Jis Lahore

Naatak's latest production. Go here for details.

Jis Lahore poster

Given that this is a production in Silicon Valley, I would be remiss if I didn't report on the presence of the:

Couldn't find the YouTube channel, Ustream type live stream, Foursquare checkin or the rockin' Groupon deal on tickets. They must be around somewhere :-)

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- February 24, 2011 9:59 PM // Bay Area , Theater

Shortcuts

Cross posted on sharidelic.

The SMS/Text shortcuts seem to have become the new lexicon of the 21st century. What started off as a language of convenience is gradually taking over the English language. I often get emails written in short-form, like the following (from a very sweet friend, I should add):

Hi
recd ur msg on fb.
nice to hear from u after so long.
u must have been busy with ur lil one.
see u n da lil one soon!
S

I have to admit that I find this extremely annoying — why bother to write when you don’t have time to spell out words? I haven’t figured out a way to politely convey that to this friend of mine. Perhaps she’ll get the point when she reads this post :-) It’s okay to use it for text messaging, for tweeting (to best utilize the 140 word-limit on Twitter) and maybe for a quick Facebook update but it’s not nice to write letters just with initials. I have also noticed that this trend is more popular in India as compared to the US — my inference is based on my experience of living in these two countries only. I’m guessing, it’s the influence of the rampant SMS culture there, which can probably translate to any heavy text using community across the globe.

This brilliant piece by an an Indian American Comedian Dalia McPhee called “What’s with all the initials?”, describes my sentiments perfectly! Here’s how it goes…

I got up and that was the good part.

Then I got on my PC to see CNN, then I IM-ed my friend JD on AOL, then my CPU went AWOL. And, JD’s all LOL, guess ur S.O.L. And, I’m LOL? LOL?, FU u SOB!!…

Check out the rest of her show along with four other talented Indian comedians on the Indian Comedy Tour DVD available on Netflix. You don't have to be an Indian to enjoy the jokes, they are pretty universal!

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Shari Acharya - June 3, 2010 12:06 PM // Humour , TV , Theater

Final Solutions

A PSA for Naatak. The play is authored by Mahesh Dattani of "Bravely Fought The Queen" and "On A Muggy Night In Mumbai" fame. Should be a scorcher:


NAATAK
presents its 28th production

FINAL SOLUTIONS
(English)
A play about bias, bigotry and bloodshed

SHOW TIMES
October 11 Saturday 8pm
October 12 Sunday 5pm
October 17 Friday 8pm

VENUE
Cubberley Theater
4000 Middlefield Rd, Palo Alto, CA 94303

TICKET PRICES
VIP: $25 till September 25 ($35 thereafter)
General: $15 till September 25 ($20 thereafter)
Child: $10 till September 25 ($15 thereafter)

PLEASE NOTE
VIP tickets include preferential assigned seating and complimentary snacks.
Children under 8 will be admitted ONLY to the Sunday October 12 show.
Child tickets are general admission only.
Child-tickets are required for all children under 8, including infants.
People accompanied by children will be asked to sit in "exit-friendly"
assigned seats.
While this is not a children's play, it does not contain language or content
inappropriate for children.
Buy online at www.naatak.com
Or email tick...@naatak.com
Or call Soumya, 408 425 2647

ABOUT THE PLAY
This critically acclaimed play by Sahitya Akademi award-winning playwright
Mahesh Dattani examines the never-ending saga of Hindu-Muslim conflict in India. Which "side" should take the blame for the madness?

What does the future hold? The play ponders these difficult questions through the lens of three generations of a middle-class Gujarati family as they harbor two Muslim boys during a communal riot. Through a stylishly choreographed "mob" that represents the collective voice of either community, and a narrative that slickly moves back and forth between today and 1947, Final Solutions makes us rethink own communal prejudices and perceptions.
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- September 21, 2008 10:12 PM // Bay Area , Theater

Mataji

Sandip Roy profiles Sujit Saraf, founder of the Bay Area theater group Naatak and their upcoming production, "Mataji:"

Saraf says he's realizing that the stories he wants to tell increasingly don't happen in India anymore. "We didn't do plays in English in the beginning," he says.

"Over the years it's become clear that some Hindi plays we do are as foreign to us as 'A Streetcar Named Desire' is in India," he says. " 'Mataji' is really our play." The house it's set in could belong to any of the cast. The play skewers India's penchant for exporting gurus and god-men. Some promise to manifest themselves on the moon. Others conjure up Rolex watches or cure cancer by touch. Saraf's Mataji hugs.

