loosely based upon the Satyajit Ray short story, Patol Babu Filmstar and it explores the possibilities and efforts that it requires to become a recognised actor. Through the use of seven characters and their stories, Chaudhuri discusses the various stages of disillusionment and despair that actors experience. In the original story, "Ray's story flashes back every now and then from Patol's present to moments in his life past, bringing in incidents of his failed ambition to become a serious actor. In Taramandal, these back stories are played out in short vignettes, through other versions of Patol…characters who share a history of disappointment with Patol, but in different contexts." (p.94) The unfortunate reality is that despair and the feeling of helplessness holds true for most people. The saddest character is that of Devika who is struggling to balance her life between being a professional actor and a mother, but is only able to earn her few seconds of fame as the brand ambassador for a little known mobile phone called Omniphone. An association that she has had for eight years and yet, when a new and talented photographer, Mario, comes for a photo shoot, he opts only to take stills of her red-painted fingernails as her face "doesn't work…I don't know who she is-She's not famous. I don't know what she is supposed to represent."

The four young playwrights who are included in this anthology are exceptionally talented. The effect of these powerful and yet sensitively told stories linger for a long time after having read the script. To see them being performed would be quite a treat. Though one cannot help but ask, where will these playwrights be some years hence-still in theatre or venturing into films?  The three plays that won the Hindu MetroPlus award from 2008-10 deserved every bit of the recognition conferred upon them.

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose is a publishing consultant