Dubai: A perfect introduction to Indian theatre with 'Baat Karamat'
The folk satire will be staged in the city over the weekend.
What happens when we stop listening to stories? That’s the question Dubai’s independent theatre company is seeking to answer this weekend. Xpression Art, an Indian company based in the city is geared up to present Baat Karamat, an observational comedy inspired by India’s rich heritage and culture of storytelling. The play is written and directed by award-winning theatre veteran, Mahua Krishnadev.
“I wrote the play, after being inspired by a local Rajasthani folk tale about a man named Teedo Rao and his adventures,” says Mahua. The play features original music created by music director Sauryansh Singh and his team. Emanating from the dunes of Rajasthan, accompanied with lilting quintessential folk music, the play will recount the story of a village simpleton Teeda’s rise to fame. Does he indeed possess otherworldly powers or is there a twist to the tale, therein lies the rub! Much like travelling gypsies, the story twists and turns with every stop at a new village along the road. “Over the years, as I travelled to countries across the world for my performances, I realised there is a common human tendency to put individuals on a pedestal and worship them, pin all our hopes on them, like a proxy for the God we know exists but have never seen,” adds Mahua. Excerpts from an interaction with Mahua.
What are the three aspects of a land’s heritage and culture that you wish would live on?
Tradition means ‘the practices which flow with the time.’ That’s how it is best explained in the Upanishad. The traditions are most contemporary with longer history, so is theatre. Three aspects we must value from history and culture is literature, natural intelligence, and human conduct. Literary heritage keeps the time alive, a reader travels in an era particular through the literature of the period. This practice of reading (all forms of written words) listening (stories, poems and songs) and watching words (theatre) makes mankind wiser and adds to natural intelligence. When we practice this combination of art and intelligence, we naturally understand humans better and this happens effortlessly through stories. In fact, narratives are the essence of a calm, passionate, loving and progressive society. My pride, my land Rajasthan, is filled with many such chronicles of traditions and culture and the more I travel to different parts of the world for my shows, the more I value those practices and they keep me rooted; and yes, these are the roots which grow upwards.
Explain to a layman, what physical theatre means and your tendency to be drawn to it?
Theatre is considered supreme in all forms of poetry as emotions are best reflected in drama. Physical theatre is the genre where a story is painted live through body movements, on canvas of stage. Being a dancer and an actor, it was difficult for me to think of anything which has no rhythm and movements. The intense expressions of the body have always inspired me to create more through the body and less through peripheral additions.
How do the dancers feature in the plot, can we know more about the dance forms, etc.
Baat Karamat is ‘total theatre’ as this has physical moves to support verbal and vice versa. A performance where the manifestation of every element stands tall to reflect powerfully. To keep the integrity of a plot, the ecosystem I chose is the folk of Rajasthan and the dances are also folk ones. Although this can be the story of any place and environment, as I belong to that culture, I could do justice to both story and culture. Dances carry the story forward. The story and dance are interwoven.
The play utilises larger than life themes and beautiful props, elements of physical theatre, dance and music to convey the narrative which will touch a nerve with any audience member. It is the perfect introduction to Indian theatre. It is a comedy production that uses clean, simple language to take you on a roller coaster journey which is going to be fun for the entire family.
A cautionary tale
“Storytelling is a common part of cultures across the world, and every person, every family, have them passed on from generation to generation. Over time the stories have moved from stories about societies to stories about individuals and their exploits. The moment we shifted to individualistic narratives, we lost perspectives of the larger culture, norms and context that made these individuals. Baat Karamat is one such cautionary tale,” says writer-director, Mahua Krishnadev.
‘We need myth to feel good’
“From my childhood days, I have been fascinated by the countless stories revered within the scope of our epic Indian mythology. In my opinion, we need “myth” to imagine, dream and feel good about ourselves. Every culture creates these myths and transmits them through stories, symbols and rituals. The numerous stories from the two great Hindu epics; Ramayana and Mahabharata have been the most cherished stories that I’ve heard in my entire life. These epic stories not only opened a new world of imagination for me but also through the narratives of past events, interspersed teachings on the most significant aims/goals of human life,” says actor Karan Sharma on his favourite story.
“Every night, my nani (maternal grandmother) would tell me a story; sometimes about the kings and their magical palaces or sometimes about a simple farmer. But her stories used to take three-four days to complete. They were a regular bedtime feature that was looked forward to. I slept happily dreaming of the stories and the characters,” says actor Shalini Handa on her favourite storyteller as a child.
What’s the future of theatre? A mix of physical and virtual
“Theatre is essentially a reflection of the contemporary culture and society. If every aspect of society is slowly turning virtual, then theatre will have to adapt to the new normal to remain relevant — and present itself in the preferred medium of today’s audience. Historically, the theatre has always evolved along with its audience: from folk to auditoriums. And now, it is time for it to shift to the virtual world too! The virtual world has impacted all forms of performing arts. Whether it be movies, which have transitioned from the silver screen to online streaming platforms. Or music — which has transitioned from radio to smartphone music apps like Spotify. Theatre will adapt too, one way or another,” says actor and production manager, Apoorva Mehra.
Lessons learnt while rehearsing for a play during a pandemic
“To have learnt something implies that the pandemic is behind us... but it’s not, and I’m still learning. I’m learning the art of balance. This prevailing uncertainty that this pandemic has thrown us into, and that I have witnessed so personally has taught me just how fragile everything is and how quickly things change. I’m learning that the world is going to keep spinning whether I’m ready or not... I’m learning that there is no better time than the present for us to achieve what we want,” says Soni Chabbra, actor.
Lesson from Baat Karamat
“It has been an experience of self-discovery and of all the elements of drama coming alive! Whether it’s building properties and costume by recycling products, using body and voice to its full advantage or bringing folk culture and music to life. In a nutshell, applying all the fundamentals of true Hindi Theatre in a land away from India,” says Charu Madan Kashyap, actor.
On: May 27, 28, 29 May (also 2.30pm); 8pm
At: The Junction, Alserkal Avenue, Dubai
Get your tickets: ae.bookmyshow.com