Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Lucknow 76...

Few months back, Dr.BD had made a post on Lucknow, depicting few panoramas of the city sitting in a roof top restaurant relishing gorgeous food.

But why did this topic come into picture, the connecting chord is 'Lucknow', a city that I have never visited but have read about it and also heard lots about from my room-mate who graduated from IIM Lucknow. Last weekend, I was at Alliance Francaise de Bangalore, to watch a play titled 'Lucknow 76'.

The plot of the play was based on politics and history, shifting between two time frames of 1876 and 1976 looking at Lucknow city through the eyes of the common man. 1876 was a milestone for the Britishers, as that was the year, when Queen Victoria took over the command from the East India Company. 1976 was also significant in history because during that time, the once proud democracy, India was under the clutches of tin pot dictator, Indira Gandhi who had declared a state of Emergency as the Prime Minister of the nation.

So that reasons out for the numeral '76' in the title of the play.

But then why 'Lucknow' and why not 'Delhi' or 'Bombay' or 'Calcutta' or 'Madras' or 'Bangalore'. Because the director and playwright of the play, Abhishek Majumdar (AM) had spent some part of his childhood in this city. During AM's visits to Lucknow, his grand uncle, a scholar of history and geology had inundated his mind with tales and chronicles about the city from an old bungalow.

Now back to the play and the players on the stage.

The stage was a raised platform, bare minimal in terms of setting. A collage carpet dressed the entire floor. A ziz-zag geometrically-shaped stool, an artistically designed bench on one corner and few cushions were all the props used during the various scenes.

The play began with the entire cast of actors on stage firing words arbitrarily, and this state of confusion continued until two characters working in a press chisel in. Soon an old madam editor, of the press enters and they discuss about the sabotage of press and free speech during the 1976 emergency.

The sequence of the scenes in the plot follows a pattern like they do in these aerobic classes, one step back and then one step front. So one scene from 1876 and then one from 1976 and the flow continues. You get me right.

A greater part of the play covered, the 1876 era and it was masterly role-played. The three lead actors for this part were a Muslim revolutionary, a Brahmin Compounder and a brown British madam. Now how can a British madam be brown, that's because her father, a Brit and a general on duty in India had married an Indian woman. As the play rewinds to Victorian India, fervent and fiery debates rise about nation and ruler royalty neatly animated by the revolutionary and the Compounder. Questions are tossed about one's dedication to one's own motherland, supporting indigenous medicines against propagating Brit medical practices for general welfare, the language in which Vande Mataram was written and likewise. Though the two characters share views that are completely opposite, the Muslim revolutionary considering the very presence of Britishers in their own land a bane, the Hindu Compounder considering it a boon but yet they are the best of friends. These two characters expressed their school of views with downrightness.

The brown British lady's part who wants to study India through the eyes of the common man was also commendable. She seeks the help of the Muslim revolutionary to take her on tours to the local bazaars, to the river bed of Gomti, to the sectors where the natives of Lucknow live, and where the street dogs, the cattle and innumerable flies add to the bustle. She is also introduced to local food which can bring water to any person's mouth think about the Dum Biryani, Sheermal, Zamin Doz, Kakri Kebab, Shami Kebab, etc. During one of their saunters, the Muslim revolutionary cracks a joke to the brown Madam, the dialogue piece of which goes like this: 'Madam, you know what, in Lucknow we have more varieties of kebabs than you have Britishers in that small island.'

Few of the dialogues were engaging and just got glued to my mind. 'In a war, its beliefs that fight, not people.' You see the contemporary relevance, it was then, and it is the same, even today and I don't know what will happen in future.

The 1976 half of the play was more of a disjointed and garbled commentary. The unprovoked detention of innocent people, the abuse and torture of detainees in jails, the forced vasectomy of thousands of men under the infamous family planning initiative, the cutting down of electricity supply to publishing houses and the censorship on press were portrayed tactfully. The highlight of the 1976 era depiction was the naxal interaction which was arresting in terms of energizing acting and dialogue delivery. This bit was in Bengali which I feel quite a few in the audience could not understand.

The scenes were as sensitive as was the dark period but to add some easiness in the air, subtle and clever jokes were cracked like 'it's difficult to understand the philosophy of philosophy' (pun on Indira Gandhi's intent for the Emergency) and about the 'Mango tree on the Moon'. (Can someone guess what was actually pointed at here, for the second bit, though I have my own version but not sure if it fits perfectly to the context?)

The lighting was dim for most of the time, mostly because events showcased on stage were from pages of history. A quiet whiskered man, sitting on one corner, strumming his guitar and lending his voice to few evocative songs in Punjabi and Hindi in his countrified voice made the audience travel through the lanes of Lucknow both in 1876 and 1976. The music was a one-man-show, full credits to this gentleman.

Though I am not a connoisseur in the theatrical aspects of sound, lighting, music but still arrangements on the whole for 'Lucknow 76', appealed to me. The only glitch that I could notice, many in the audience had was that many crucial parts of the play were enacted in languages that was not deciphered by all (around 75% of the play was in English and the rest 25% in Malayalam, Hindu, Bengali, Tamil and Kannada).

There were around 12 performers for this play, (sorry, I don't remember their names, and I even lost the play's brochure) and each of them performed splendidly. This play was supported by the Black Coffee Productions in aid of the Concern India Foundation. The director Abhishek is an engineering graduate from NIT Trichy, one of the best technical institutes in India and then an MBA from Delhi University, after which he entered into his professional life in Bangalore. But his heart was in theater, Abhishek won the Charles Wallace Fellowship and went to do a course at the London International School of Performing Arts for a year in 2006. A couple of months back he was awarded the Metro Plus Playwright Award by 'The Hindu'. Very soon he is heading to the UK again armed with an Inlaks scholarship.

Bon voyage and wish you all the best.

Keep reading and remain connected.

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At 11:11 AM, Blogger Abhishek said...

This is Abhishek Majumdar. Thank you very much for reviewing Lucknow'76. Am really keen to read your other entries on Lucknow.
Also , thank you for your best wishes:)


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