‘Sutradhar’ Celebrates Manto!


On the 105th birth anniversary of noted Indo-Pakistani writer, Sa’adat Hasan Manto, Hyderabad based theatre group ‘Sutradhar‘ presented ‘Afsaney’, a biographical screening and reading of the colorful life of the acclaimed author. The reading was held on a cool, moonlit Thursday evening at Lamakaan.

Sa’adat Hasan Manto, a much celebrated, unconventional and controversial writer of his time, he was hugely influenced by the turbulent times of India’s independence and partition thereafter. His writings deeply reflected human emotions and stark realities of life. Women characters found prominence in his short stories. ‘Kali Shalwar’ and ‘Baarish’ are two of his haunting tales, among many others, that revolve around the soulful lives of prostitutes. In his short life, he authored short stories, a novel, essays and radio plays. Manto migrated to Pakistan after India’s partition with his wife and three daughters.

(Pic.Courtesy http://epaper.deccanchronicle.com/articledetailpage.aspx?id=8088943)

Vinay Varma, Founder Director of Sutradhar, read out ‘Pari Chehra Naseem Bano’, a delightful chapter from ‘Manto Dastavej’ that chronicles light and rib-tickling anecdotes from Manto’s stint as a writer in the Hindi film industry in Bombay. The author dedicated an entire chapter to ‘fairy faced’ erstwhile actor Naseem Bano, mother of Hindi film actor Saira Bano. The audience was captivated by Vinay’s narration that brought to life Manto’s infatuation with the beautiful actress and her lifestyle. Fascinating tales and trivia from the pre-independence era enthralled the audience. Language was no impediment as Manto’s sophisticated Urdu was complemented by Vinay’s impeccable narration and translation.

The event was also a successful attempt to introduce a classic Indian writer to contemporary readers. A theatre actor by profession, Vinay stressed on the need to inculcate the habit of ‘Reading from Books’ among the present day generation hooked to Kindle and other digital media. ‘Abhivyakti‘, yet another Sutradhar initiative, held monthly at the G.P. Birla Auditorium in Hyderabad, encourages reading from old Indian classiscs, that in turn abridge the barriers of language & emotions between the bygone and the current.


Review: Writers’ Bloc Showcase – A specially curated season of original plays by Indian playwrights from Writers’ Bloc.

Theater enthusiasts of Hyderabad witnessed readings of two exceptional plays at the British Council Library in Jubilee Hills on 21st and 22nd January 2017. As part of the Writers’ Bloc Showcase, a specially curated season of original plays by Indian Playwrights from Writers’ Bloc, Farhad Sorabjee and Annie Zaidi presented readings of their plays.

‘Hard Places’, written by Farhad Sorabjee and Directed by Nadir Khan, was a staged, sit-down reading in entirety with brilliant dialogue, expressions and sound effects. Nadir Khan and Faezeh Jalali as siblings, Shernaz Patel as the mother were eloquent and expressive that brought out the chemistry between their characters. The interplay of conversations and emotions between siblings, and mother & children was far-reaching. Farhad’s narrative interventions were interesting and added to the mood of the play.

For a play that first premiered in 2004 in Mumbai and presented multiple times across theaters in India and abroad, the script and narration were gripping and fresh. After 80 minutes of uninterrupted narration, the Playwright and the cast engaged in a q&a round with a much enthralled audience.

I was intrigued by the inclusion of expletives in a staged play and did not hesitate to question the playwright. It was in place to reflect aggression in the character, or so I was told. Not that I objected or had any reservations about the use of those words, I was more interested in understanding the mood of playwright at the time of scripting. On being asked, “if you were to write the play today, would you change anything in the script”, Farhad said, “No. And anyway, the play is already out there and presented several times, so…”

The actors of ‘Jaal’ (Pic source Vinay Varma)

‘Jaal’, written by Annie Zaidi, Journalist & Author, Directed by acclaimed actor/director, Vinay Varma. The core theme of the play being ‘Displacement for Development’, the story is set in a fishing village called Mohagaon. The villagers are up-in-arms with the governing authorities over the construction of a dam on the river in their village, which serves as a major source of their livelihood.

