It is 4:30 pm, I am sitting in the venerable white tent awaiting the start of a session with childhood hero Barun Chanda, mother’s hero Jayant Kripalani and Bangalore’s hero Prakash Belawadi. I have just missed two incredible sessions: “Changing Image of Women in Indian Fiction”, and “Chasing the Thrill” (which, incidentally, had Ashok Banker as primary speaker), and am very upset about this. The god-awful mosquitoes are still here, the skin of my leg is still smarting, and the session titled “Stagecraft” begins.
Prakash Belawadi is described as “the Bangalore stage personified, both English and Kannada”, and Jayant Kripalani as “the prodigal son come back”, by Mr Chanda, who is moderating. Mr Kripalani contends the term “stage craft”, saying he doesn’t really understand it despite his vast experience. He adds that stagecraft is, however, a lot about communication, including body language, stage design, script and every actor. The conversation skips to Tupac and Warhorse, and turns to technology in cinema and theatre. “The only problems I have with directing plays are the actors,” Mr Kripalani quips . Mr Belawadi rues the difficulty of directing a play while co-acting in it: one cannot see or judge how one is doing, and no colleague will criticise you, even if they are appalled by how awful you are!
I am just beginning to think how lucky I am to be sitting here, listening to these stalwarts, just as we pursue the theatre part of our Literature and the Other Arts course, when the conversation turns to “off-Off-Broadway”: the kind our own “Fefu and her Friends” falls in. The conversation wanders to streetplays: Mr Belawadi mentions how street issues are taken up in these, and I am reminded of “Nukkad”, the streetplay competition at IIT-Kharagpur that I had the good fortune to watch. Mr Chanda points out the sharpness of their political satire and Mr Belawadi mentions their unique aesthetics. German theatre comes up: Mr Kripalani mentions their theatrical ethos and how it drew him in, even though he was acting in a language he “did not speak or think in”. The subjects had ranged from the Vietnam War to the Berlin Wall.
The discussion turns, inevitably, to Tagore: Mr Chanda asks how Tagore’s novel “Gora”,when performed as a stage-play, was received? The story is unexpected and Mr Belawadi is congratulated on his “attempting the impossible, and succeeding.” Mr Kripalani’s recollection is no less interesting: he talks about his role as Hamlet and mentions how “All the iambic pentameter drove me crazy, I almost forgot my own name!” There follows an impromptu performance of a few lines of Hamlet that almost has me suffering cardiac arrest right there (Hamlet is one of my all-time favourite plays. Oh, David Tennant.) Mr Belawadi mentions that he has erformed Coriolanus in Kannda- by this time, the part of my mind fangirling over Tom Hiddleston has hidden in shame. Mr Chanda mentions how one can’t change the pauses in the sentence and Mr Kripalani says, “He’s dead, you can do whatever you want!” He goes on to mention how taking Shakespeare seriously is very odd: after all, he wrote for TRPs, not critics, and immediately afterwards, fencing off a tongue-in-cheek comment about his unchanging appearance with a reference to The Picture of Dorian Gray.
A very engaging Q&A session commences, during which I hop from seat to seat desperately trying to find a mic: I locate one, ask my question in a quavering voice (“Is there any particular theatrical traditions that you, as actors or directors, would like to participate in?”) and receive my answer. I would like to mention that while I do this, I am sitting TWO SEATS AWAY FROM SUDHA MURTHY, but I was so nervous that I completely, utterly, freaking idiotically and extremely rudely forgot about her presence. The session ends on a burst of laughter as Mr Kripalani flatly refuses to read any of his “cellphone poetry”, and we wrap up an evening to remember.
PS: Mr Belawadi looks and sounds like A R Rahman, Mr Kripalani’s sense of humour recalls Stephen Fry’s and Mr Chanda’s voice rivals Benedict Cumberbatch’s as the one that rumbles like a jaguar in a cello. So good.
PPS: I SPOKE TO MR CHANDA BRIEFLY BEFORE THE PANEL BEGAN. The conversation went something like this:
A terrified me (atm): *squeaks* Mr Chanda?
A benevolent gaze lands on me (bg). “Yes?”
*skip awkward introductions* atm: Sir, I would like to ask you a question I have wanted to since I first watched Seemabaddha- in the last scene, does Shyamal realise the cost of his prosperity?
(bg): Yes, of course! His sister-in-law is his alter-ego- she represents his conscience. Once he loses his soul, so to speak, she leaves him, letting him know that he has lost a part of himself.
(atm): What drew you, sir, to the film? Was it the chance of working with Mr Ray, or the story, or the character?
(bg): The first, the first! A chance to work with the master, to do well with him!
(atm): What was it like to work with him, sir?
(bg): *laughs* Oh, you’ll have to stay with me all my life if you want to know that!
And then I either fainted or was carted off by my handlers as the panel was about to begin.
THIS HAS BEEN A DREAM COME TRUE, YOU UNDERSTAND? A DREAM COME TRUE!