I have always felt that theatre can do things to you that cinema fails to achieve. Like stirring the stagnant methodical heartbeat and causing it to race as you witness regular people perform right in front of you, changing their stance every minute, almost putting you in a daze. Prithvi Theatre has been that place for me. Watching a play is nothing short of an adrenaline rush, the same one you feel when you are on a roller coaster, or the few moments right before the nurse pierces a needle in your veins when you get a blood test done. Point being, it is all consuming, thrilling, sometimes eye- opening and genuinely enriching. But then again, it depends on the script, the play you choose to attend, the direction, actors, the works. I have always chosen a play that has Naseeruddin Shah or Ratna Pathak’s name involved and so have had the good fortune of never witnessing a play that is even mediocre, forget one that bores you or makes you want to check your phone (the worst kind)
Every single time, except today!
So what exactly is the charm of going for a great production at Prithvi? One can never really pen down the experience or verbally justify the beauty of being present in an enclosed space with a presence like Naseeruddin Shah, performing in front of you, at your feet. It can be surreal and yet incredibly realistic in equal measure. Get yourself a seat in the first two rows right in the centre at Prithvi theatre when he performs and feel the mind numbing silence from the audience, as people hold their breath while he gasps, speaks or even moves a limb. May be this is where the term ‘pin drop silence’ came from. It’s fascinating. The first time I watched Naseeruddin Shah perform ‘The Father’ where he plays an old man suffering from amnesia, I got goose bumps. I felt like the entire audience could hear my heart beat, the silence was that deafening. His presence in a room does that to people. A great production will demand that respect; it will create an atmosphere that feels like intoxication. But every minute is counted, every action has meaning and every word uttered is thought about. And it takes you in completely, demands rapt attention, an involvement of all your senses, and a genuine peaceful stance. You have to surrender to the stage and let yourself go, allow yourself to get a little heady and electrified by the passion, the drama and that world.
The narrow by lane that leads to the theatre reeks of anticipation, expectation and hunger. A bookstore that is filled with people who are visiting the theatre for the first time and a few other regulars, a café that is always buzzing and lit and mostly hounded by teenagers, college going kids who find the place convenient and fairly cheap for their occasional outings; Prithvi gives you a holistic experience. But it all comes down to choosing the perfect play to attend. And especially if you are someone who has never been to a play, that makes it all the more important. But then again, will someone who has never read Ismat Chugtai or Wodehouse, understand the brilliance of script and dialogue when they view it on stage? Do they view and appreciate it the same way as someone else who has an inside view into the writing? One will never know.
People watching can be fairly amusing and the few minutes before the play starts, when you are seated and waiting for silence to descend, is the best time to engage in some serious people watching. There will be people who have come for the first time and have no idea about the play, the author, writing or what it is based upon. Girls who have turned up for their occasional catching up sessions and are desperately clicking selfies, couples who have arrived on a date assuming the ambience and environment to be romantic and lively. It can be truly amusing. So today turned out to be yet another of those days. Except, this time, the play was a total disaster and for the first time, I experienced what I thought was almost impossible, a boring, bland, unimpressive script, mediocre acting and the kind of direction where it seems like the audience has been left to figure out the plot for themselves. Stagecraft Productions was a massive disappointment and it broke the spell. It almost got me back to reality and made me realize that bad scripts exist, "struggling actors" is actually a thing and no matter how much one tries to mouth dialogues off paper, unless the actors have the vision of being able to seep into the character and play the part like it comes from his / her soul, the audience will fidget, people will yawn, girls will click selfies and informed people will leave. Just like we left, half way, disappointed, and fairly amused.
P.S – The second part to this post is written by Ridhima and she describes why the play was a mindless, boring experience, what we felt possibly went wrong and the final straw that made us ultimately walk out. Read it on the blog.