Chekov apni kabar mein ulat raha hoga

Pardon the bad translation, but the title of this post vaguely means that Chekov must be turning in his grave. Bad translations seem to be the order of the day, because Chekov in my life at the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards was terrible.

If I was mildly disappointed with ‘The Witness for Prosecution‘, a couple of days ago, Chekov in my life, based on Lydia Avilov’s memoirs of the same name, inspired a variety of reactions: from horror (at the bad multi-language translation) to yawning and repeated shaking of the head to stay awake (because of the bad and boring acting) to abrupt laughter (because of the terrible accents).

The play was staged at Sri Ram Center, where all the plays from the ‘Established’ category are being staged. The first play I ever saw outside of school was several years ago at the Sri Ram Center. It was titled ‘Once Upon a Village Earth’, and was scripted and acted in by children who had been through a theatre workshop. I can safely say that that was better than ‘Chekov in my life’. Humor there was intentional.

The storyline of Chekov in my life is familiar enough, and almost predictable: a married woman with a 9 month old baby and a passion for writing meets Anton Chekov at a friends house. They ‘connect’, but she’s a dutiful wife and can’t stay on for long. Later she has a falling out with her boring, bureaucratic and autocratic husband who distances himself from her when she demands a divorce from him for repeatedly disturbing her writing sessions.

During the confrontation, the husband becomes a villain by mispronouncing several English words and phrases (I lhove you from the buttom of my haat), though he does make some amends by using a line made famous by John Travolta in Get Shorty: Look at me. He�s not half as cool, though. After that Lydia meets Chekov again and again, they exchange letters repeatedly without coughing ‘I lhove you’. Lydia is not exactly spoilt for choice but torn between what she is expected to be and what she wants to be. She continues to waver throughout the play.

Chekov leaves her without eating dinner on receiving a non-committal response to his declaration of love for her, after which there is a cryptic and psychotic exchange of messages: Lydia sends Chekov a message by having engraved on a pendant, the page and line number of specific lines from one of his novels. Chekov gets his own back by writing a play based on Lydia which ends with the character representing Chekov in the play-within-the-play quoting line numbers from Lydia�s own manuscript. At this point, members of the audience in the play-within-the-play leave in huff, dissing the play- something that I’m sure members of the real audience wanted to do, because the acting during this part was even worse than the rest of the play.

Chekov falls ill, Lydia meets him a few times; the caricaturish doctor repeatedly warns Chekov not to speak and finally orders Chekov- “Don’t speak. Write.” A telling order, indeed. Chekov does not put flowers brought by Lydia in his own hair. He does not jump up and do the tango with a rose in his mouth, does not get run over by a train, or even tell Lydia that he actually loves Mikhail (Lydia’s husband), and not Lydia. As you can probably tell, I was thoroughly bored by this time, and thinking of spoofs. Hey! Maybe I was wrong all along and this actually was a spoof. Eventually Chekov dies and thankfully the play ends.

Diksha Thakur and Rakhi Mansha, who played the old (the narrator) and young Lydia Avilov respectively were quite all right. Aashish Kumar who played Chekov was pretty good to begin with. Shubro Bhattacharya, who played Mikhail, was terrific in Hindi, but after Mikhail’s fight with Lydia, his acting fell apart. While the Hindi pronunciations were just about perfect, some dialogues were terrible and clich�d.

Where the play really- really– failed, was that it was unnecessarily multi-lingual. Either they should have stuck to a single language, or chosen actors who were fluent with both languages. Most utterances in English were cringe-inducing.

Just to clarify – this isn’t an award winning play! The Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards is a competition and I bet ‘Chekov in my life’ isn’t going to win.

An interesting lineup for today: Peele Scooterwala Aadmi in Hindi and Sammy! in English, that has a Dubey (Lillete, Ira and Neha) studded star-cast. Details here. The theatre was almost empty yesterday (20% attendance?) and you�re likely to easily find place to sit today. Sadly, I won’t be able to watch Peele Scooterwala Aadmi.

Oh, and: I thought his name was written as Tchekhov and Chekhov.

| | | |

Continue Reading

Day one at META

An example of a good play wronged.

While I couldn’t go for Crossings (by Vikram Iyengar), I was able to catch the second and the ‘Established’ play for the day at Sri Ram Center – Witness for Prosecution, at the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards (META). I arrived (unusually) 10 minutes late at 7pm (because I’d been stuck in a rather unnecessarily long, but necessary meeting), and walked to the front row of the balcony to sit. The act was set in a living room of sorts, with make-believe walls and bookshelves, and a rather awkward opening carved up as the entrance to the living room. The stage was bathed in yellow light, and three characters, dressed formally, were seated around a table.

