Guest blogger Nicole LeBlanc is a community volunteer, owner of Mon Voyage Travel and self-described Texas Bollywood Evangelist.
For Art & Seek theater geeks, or those familiar with or just curious about Indian cinema, there’s a play on the boards this weekend featuring some of the most respected actors in the Indian film industry. Its international tour stops in Dallas Saturday night for one performance only at the Naomi Bruton Mainstage Theater of the Black Academy of Arts & Letters, at the Dallas Convention Center Complex.
The Blue Mug is an experimental, semi-improvised theater piece inspired partly by neurologist Oliver Sacks’ book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (great book, if you’ve never read it) and it stars some of the most accomplished, awarded and respected (as opposed to the hammiest or handsomest) actors in Indian cinema, including Konkona Sen Sharma, Vinay Pathak, Ranvir Shorey, Rajat Kapoor, Munish Bhardwaj and Sheeba Chadha.
Sacks’ book narrates his experiences with patients who have lost their memories. In a press teleconference on Wednesday, Blue Mug director Atul Kumar explained that he wanted to explore the concept of memory and how people cope with such a devastating loss, because “memory is a tool for survival”.
At the play’s core is the relationship between a memory loss patient (Ranvir Shorey) and the doctor treating him (Konkona Sen Sharma). These are the only two “characters” in the piece, and their roles did involve a basic script. However, some of the memories depicted in their dialogue were workshopped using Shorey’s own experiences. Woven into this “devised” piece of theater are the other actors, who essentially play themselves and the memories they share with the audience also stem from their own lives. Director Atul Kumar says that with every performance, he can see the audience connect with those same memories through the actors. Ranvir Shorey notes an “unspoken exchange of energy between the audience and the actors”.
Though there’s no script to speak of, there is a fixed structure undergirding the piece. The conversations between doctor Konkona Sen Sharma and patient Ranvir Shorey were nailed down in the early stages of the play’s development. The other actors’ telling and retelling of particular memories night after night is kept fresh by the fact that the telling itself may vary from performance to performance. That sharing of personal experience and memory has led to a unique bond among the cast, who were friends before doing The Blue Mug together, having mostly worked together on various film projects. They all took advantage of a unique creative opportunity when Director Kumar invited them to do the piece at his Company Theater in Mumbai.
Every member of the cast has worked in both film and theater, but Sheeba Chadha cites her extensive theater credits as the most important and meaningful part of her career. Younger actors Shorey and Sen Sharma have done only a few plays each and derive their livelihoods on celluloid. Though cinema remains his first love, Shorey enjoys the experience of acting on stage. Observes Shorey, “Theater allows the actor to spend more time developing and refining a part, and one can grow with the character” in a way that is impossible under the tight time constraints of Indian film shooting schedules. (India makes several times as many movies as Hollywood, and the production timetables can be gruelingly condensed.)
Being able to see those screen stars perform live on stage is bound to be a rare opportunity for anyone interested in Indian film or just in adventurous theater. The piece will be performed in a 50/50 combination of Hindi and English (aka Hinglish) but should be understandable to both Hindi and English speakers. The production has toured across India, and based on critical and audience reaction to those performances, Kumar was approached about taking the play to other cities around the world, particularly in the UK and North America, although they are even bound for Brazil.
They’ll stop for one night only in Dallas and tickets for this adventure start at $10. More details here.