Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The importance of Badal Sircar

July 1992, it had been raining for most of the last week of the month. We had made it to the last year of BSc. without too many mishaps. Dreams intact in a just liberalised India. PV Narasimha Rao was Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh was slowly unleashing a creaky India onto the world stage. Cable satellite and STAR was fairly new and MTV grind was in vogue. Most of us thought of MBAs, MMS, MCS and such fancy degrees, which would ensure a safe job in a safe company. And heartaches were heartaches that never really went away.

Nowrosjee Wadia College still had Prof. Moogat, Dr Aston, Dr Bhise, Dr Andhar and Prof Rao to make us believe that life was not all that bad, provided you attended their lectures. Somewhere between those lectures we were told of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of the college. The students were to put up a play and the professors were to put up one where the best talent in the college would participate.

The resident TV and stage actor Dr Bhise ( he has played the role of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar in a Marathi movie) decided to experiment, the final outcome was a play written by Badal Sircar - Saari Raat - last performed by Amrish Puri and directed by Girish Karnad. The cast was a mix of students and teachers. Mahesh Gaikwad (lost in the sands of time), Gurtez Ehtas ( Tv actress ), Dr Bhise were the actors. I wandered in just to watch was going on, good friend Rajeev Dubey gave company. With nothing better to do, we ended up staying back everyday, bunking classes, not that it mattered in any manner. Eventually, I ended up creating the sets for the play, was the guy who pointed out the wrong dialogues, the steps the actors needed to take. I had been active in the street play category for a couple of years and wrote for the local newspapers, this was an interesting experience. A Bengali play by a playwright I had never heard of, translated by a linguist called Prathibha Agarwal into Hindi, a language that I was familair with in a manner of speaking. I had learnt it in school but the nuances came alive here. I have somewhere a post card which gave us the permission to stage his play for a royalty of Rs 125. 

This play taught me to focus, to understand what was being said, to look beyond the ordinary language. It taught me poetry, the verse Saari Saari Raat jaga hoon mein sapnon ke dar se, ke ankhen kahin zhapak na jaaye is kaaran kiya hain sangharsh.... ( have stayed awake for an eternity in the fear of my dreams, have struggled to keep my eyes wide open) still remains with me. The simplicity of the idea of a man born out of a woman's desire to be free and seeing him in the human form in an abandoned shack in the middle of a rainy night was beautiful.

I did not understand a lot of what was underneath the surface, at 21 you do not really know the meaning of what the married woman really wanted. Today I do not claim to understand it fully either.

The play was a full scale production, 90- minutes of it, with background music, lights and songs. We had two performances, the first in front of a packed audience in the college and the second one a commercial performance, for which people paid money to buy tickets. We were good.

Three weeks before the first performance, India destroyed its facade of being a secular tolerant state, Babri Masjid was demolised.

The final and third performance was to be held at Bombay in January 1993. It never happened. We went on into a new life after 3 months. Mumbai was never the same again.

In the years that have passed, have read Evam Indrajit, and a few more of Badal Sircar's plays, helped Dr Bhise in his thesis for his PhD - The theater of the Absurd. Started the Pune Literary Forum and the Bombay Literature Cafe which is now Caferati.

I wonder of I would have been any different if I had not wandered into the Wadia college assembly hall that afternoon. I was a drifter then, 6 months later, I did what my dad said was amazing - stayed with one project for a long time till it completed. That defined me, the detail of what I could do. The going through of rehersals till each word was correct. Costume changes, holding the three actors together when the scenes got charged.

Badal Sircar lived an interesting life. The play gave me a chance to meet Nissim Ezekiel, Kolhatkar, Mohan Agashe, Lagoo, Puranik and so many theater stalwarts. It gave me an interesting life.

Sircar passed away this week, it did not make headlines, I discovered the news of his death in Mint - a business newspaper.

For those who never heard of Badal Sircar, here is the link to his wikipedia page

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