Annie’s writing has depth and that comes from her empathy for rural population and their critical issues. When asked about its (the Play) impact, Annie said, “The authorities know the issues. The play was written so to reach the urban masses. Dams are built to benefit urban population and deeply impacts the livelihood of rural population.”

Well, for me the impact was huge as I was instantly reminded of the turbulent times of Narmada Bachao Andolan and Medha Patkar’s agitations for the inhabitants along the river.

Though, Jaal too was a staged reading with constricted space for movement, the cast of Sutradhar Theater Group gave an outstanding performance. With each character, I could visualize a Chacha, Mama, Kaaki, Gopal or Sangeeta in some distant village, struggling with myriad emotions. My personal favorite of the evening was Prathyusha Madapathi in the pivotal role of Jharna, the fisher woman and romantic interest of the lead protagonist, Gopal. Prathyusha delivered a stellar performance. She lived the character with her costume, diction, expressions, body language and rustic mannerisms.

The Direction of the play was impressive with an eye-for-detail. The pace was steady and engrossing. I had heard a lot about Mr. Vinay Varma from common friends, Director of Sutradhar Casting Agency, but what better way to be introduced than watching him in action.

The theater elite of the city was present in the audience and differed in their opinion pertaining to ‘reading’ of Jaal. Some found it distracting and felt it took away from the play. On the contrary, I felt the actors did a marvelous job and never once floundered; enacting and emoting while reading from a bound script. An aberration perhaps, from the set standards of the theater world.

Efficient management of logistics was by British Council in collaboration with Eventbrite, an events information portal.

Hyderabad is not just about Biryani & Haleem, nor does its magnificence end at the thresholds of Charminar. The twin cities have a rich history seeped in glorious theater & performing arts, and the writers & poets guilds as well, that offer a fantastic communion of art & culture.


Book Review: The Incubation Chamber

‘The Incubation Chamber’ by Vandana Kumari Jena is an anthology of 24 short stories that span various aspects of human relationships.

Vandana Kumari Jena is an IAS Officer of the 1979 batch Orissa Cadre. Her short stories have been published in over 15 anthologies. Much like her short stories, her first novel ‘The Dance of Death’ too explored the trauma and travails of a young woman dealing with myriad emotions and tragedies of life.

Set in the contemporary era, the collection of stories in ‘The Incubation Chamber’ is a testimony that emotions and sensitivity continue to occupy a significant place in our society. Each character in the stories is etched out from life, those that thrive among us. Each story is an experience someone somewhere has lived through.  From surrogacy to female feticide, blood relations vs. emotional ties, critical dilemmas to decisive actions, the stories are an amalgamation of life in all its dark and light shades.

The cover story, ‘The Incubation Chamber’ treads the delicate ropes of surrogacy. ‘Blood Ties’ explores the turmoil of a woman who embarks on a mission to find her blood-child. ‘Of Dreams & Desires’ breaks the social chains that bind women to morality and chastity. ‘The Testimony’ is a poignant saga of a woman who discovers her son as a rapist and her decisive stand thereafter. The heartbreaking travails of Indian students trying to adapt to a western life in a foreign land is an eye opener in ‘Birds Fly’. That a parent can be vulnerable in times of calamity and trial is a bitter yet shocking revelation in ‘The Aftermath of Tsunami’. Furthermore, AIDS & Autism, infidelity & domestic violence, insecurities & mindful living, all the victories and tragedies of human life are beautifully captured by the author.

If the stories are helmed from the author’s real life experiences, then it can be said that the writer is a keen observer of human behavior and has an emotional outlook towards life. If the stories are simply a work of fiction woven out of profound imagination, then the depth of the author’s thoughts can be determined by the way women of varying social strata are portrayed in all their strengths and weaknesses.

With ‘The Incubation Chamber’, Jena has revolutionized the art of short story writing. In our contemporary world of emotional abyss, this collection plays with the readers’ psyche and promises to awaken and enlighten. A must read for short story lovers.