While the name of the play seemed familiar, I couldn’t remember what it was all about. I thought it was written by Jeffery Archer, though someone corrected me during the intermission and told me that it’s based on an Agatha Christie story. By then I’d remembered the story, but kept mum about it till the end. I just Wiki’ed and learnt why the play reminded me of Jeffery Archer:

Archer was put on trial for perjury and perverting the course of justice in December 2000. A few days before the beginning of the perjury trial, Archer began performing in the star role in a courtroom play (which he also wrote) called The Accused. The play was staged at London’s Theatre Royal Haymarket and concerns the court trial of an alleged murderer from beginning to end. While its plot appeared to have been largely borrowed from a 1950s film, Witness for the Prosecution (based on a novel by Agatha Christie), the play used the innovation of assigning the role of jury in the trial to the audience, with theatre-goers voting on whether Archer’s character was innocent or guilty at the end of each night’s performance. Archer would attend his real trial during the day and be judged in his fictional trial at the theatre in the evening.

(Spoiler ahead, incidentally)

What I didn’t like about the play was the ending. If I remember correctly, in the Agatha Christie version, the play ends with the startling revelation that the wife had tricked the court into believing that she had lied about her husband being guilty. No one would believe an honest wife proclaiming the innocence of her husband, so she acted as a vindictive wife trying to implicate him wrongly. Once she is conveniently found out, the find him ‘not guilty’. Now, the first time one reads about it, it’s a damn good plot. That’s quite an innovative twist in the tale (and not a first from Christie), and is a powerful ending in itself.

The Indian adaptation fails is in providing a further couple of twists, and two more possible endings which completely spoilted it for me. The first addition was palpable: after the wife declares her sacrifice for her husband, declaring that she’s willing to go to jail for perjury to save his skin, a pretty young thing runs across the room and hugs the husband. He haughtily declares that now he’s got all that he wanted – lots of money, willed to him by the woman he killed, and a young girl whom he can go on a cruise with. Fairly believable, and palpable twist. It could have ended here with a sobbing wife.

But no, we have to provide closure. So the wife picks up a large kitchen knife from the evidence (exhibit two, I think), and stabs him to death. She then walks over to the witness stand, and a single light focuses on her as she declares a final memorable quote that I didn’t care to remember. I found this bit of melodrama irritating, and unnecessary. Even my friend, who didn’t know the story, felt that the play could have ended at the first twist.

On the whole, the acting was excellent, though one was left confused about whether the wife was from Germany or Russia (strange accent). The mysterious woman with who handed the crucial letters to the defence had an accent that was difficult to understand. Yes, it is a british play, but it isn’t easy for some of us Indians to understand a not-so-authentic Brit accent spoken fast. Attendance was remarkably poor and even though cellphones rang during the performance, the actors seemed unperturbed. Hopefully, I’ll be able to go for the rest of the three days. Afternoons are out, so I’ve got lots of free passes to give away. Or just walk in, since attendance is so poor. Details here.

Addendum: I’ve written a less personal review at Desicritics. You may read it here.

| | | | |

Continue Reading

Theatre Fest in Delhi

From the 6th to the 9th of Feb, there’s a theatre fest in Delhi. I’d venture that it’s called the ‘Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards’ because the name can be conveniently shortened to META. And I grin as I type this because this reminds me of something that happened in college, that almost got a friend and me thrown out of class.

There are two plays every day, one from the Emerging list at 4pm, which requires free passes. The second (at Sri Ram Center) is from the Established list at 7pm. You need tickets for that. Details here.

In case you plan to go for any plays from the ‘Emerging’ list, contact me. I have at least two spare passes for each day, though don’t know if I shall be able to go for any. Which is why I haven’t bought tickets. Shall ‘play it by the ear’ (origins of this phrase?).


Free Passes?

I had been sent passes for The Fringe Fest in December wherein each pass admitted eight. The passes were being used for marketing purposes, cause anyone could just walk in. They had sponsors and not all in their target segment (college students) have deep pockets.

At the Italian Embassy, where Umberto Eco had spoken about losses in translation, entry was free, but we needed eight passes and I had gone alone to collect them. Eventually only three of us went, but I had to wait a little and speak to one of the organisers to arrange entry for ten.

In the above (META) case, at FICCI, the guard had been left with clear instructions that only one pass per person was to be given. I needed three, so had to go to Sri Ram Center to collect two (and then some more).

It’s rather strange that they expect each and every person to come to the venue and collect their pass. Okay, it’s free – but still. It’s quite an inconvenience for most people to take time out to collect a single pass. Usually, that is delegated to a single person, or whoever is able to collect ’em first. For maximum attendance, if its free, why not do the Fringe Fest thing and admit 4 with each pass, on a first-come-first-served basis?

Of course, this is nothing as bad as Cafe Coffee Day, which asked people to buy merchandise worth Rs.200 for free passes for Rocktoberfest.

| |

Continue Reading