Theatre is no longer a very strong medium of art in Bombay. With cinema taking over, people would rather watch a movie and pay more to be entertained. Plays, meanwhile, have fallen far behind in trying to attract the audience. Thus, many theatre companies have decided to go the mainstream way. Plays by Rajat Kapoor and Alyque Padamsee have managed to gather a much larger audience over smaller theatre companies. Tamaasha Theatre, started by Sunil Shanbag – creator of productions like Sex, Morality & Censorship, and Stories in a Song – has still stuck to the old ways, and created a theatrical experience that focusses on art, rather than entertainment. Last weekend, I had the opportunity to catch Tamaasha’s Blank Page and was happy to watch a good performance after a string of disappointing plays. What makes it even better was that the play took place in Tamaasha’s own studio in Aram Nagar – a location known as the hub of the casting industry.
Blank Page had opened two years ago, at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2015. Since, it has been performed at various venues and events. More of a performance than a play, Blank Page interprets poetry on stage through drama, song, music and movement. Various poems by popular poets, as well as original pieces, are portrayed in many languages – the primary being English and Hindi. Marathi and Kashmiri are used too. Themes of conflicted relationships, political resistance, identity, and the art of writing revolve around each piece. The poems are performed by the actors, with music and sounds accompanying each movement. Some of the best pieces of the performance include Bra – an original piece by Sapan Saran, P. S. Rege’s The Pact, Dhasal’s Mansane, Under Trial Prisoners by Nissim Ezekiel, and Radhey Nath's 'Masarrat'.
Blank Page is a must-watch for aesthetes, who can see their favorite poems brought to life on stage. Dhasal’s Mansane has been used on stage a number of times (What’s Done is Done by Rajat Kapoor, and Asylum by The Mirror Merchants), but this is the best theatrical version you will have seen. The poem is recited by two actors, one in Marathi – as it was originally written – and one in English. Similarly, Masarrat stands out too, with narrations in Kashmiri and Hindi. Nisha Dhar’s performance is so strong, even her breakdown mid-performance is highly controlled. Another person who creates an impression is Sonal Khale. Both in Brat and Dukanwaale Dada, the actress manages to capture your attention among the troupe. Shanbag, himself, is a part of more than one piece, but his actors outshine him, in both presence and performance. A special mention needs to be given to Rohit Das, who is responsible for music composition. He is the busiest member of the crew, engaged with the guitar, keyboard, and at various moments, tapping the wall for additional sound effect.
While Blank Page is not on the agenda anytime soon, you can catch more plays at Tamaasha Studio this month. Check them out here.