Saturday, January 28, 2012

Amidst happy company

We couldn’t say that we weren’t warned; bold letters told us ‘do not come expecting a play!’ Sure enough, Chennai based entertainment company Evam’s ‘Chasing my Mamet Duck’ was nothing like a conventional theatre production.

First off, we were ushered into Zone A which had a carnival-like atmosphere – cheerful voices hailed out from different sections, urging us to step up and experience. If one corner asked you to pick something from a carpet and leave something of equal value behind, another held velvet cushions with a treasure waiting to be discovered. Yet another wanted your voice, another wanted you to dip you hand in mysterious bags while pinwheels whirled to unheard music. 

Chasing my Mamet Duck
Zone B was the auditorium and we never knew what to expect next; starting off with a short film, it moved to the central theme of the duck (inspired by David Mamet’s the Duck Variations). Weaving through the dialogue of the two actors whose talk of the duck and its habits seemed to mirror human experiences, were live music, more films and audience interactions which ranged from humorous to poignant.

Evam calls this experiential production ‘transtheatre’ as it transcends different media. Sensitive, bold, cheeky and high on energy, it is symbolic of this enterprise which has struck a new path in India. 

Chasing my Mamet Duck
Started by two young graduates of the Mudra Institute of Communications, Sunil Vishnu K and Karthik Kumar, Evam is going to be 10 years old next year. Along the way, it has gained plaudits for its theatrical productions and also for having become a successful business enterprise. CNBC cited it as one of its ‘Young Turks’ in 2007, it was among the top 25 Pepsi MTV ‘Youth Icons’ 2008 and made it to the Top 30 finalists of Tata-NEN Hottest Start ups, 2008. Sunil was the India finalist for the Young Performing Arts Entrepreneur Award given by the British Council in 2009.

Its success has inspired two case studies by IIM students. “We learnt as we went along, there is no formula and the learning will differ from market to market,” Sunil tells me when we catch up for a chat. I must confess a partiality to him as he did a very engaging reading at the launch of our Best of Chennai book a couple of years ago. 

Chasing my Mamet Duck
Its grand plan is to get more performance opportunities for other live art and create an audience that would react enthusiastically as much to theatre as it would to music. “We need to create a robust ecosystem for live performing art.” It is a challenge to make it viable for the producers and artists while making it affordable to all; especially underprivileged kids who would not get access to such art.

This year it is starting a regular season of plays in Chennai and Bangalore, stand up comedies and theatre workshops alongside its corporate training programmes. With a play being debuted in Prithvi this week, it looks like 2012 is already packed with action. What drives them undoubtedly is the way they describe themselves, “Happiness is our core offering and theatre is our core medium.” More power to Evam!

By Sandhya Mendonca (Sandhya Mendonca writes a weekly column for the Herald Goa)

You can also read the column on the Goa Herald on the link below:

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Sweet babble of tongues

Returning home from a dinner at a friend’s home, the last thought that struck me as I drifted off to sleep was that the evening had been unusual. All the guests spoke to each other in the local language of the state, Kannada. The very fact that this happenstance struck me as unusual is remarkable in itself.

Mandarin (Chinese) is the native tongue of the largest number of people in the world, followed by Spanish but it is English which is spoken by more non-natives than natives, making it the single largest language to be spoken in the world.

Our country has 22 languages, not counting dialects, the official language is Hindi. For non-native Hindi speakers like me, Bollywood films and songs have given us an ease with the language that school and government diktats never did. Be that as it may, it is English that has become the medium of communication.

Sourced from
Many Indians are multi-lingual. In the morning, I switch without pausing to think, between Tamil (to discourse with my domestic help), Hindi (with the security guard), and once I get to work, communication is mainly in English. If I happen to speak with my Dad or siblings, I might switch to Kannada but I find that unless I make a conscious attempt, I do not converse in Kannada with other native speakers.

At a very urbane setting last night, I met an old acquaintance and remarked upon this. The funny part was that both of us discussed this in English even though we are native Kannada speakers. I pointed this out and then switched to Kannada. My friend made a strange remark, “I normally don’t come to parties at such places but the host was very insistent. Kannadigas stay away from such settings.” He made it sound as if Kannadigas could not or would not fit into such a milieu.

I contested this remark. The dinner I mentioned earlier was at a friend’s house and the dozen guests constituted a fairly cosmopolitan gathering: artists, writers, bureaucrats and businesspeople who were well-travelled and well-heeled. All of them could switch comfortably to English when they had to. 

Sourced from
With Indians moving across the country, it would be hard to expect them to learn a local language immediately. They might not even need to do so, if they are only visiting. I do not mean to be inhospitable or insular; by all means let us speak in English; but let us also not baulk at speaking our tongue in our own land amongst ourselves.

Barring the English speaking nations, I have not met any Spanish people who insist on speaking only in English with each other, nor any French people; the same with Italians, Germans and Chinese. Perhaps it is a colonial hangover that makes us speak English. Or perhaps as one gets older, we reach back to our roots as I am doing now with language. For the time being, I am rejoicing that a Bengali friend who speaks fluent Telugu and Tamil, is now learning Kannada.