Over the years, we've had any number of films from Hollywood trying to poke fun at the same thing: fake gurus with tenuous Indian connections. The Guru and The Love Guru come to mind. It's good to see the same creative territory explored from a different and more realistic perspective which I am sure Naatak will bring. Here's to a complete absence of tired Bollywood pastiches that seemed to fill those aforementioned films and to something different.

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- July 24, 2008 6:38 PM // Bay Area , Diaspora , Theater

Naatak (Re) Presents Sleuth

By popular demand, Naatak brings back their version of Sleuth. Details:

NAATAK
presents its twenty-fifth production

Anthony Shaffer's

SLEUTH
(English)

Adapted and Directed by Harish Sunderam Agastya
Produced by Soumya Agastya

8 pm, Thursday, Oct 25 2007
8 pm, Friday, Oct 26 2007

Cubberley Theater
4000 Middlefield Rd, Palo Alto, CA 94303 .


TICKETS
General: $15 until Oct 10 ($20 thereafter)
VIP: $25 until Oct 10 ($35 thereafter)

(VIP tickets include preferential seating, official copy of Sleuth DVD & complimentary refreshments)

BUY ONLINE at http://www.naatak.com (ticketing by Sulekha)
or
SEND EMAIL to tickets@naatak.com
or
CALL 408.431.2318


ABOUT THE PLAY
Naatak is proud to present its 25 th production – Sleuth, a play in English - back on stage due to popular demand from our patrons. Critically acclaimed as one of the greatest stage thrillers ever written, Sleuth is a tale of two men from different walks of life entangled in a dangerous web of gamesmanship, manipulation, deception and death. Sleuth was originally written by British playwright Anthony Shaffer and was subsequently made into a movie of the same name with Oscar-nominated performances from Sir Lawrence Olivier and Michael Caine. Our version of Sleuth, suitably adapted and Indianized by director Harish Sunderam Agastya (Italian-British Milo Tindle becomes Maharashtrian Milind Tindle for instance) retains the fast pace, comic wit and spine-chilling twists of the original. Sleuth was previously staged by Naatak in January 2007.

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- October 6, 2007 7:14 PM // Bay Area , Theater

Naatak Presents Sleuth

Hey folks, breaking my silence to announce Naatak is presenting its 25th production, Sleuth this weekend at the West Valley College Center in Saratoga, CA. From their announcement:

Sleuth is an Indianized adaptation of the play by Anthony Shaffer, one of the greatest ever thrillers performed on stage. It was also adapted into a Oscar-nominated movie starring Michael Caine and Lawrence Olivier. Sleuth is directed by Harish S. Agastya and features Harish Agastya, Ashish Joshi and Kal Pandya in the cast.

This is the last week to get your tickets for this action-packed production. Don't miss out on this one for sure and please don't reveal the suspense to your friends until they've had a chance to check it out too.

I guess desi audiences aren't that good at keeping secrets then. I remember an anecdote about a group of friends sitting down to see Kaun, that Ram Gopal Verma thriller from a couple of years ago. Anyway, said friends had their experience ruined completely by a wiseass in their group who gave away the main twist just to score a cheap point. Sort of like going to a group of people waiting to see The Sixth Sense and yelling, "he's dead!"

Oops.

Anyway, here's the poster for the production:

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- January 16, 2007 7:50 PM // Bay Area , Diaspora , Theater

Super Vision

Image courtesy SF Chronicle

Too much technology, not enough story. That about sums up my feelings about "Super Vision," the latest production from acclaimed New York theater outfit Builders Association that played last weekend at the Yerba Buena Center For The Arts. But, the show is well worth a visit simply for the sets and visuals which constitute a seamless blend of computer graphics, virtual backdrops and actors, live video teleconferencing and compositing and a pulsating soundtrack.

The Total Information Awareness Program is an infamous initiative of the Bush/Cheney government which purports to gather and correlate every single possible electronic and surveillance data point on every citizen. "Super Vision" envisions a world where this program is reality, not merely an eye in the sky scheme of the current administration. Moreover, the organization that undertakes this huge data mining task in "Super Vision" is a private concern, again a nod to our current world where corporations routinely collect and share huge amounts of information on citizens.

"Super Vision" starts off with a bang. In an opening monologue, a company spokesperson walks onstage to provide a little spiel. She calls out some members in the audience for that night by name, then lists their residential zipcodes and the preferred activities of the "average" resident in that area. It is a chilling reminder of the datasphere that encircles, observes, and records our minutest actions. The subsequent action jumps back and forth between three storylines: a couple in Seattle, an Ugandan Muslim of Indian origin attempting to pass through various passport checkpoints in the US, and a NYC based Sri Lankan woman teleconferencing with her grandmother in Columbo.

