Theatre, cinema, literature, aren't the indulgences of people who have full stomachs. They are the staple diet of an Indian middle class mind and soul. A hungry stomach replenished by a performance. At least that's how I have always seen it. And because it is so close to my heart, Revati and I frequently indulge in sojourns to theatre. Films too yes, but I must admit theatre is a favoured child to the both of us. And hence tonight when we walked to Prithvi to watch 'Fool’s Paradise' a play inspired from P.G. Wodehouse's 'Bachelors Anonymous', the excitement was palpable.
I was a little sceptical even before we reached the venue and that's possibly because knowing P. G’s style it is very difficult to imagine how even an accomplished writer will make it into a play. The sheer difficulty of it might be one reason as to why so few try it and how even fewer know of it. Hence with a feeling of mild awe at the bravery of this theatre group I had walked in to the theatre.
Suffice to say my worst fears were realised. First of the play started late. It's not uncommon but the theatre going community doesn't appreciate such tardiness. But that could have been easily forgiven had it not been for what followed. Now I must admit that my opinion may not be entirely accurate and that's because we walked out of the play in about half an hour. Unfortunately, we couldn't bear to sit through it. I believe part of it came from the heightened expectations that come with the name Wodehouse. It was also because they chose Mumbai as a setting for that play. Any person who has read Wodehouse will know that his work is deeply situated and saturated in the lives and tales of the English nobility and elite classes. The irony that was rooted in the times and soil of a particular period and people of English history. To fit it into an entirely disparate location and time gave a feel that the writer has not read or perhaps understood Wodehouse at all! Or maybe there is some other Wodehouse that we don't know of. The actors were mediocre, the script lacklustre and most irritatingly, the stage directions were very very sloppy! The fact that one could see actors who aren't even loosely associated with the scene walk from one wing to another quite openly and that too several times was unacceptable.
I believe we as Indians show only two attitudes towards theatre. We either worship a good production/actor/script/scriptwriter or we abhor what we see and that is not because of the high standards we set, a great Marathi stage actor Kashinath Ghanekar was known for his brilliance in acting a little less than for his drunken stage presence and eccentricities and yet the audience has shown after show put up with it because they loved him as an actor despite his reluctance to be one in later days. We are deeply tolerant about theatre and theatre presentations. We tend to forgive poor acting, bad lighting, strenuous sound system and much more. But how do you expect a studied audience to accept consistent gaps in the script that come not from a brave and worthwhile attempt but from complete lack of understanding?
Why did the writer choose Wodehouse? What are his/her thoughts on his style of writing, the built of his characterization, the importance of time and setting? Some writers are limited to their time and setting. Could we take an Ismat Chugtai play and have a deeply inspired story from it in settings of modern Spain? Would it gel? Would the audience relate?
I seriously feel that the troupe could have saved themselves a world of trouble if they had not mentioned P.G at all! We theatre goers and literature lovers are in our own ways steadfast. We have our loyalties and our set boxes about certain things that can be trifled with only by another great creative artist and no one less than that. Let Naseeruddin Shah adapt Ismat Aapa's work. But did the theatre goers entertain even him when he tried to create 'an inspired' spin off of one of Shakespeare's tragedies? No they didn't. And that is because we invest a lot in theatre. Not in terms of money but in terms of mental and emotional involvement. We respect the discipline of theatre, we don't mindlessly munch popcorn and check WhatsApp when a play is on. We actively listen and respond to the performer and we think and rationalize about every single person, prop and action that happens and is on stage. If those gaps are too many and of a nature that smells of sloppiness, then you have lost your audience.
I can extend my best wishes to the team of 'Stagecraft Productions', I can also gift them some Wodehouse books. But above all I can only pray that they shall consider deeply whether sloppiness on stage is fair to the audience. If you have the clout to pull a production at Prithvi and on evening schedule, then you better master the art of a wholesome legitimate theatre performance.