English theatre in Pune has never been quite the phenomenon that Marathi theatre is. This picture doesn’t seem to be getting any brighter, taking full account of what last year had to offer. 2011 saw some classics being staged in the city by groups from Mumbai and Bangalore as well as some contemporary adaptations and experimental work. Sadly, in sheer numbers, there has been a decline in local productions.
March brought home the big banner ‘Blue Mug’ as it was doing rounds of the country, complete with veterans Rajat Kapoor, Ranvir Shorey, Vinay Pathak and others. Niche Stagekraft presented a healthy contrast with the chirpy fantasy children’s play, ‘The Beast’s Story’ in May and a translation of Girish Karnad’s early India political drama ‘Tale Danda’ in June.
Surely you can remember laughing to the Fireweavers’ August production ‘The man who died laughing’, which was a rather grim spiritual satire that sent the audience off the edge of their seats. Loyalists of experimental theatre, Orchestrated Q’Works (OQ) staged the self-written ‘White Noise’, inspired by the William Dalryimple book ‘Nine Lives’ in October. Anyone who went for the show would remember how it pushed the audience to ponder the hypocrisy of the Indian value system, the undeniable component of sex in spirituality and the presence of a sexist in all of us. The Delhi based ‘Ateliers Campus Theatre Festival’ came to Pune in December to teach us a few things and call it a year.
However, the year was memorable in parts that were few and far between. Regulars of English theatre claim it was relatively slow year. Hina Siddiqui, Creative Head of the local Orchestrated Q’Works, claims the basic problem is, “People need to shell out money towards theatre.” Stating a sad irony, she says, “Formula productions are earning, groups that try to be different are barely breaking even. Pune’s theatre loyalists group keeps dissolving so you can never predict how many people are going to come and watch your work.”
Mahrukh Bharucha, founder of Expressions Unlimited, a premier training institute in the fields of speech, drama and communication skills, seems to echo this opinion. She says, “It’s a funny economics. The paradox of English theatre in Pune is – you need money to get money.” She adds, “English theatre productions are on the decline. It’s true that Pune based classic productions aren’t happening anymore but if you can’t manage contemporary, isn’t it better to stay away from classics?” As one of the city’s first English theatre enthusiasts, she opines, that the balance between sending out a message and entertaining that was once aspired for, is lost. Nowadays, all some productions do is, remind you of the woes of the world.
Many theatre lovers have reached a consensus about the root cause for all these faults in this pillar of Puneri culture. Which is that, actors just cannot commit time to theatre anymore. This results in groups just hiring the first few that volunteer and not actually actors who fit specific characters.
A living exception to this idea, however, is Gillian Pinto. She left her job doing risk management for a large MNC to pursue acting in theatre and films full time. She was a part of most of the Niche Stagekraft productions last year and also a key character in OQ’s memorable ‘White Noise’. To sum up the experience, she says “It’s been a long time since I got a salary but the entire journey has been very satisfying.”
Truly, English theatre in Pune needs more brave, dedicated enthusiasts like her. Not to mention a patient, dedicated audience. Next time when the topic of theatre comes up, rather than trying to recall a play you once saw in college, look for the next one that’s taking place. If you do this often enough, in the future, you might never have an empty weekend space on the calendar. And perhaps, you’d make for good conversation too.