Unfortunately, none of the tales are particularly engaging. The sound, hypnotic at first, interferes noticeably with the words from the Seattle couple, making it difficult to follow their actions. Consequently, their climactic moment falls flat. The interrogation techniques used at the passport checkpoints hit really close to home but becomes repetitive after a while. The back and forth between the woman in NYC and her grandmother works best, yet, does not have a resolution either. None of the tales overlap or appear connected, making it difficult to understand the overall themes being presented, apart from the obvious Orwellian implications.

However, none of this should take away from the sensory experience offered up by "Super Vision." The set within a set concept, the use of rear and front projection screens, often simultaneously, the richness of the images floating across, the effective use of virtual actors - all of this add up to an engrossing evening. This is a group to watch. Hopefully, they'll have a killer storyline to go with the visuals next time.

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- August 21, 2006 6:34 PM // Review , Theater

Local Productions

Catching up on local productions, we start with Hijra, a production by the New Conservatory Theatre Center . The Chronicle has the goods:

Ancient gender-bending traditions of South Asia reach into the New York of the Indian diaspora in Ash Kotak's "Hijra" at the New Conservatory Theatre Center. Sometimes funny, at times enlightening and generally engaging, the handsomely designed American premiere that opened Saturday is a mildly promising effort a bit too weighed down by sitcom ideas and filmic structures to take flight onstage.

What's most interesting about "Hijra" is the extent to which Kotak sheds light on its titular subject. This is "hijra" not as one of the more common alternate spellings of the "hegira" of Muslim history, but as the ancient group of male-to-female transgenders of mysterious origin and long tradition who often appear, uninvited, to dance at and bless weddings in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The role of hijras in South Asian customs is apparently a blend of Islamic and Hindu traditions, and many held high positions in the courts of the Muslim kings.

Though the review of the production itself is lukewarm, Dishum Dishum patron Maya Capur escapes unscathed. To wit:

It isn't always easy to tell how much in love Nils and Raj are supposed to be. Kotak's dialogue is much more quip- and plot-driven than concerned with character or emotional development, and neither director Andrew Nance nor his actors have been able to fill in the blanks. From Venkatesh's boyishly standoffish performance, it's hard to tell whether Nils has any more real interest in Raj than Sheila until late in the second act. By then, Raj, disguised as a woman, has arrived in New York -- and so have Madhu, Sheila and her ferocious mother (crisply played by Sukanya Sarkar).

With an exceptionally nosy neighbor (a very nice turn by Capur) stirring the pot, Kotak sets the stage for farcical complications he only partly develops.

Way to go, Maya!

Meanwhile, could Carma be the first indie film to promote itself using a Flash mob? The idea involved four women dressing up as one of the characters from the film and chanting:

Normie Burns took an axe
Gave his mother 40 whacks,
When she saw what he had done,
She said proudly, "that's my son!"

This went down at a screening in Stanford last weekend. Here's a picture of the mob:

Also, FilmThreat has a review of Carma here.

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- April 17, 2006 8:11 PM // Bay Area , Film , Theater

Naatak

Sandip Roy has a nice writeup on Naatak, the premier Indian Bay Area drama troupe and its latest production, "Everyone Loves A Good Tsunami":

During the week, they wear the uniforms of Silicon Valley -- jeans and shirts, often sporting the logo of the company they work for, from Oracle to Lockheed Martin.

But on weekends these South Asians shed their engineer personas to indulge in their passion -- theater. Some actors have been part of Naatak, one of the Bay Area's most dynamic South Asian theater companies, for 10 years.

Naatak, which means ``drama'' in Hindi, has presented three films and 18 plays in Hindi, Tamil and English. ``Everyone Loves a Good Tsunami'' in English, opens Friday at the Eagle Theater in Los Altos. Sujit Saraf wrote the play after watching the post-tsunami outpouring of ``real and pretended grief.''

``It ridicules our long-distance armchair philanthropy,'' says Saraf. And it highlights how disasters can become ``an opportunity for mediocre artists to perform, and social climbers to socialize.''

In this play, he skewers the ``vanities of the Indian community in the Bay Area'' as two factions of the local India Association jump on ``a fortuitous tsunami'' to hold competing fundraisers.

Sounds like fertile material for a play. Anyone familiar with Indian organizations knows the level of infighting and backbiting present, particularly in the regional groups. Just consider the number of Bengali associations present in the Bay Area alone! Anyway, as the article points out, putting on a play is a significant investment of time and energy:

Many obstacles still exist: After grueling Silicon Valley workweeks, Naatak's all-volunteer cast and crew give up their weekends for two to three months at a time to practice their lines, build sets, design fliers, do makeup and lights, and sell tickets. An actor from one production might become the publicist for another.