By Sandhya Mendonca (Sandhya Mendonca writes a weekly column for the Herald Goa)

You can also read the column on the Goa Herald on the link below:

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Man for all Seasons

“A man of an angel's wit and singular learning. I know not his fellow… And, as time requireth, a man of marvelous mirth and pastimes, and sometime of as sad gravity. A man for all seasons.”

So said a contemporary of Sir Thomas More, about the morally upright Lord Chancellor of England who in the 16th century was sentenced to death for not signing a letter asking the Pope to annul King Henry VIII's marriage to Catherine of Aragon. This was the issue that made England break from Rome. More chose to give up his post, sink into penury, be jailed and finally, executed rather than go against his principles.

At Arjun Sajnani’s production of Robert Bolt’s A Man for all Seasons last week, I felt I had never been in an audience that was more engrossed. Take for example, this exchange between the King and More “How is it that you cannot see (that I have to put away the Queen)? Everyone else does.”
“Then, why does Your Grace need my poor support?”
“Because you're honest.”

Arjun Sajnani
Restaurateur Arjun Sajnani delights people each day at Sunny’s where with partner Vivek Ubhyankar, he dishes out delectable fare. Every once in a while though he lays out a treat for theatre-goers with impeccable productions. Just as he is with food, so too in his plays, Arjun is a perfectionist and his plays are as close as we can come to Broadway.

This play which brought together a rare grouping of luminaries of English theatre – Ashok Mandanna, Naval Narielwala, Veena Sajnani, Vivek Madan, Aporup Acharya, Ashish Sen, Anil Abraham and Puja Chodha, also gave ample food for thought.
Arjun has in the past 30 years produced and directed a variety of plays – from musicals to comedies to intense dramas like Girish Karnad’s Tughlaq and Fire and the Rain, which he made into the film Agnivarsha. He tells me, “I am drawn to plays that have intellectual content as well as visuals that I can enthrall the audience with. It must have real emotional thrust and must hang together for me as a property in order for me to direct and produce.”

A Man for all Seasons
is topical with the recent interest in corruption and the roles of the government and the citizens. Arjun had liked it when he saw a college production 35 years ago. His passion for the subject spurred him to action and staged it after long thoughtful discussions with the actors about the script and approach. “I also knew that my older actors were all at the right age to act in this property and score with you said, the world sometimes needs to be reminded of values and morals and conscience and courage.”

At the very end, More tells his daughter, “If we lived in a state where virtue was profitable, common sense would make us saintly. But since we see that avarice, anger, pride and stupidity commonly profit far beyond charity, modesty, justice and thought, perhaps we must stand fast a little, even at the risk of being heroes.” If only we had a few like him around…

By Sandhya Mendonca (Sandhya Mendonca writes a weekly column for the Herald Goa)

You can also read the column on the Goa Herald, Jan 14.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Silence is golden

How far will you go to seek silence? People take to the hills, seclude themselves in caves or in cloisters with monks who have taken a vow of silence.

A few months ago, a friend attended a 10-day Vipassana meditation course during which he was banned from, among other things, talking. It surprised us, as he is highly articulate and sociable. Attending the Vipassana session seems to have made him come to terms with a few unfortunate years in his life. All he needed to do was find the connection within himself, which he could only do when he shut out voices, including his own.

Suddenly the buzz is about silence; Pico Iyer, the world’s favourite travel writer who lives in a Japanese village for the freedom to be himself, marvelled in a recent article that people are willing to pay top dollar to stay in hotels in remote areas without access to television or the net.

I laughed too and thought, “How absurd! Why can’t they just switch off the telephone or TV?” But apparently cutting yourself off from distractions is very hard for most people. You have got to be truly rich or very stubborn to allow yourself this luxury. It is not as laughable as it might seem.

Quietitude is the greatest gift that we can give ourselves at least once a year. The time away from the disturbing demands and dull drone of daily life heals us. We do not need to make plans or resolutions; it is a time to just be still and let our undisturbed selves find their way back from the jumble.

Photo credit: Asha Thadani/ Raintree Media Features
 I do not need to go to extreme places for my quiet time; I find that in Goa. I would suppose that most sensible people would, though we seem to be outnumbered by the party animals. Luckily, these visitors are seasonal and restrict themselves to a small belt. There are others who have moved to Goa from big cities and seem to want to party through the year. Perhaps they go elsewhere for their quiet time.

I do not have a television at home here, newspapers are not allowed, though special interest magazines are permissible. Books are the treasured companions. I do have my laptop that I use for my writing and editing work. I log in to the world only to send the finished pieces. As the mobile signals seem to connect only in certain parts of the house, I leave the phone there on silent and reply only to urgent messages. Most days it is only the poi guy or the man on the ferry that I talk to briefly.

So here it is, at least for a few days in a year – I don’t want to talk about the latest cricket disaster, I don’t want to know if Anna is fasting or breakfasting. I want to water the plants, pick fruit, inhale nature’s aroma, walk alongside the sea or the lake, feast my eyes on the clearest of skies and worship the Sun for its life-giving warmth. My definition of ASAP in Goa is ‘as quietly as possible’.

By Sandhya Mendonca (Sandhya Mendonca writes a weekly column for the Herald Goa)

Read the story on Goa Herald on the link below:

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