Got back three days ago. I took the nonstop Air India flight to and from New York and want to report that aside from thinking it was morally wrong to remain airborne for such a stretch of time (16 hrs), I enjoyed the experience. This, despite travelling cattle class, every seat filled, in both directions.
One of the reasons I dropped out of the blogosphere for most of my stay is that I sent home a DAILY LETTER to my mother in Madras -- this was in order to make up for not calling her every day, which is what I do when I'm in Delhirium. I've never actually committed to sending daily reports to anyone and as a result had absolutely no finger-time to spare on any other communications. Of course I could've blogged my daily messages but then I'd either have had to censor out the family stuff or I'd need to append extensive footnotes.
Anyway, I had a very lively time in Vermont and maybe I will get around to posting a truncated version of my daily record. It was an especially gorgeous fall but none of the photographs I took were able to capture even a tenth of the impact of seeing the trees in real-time.
Meanwhile, back in India, there was a performance of my monologues in Madras, produced by a young director called YOG JAPEE. We've never met but he consulted with me extensively by SMS and e-mail before I left. Since he wanted to amalgamate the monologues of HIDDEN FIRES and include another piece of mine called THE WISH as part of the show, I suggested that he should call the performance an "adaptation" of my work in order to leave him free to experiment without having to consult me over each comma and full-stop. I am always apprehensive when someone tells me they want to make alterations, but in this case, it turned out well. The invite is what Yog sent out by e-mail. Below it, there's my sister Geeta Doctor's review, published in Madras Plus of the Economic Times.
Drama Review: The Manjula Monologues
I have to declare an interest straight off.
The playwright is my sister Manjula Padmanabhan. The five monologues that were originally called “Hidden Fires” have been morphed into a series of slow burns called “Reality” by Yog Japee and his young group of actors. They are meant to burn holes into your social conscience. If you squirm and begin to feel oppressed by the kamikaze threat of words that the playwright spews at you that’s entirely in order. She means to make you uncomfortable.
As an actor and a director, Yog’s intentions are somewhat different, he needs to have you sitting there watching him and the others i.e. he must make sure that an audience is able to enjoy the experience long enough to stay till the end. When it’s a two hour long enterprise, this is asking a lot from an audience, that these days is either trigger happy watching television, or content with sex comedies. It’s good to report that I both squirmed and came out feeling exhilarated by the experience.
The monologues were written soon after, but not necessarily as a response to the events in Gujarat following the Godhra incident and the carnage that followed it. Notice what tricks one can play with mere words. Another person might describe Godhra as the carnage and what followed as the incidents that happened afterwards. As an award winning playwright, novelist, inventor of a cartoon strip called “Suki” and artist, Manjula has always been seduced by the images that words create. She could be said to luxuriate in them allowing them to take a life of their own. Amongst the themes that she explores is how despite all the horrors that are placed before us by the electronic media in ways that are meant to titillate us, human beings still have a capacity to feel and think. Maybe that is what it means to be an artist, an actor, or a performer. There is a deeply felt desire to remind people that all is not lost. We are still human beings who can trust each other and perhaps must learn to do so, if we are to survive. Each one of us matters.
This is perhaps what Yog has succeeded in doing with a naked intensity that is both admirable and embarrassing at the same time. He uses the sequence called “The Wish” which sets up a quasi surreal mood where an individual can choose to clean up the world by pressing a button that annihilates all the undesirable people who clutter the neighborhood in a series of encounters that runs through the evening. So, to an extent we are riveted into waiting for that choice to be made. These bits are introduced by a television presenter mimed by Aditi Gopinathan using the mudras and abhinaya of a Bharatha Natyam dancer and are part of the “Know the Truth” monologue. Other bits such as “Hidden Fires” that twists and turns between who is a victim and who is a predator that evoked the classic image of the Tailor of Gujarat pleading for his life and brilliantly played by Krishna, or the incantatory power of names read out by Shruti Gupta in “Invocation” and “Points” by Kanchi Kamatchi Thangadurai were stuck into the text. Sometimes these worked and at other times they just clanked onto the floor with a crash. “Invocation” that was the most powerful of the monologues because it makes the very simple point that we forget the names of the victims, (for instance I cannot name the Tailor of Gujarat anymore, can only see his eyes filled with terror) and that just invoking their names, any names is an act of remembering was flat when acted out. “Points” that came at the end was hopelessly didactic. I just didn’t want to be lectured to anymore.
At the same time it is a powerful reminder of what theatre can do and must do. One can only compliment Yog for bringing the Manjula Monologues alive on the stage.
Geeta Doctor. 20th Oct. 2008