From my experience with ENAD, I can attest to the levels of commitment required. The fun part is selling tickets - not! Getting audiences to come to a play in Bengali is a little like herding cats. Everyone has commitments, nemontonno (invitations) or huge work deadlines which just happen to fall on the day of the show itself. Bah! Anyway, on a brighter note, ENAD-ite Sayantanee Dutt gets a mention in the article:


``Tsunami'' is Sayantanee Dutt's first time performing with Naatak. ``My husband helps me,'' says Dutt, who has a 5-year-old. ``I encourage him with his football and cricket and he eggs me on with my theater.''

Congrats Sayantanee and best of luck! Of course, in addition to cricket and football, Sayantanee's husband also happens to be proficient in the small matter of set production and design. But he needs no encouragement there :-)

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- November 29, 2005 11:58 PM // Bay Area , Theater

Man Of The Heart

We first met Drama Professor Sudipto Chatterjee when he conducted a drama workshop under ENAD's aegis about two years ago. It was an exhilarating experience and, needless to say, we were looking forward to his latest performance, Man of the Heart, on the UC Berkeley campus.

This was a one man show on the life and times of Lalon Fakir, a 19th century Bengali mystic and folk singer. Such minstrels, or Bauls as they are known, have played an integral role in Bengali folkore:

Bauls (Bangla: বাউল) are a group of mystic minstrels from the Bengal region, now divided into Bangladesh and West Bengal. Bauls are a part of the culture of rural Bengal. They are thought to have been influenced greatly by the Hindu tantric sect of the Kartabhajas. Bauls travel in search of the internal ideal, Maner Manush (Man of the Heart). The origin of the word is debated. However, it is widely agreed that is comes either from Sanskrit batul, meaning divinely inspired insanity or byakul, meaning fervently eager.

The music of the Bauls, bAul saMgeet refers to a particular type of folk song of sung by Bauls. It carries influences of Hindu bhakti movements as well as the shuphi, a form of Sufi song mediated by many thousand miles of cultural intermixing, exemplified by the songs of Kabir, for instance.

Baul music celebrates celestial love, but does this in very earthy terms, as in declarations of love by the bAul for his boshTomi or lifemate. With such a liberal interpretation of love, it is only natural that Baul devotional music transcends religion, and some of the most famous baul composers, such as Lalon Fakir have been of muslim birth.

The actual show itself was a blend of monologues, live singing and dancing, pre-recorded songs and sounds, video clips and projected slides. Nothing if not ambitious! However, while the technical production values were impeccable and Prof. Chatterjee a real live dynamo onstage, the show could have benefitted from a real narrative spine. There were many tantalizing nuggets buried in the material bespeaking the importance of Lalon in 19th century colonial India. For example, while the British were busy creating a buffer class of brown sahibs to better administer the sub-continent, bauls such as Lalon played a big role in resisting these divide and conquer tactics. I thought it was great for the production to contextualize Lalon's importance thus but I didn't really get a clearer picture as to how he really accomplished this. Instead, the bulk of the presentation was on how Lalon deliberately shrouded his origins in riddles and how, scholars on both sides of the Hindu-Muslim divide, went to great lengths to claim him as one of their own. Interesting stuff but I would have preferred to get an idea of why was gathering proof of this type so important. Perhaps an Indian audience would be better placed to understand the significance of this quest but, most probably, not an international one. Similarly, towards the end, we learned of some of the practices Lalon (and his female spiritual companion) perfected after years of sadhana. These techniques, which seemed to have tantric roots, were left unexplored after being hinted at.

Clearly, Sudipto Chatterjee and director Suman Mukherjee hold Lalon very close to their hearts - in the post-show Q&A, both spoke of discovering their mutual interest while roommates in NYC in the early '90s. Given what we witnessed was an edited version of a full length script, which reportedly ran to a couple of hours, its turgidity was understandable - as a matter of fact, the whole event was advertised as a work-in-progress workshop. Hence, I would expect the whole thing to take better dramatic shape with more performances. Nevertheless, there were many things to enjoy and learn here. As mentioned before, Sudipto held the audience's attention easily and, in addition to his other skills, possesses a fine singing voice. Of late, I've been noticing the technique of an actor or dancer using one's own robes to intercept the images from a projector - this distortion technique was used pretty effectively in the production. The musical accompaniment, lighting and sets were also good - mention must be made of ENAD-ites Sambit Basu and Bodhi Das who helped out so capably.

I have mixed feelings as to Baul music itself - in some sense, it is similar to the blues, and hence can be an acquired taste. Too much of it can end up sounding the same. Plus, Baul music has been all the rage in Kolkata of late and many Bengali rock bands (yes, they exist) have actually jumped on the bandwagon. So there's a bit of an overkill involved. It might be blasphemous to admit, but I actually prefer the hybridized version as practiced by bands like Bhoomi. But the standout in this genre is the drum'n'bass/baul fusion of UK based State of Bengal and Purna Das Baul's collaboration Tana tani. Anyway, overall, the show contains much to ponder over and our best wishes to Prof. Chatterjee and Suman Mukherjee in actualizing a dynamite final version.

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- October 9, 2005 4:49 PM // Bangla , Bay Area , Theater

Cal Shakes' Othello

Jealous husband kills wife. Or, newly married husband starts suspecting his wife. Tragedy ensues. The plot of Othello can be summed up briefly. But, as with all classics, that's not necessarily the most interesting part. The fascination comes in seeing how exactly do we get from the beginning to the end i.e. how does a man flush with power and love lose it all so quickly? Enter Iago (and a certain handkerchief)! Cal Shake's Othello starts fast and furious and takes no prisoners in its nearly two and a half hours running time. Director Sean Daniels has set the play in a non specific early 20th century future reminiscent of Ian Mckellen's Richard III. There are guns but it is daggers that do the killing. The cast is uniformly excellent with Bruce Mckinzie as Iago providing a particularly indefatigable performance. However, Billy Eugene Jones as the titular Othello more than holds his own and Catherine Castellano provides a particularly memorable turn as Emilia. Mention must also be made of the sound design which subtly augments the onstage emotions except when it breaks into full blown songs. The stage itself is stark, relying on a split level structure and two gantries that also double as light towers. Because of the open amphitheater setting, there are no stage curtains. Extras swap furniture in and out rapidly in keeping with the frenetic pace of the play. Afterwards, I heard other audience members commenting on the lucidity of the language - I too was very impressed at how the cast were able to bring the words to life with such vividness. Shakespeare understood that violence and sex (especially the forbidden kind) sells and statements such as

Even now, now, very now, an old black ram Is topping your white ewe

and

I am one, sir, that comes to tell you your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs.
leave little to the imagination and here they were delivered with the gusto they deserved. A particular audience favorite had Emilia sighing:
'Tis not a year or two shows us a man: They are all but stomachs, and we all but food; To eat us hungerly, and when they are full, They belch us.

Hey, this play is staged with the Berkeley Hills as the backdrop! What else would you expect? Somehow, as the play went on from light into dark, the cold air brought out the chills as Othello danced with Desdemona dead against his shoulder. A gorgeous setting for such a wonderful production. It was a night to remember.

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- June 10, 2005 12:50 AM // Review , Theater

Hip Hop Theater Festival

Hip Hop Theater FestivalHonestly, I hadn't realized the degree to which I'd grown disinterested in hip hop until I attended the Jack Ya Body dance program - part of the Hip Hop Theater event going on at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. It was there I realized there still was much more to hip hop than beats, rhymes and braggadocio. Of course there always has been - tagging, cypher, and, of course, dancing. The festival showed that were folks who are still dedicated to keeping the spirit alive.

First up were Traci Bartlow and Dancers and they tore up the place. A lovely commentary on black dance through the ages - at least that's what it seemed to me and I am no dance expert. Hell, I can barely shake a leg! What I found most impressive with that piece was the out of sync nature of their steps. None off the dancers copied each other, yet all their postures fit into a coherent whole. Rashad Prigden followed with an energetic sequence which had real power, particularly towards the end, when accompanied by a mix of "Strange Fruit". Next up were the Black Messengers, the originators of the Electric Boogaloo, and "Boogaloo Resurrection." They literally vibrated themselves out of coffins and across the stage, playing tag team and reminding us of the other side of the funk. Traci Bartlow then introduced us to a number of Bay Area freestyle dancers including The Funky Asiatic. Good as they were, the next dancer must have been built with steel springs. Just watching him was enough to induce hernia! The final piece of the evening was by the Rubberdance Group. Victor Quijada spoke movingly about growing up with hip hop, becoming disillusioned with it and moving to classical music, and then, finally realizing it was all good. In between, he and his partner, Anne Plamondon, went through a sequence of jawdropping pieces, moving from pure b-boy stuff to ballet and ending with a fusion of the two. A fitting way to end a memorable evening. Plus we had a slew of good music on the soundtrack, some of which I actually recognized. You know your getting old when you know the samples but not necessarily the songs themselves!

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- May 10, 2005 9:09 PM // Theater