A Whole New World

I’ve been trying to see a show at the Prithvi Theatre, a very small community theater in Juhu started by Shashi Kapoor in the late 70’s, since I’ve gotten to Mumbai. For some reason or another it hasn’t worked out. Katie and I even attempted to go to a show two weeks ago but arrived to the theater ten minutes after the show had started. There was a sign posted on the locked doors that read “ABSOLUTELY NO LATE ENTRY.” Apparently IST rules don’t apply at the Prithvi. Noted.

We were able to salvage the night by enjoying a waterfront dinner at Aurus – it was quite romantic really:

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Fast forward to last night. I still have yet to see a show at the theater itself, however on the theater property there is an event space, Prithvi House, where the group Vikalp@Prithvi screens documentaries once a month. Katie, Kevin and I decided to go last night as they were showing two documentaries from Indian filmmakers on topics we hadn’t heard about before – we made sure to leave ample time to get to Juhu.

When we arrived (with 20 minutes to spare) we were asked to remove our shoes and climb a flight of stairs barefoot to get to the event space. They were screening the films in a rather small room. To fit all the attendees (about 150) there were blankets/rugs covering the floor where we would be sitting. Like “movie in the park” but indoors and a little cramped. It wasn’t the most comfortable but it was a really interesting crowd and the two documentaries shown were really great stories. Actually both films were stories about stories – totally meta – and both directors were present to introduce their film and answer questions after.

The first was a twelve minute film about Kutch tapestry artists entitled “Tanko Bole Che” – translation: “The Stitches Speak.” These artists take the stories and hardships from their lives and tell those stories through their tapestries. Kutch, after the partition was a sort of no-man’s-land in that it was a part of India but it lacked resources and thus was uninhabited. The Kutchi people pre-partition were living on the western border area and were told they could only come to India if they moved to Kutch. Despite a number of natural disasters in that region over the years, that had taken them back a few steps, they have built a life and craft and are happy.

tanko

What was especially creative is how the director envisioned and told the story. She scanned all of the tapestries, then took each piece of the tapestry and animated it. She matched that up with the voices of the artists explaining the story in their tapestry. In Kutch they speak a mix of Gujarati, Sindhi and Kuchi so I could understand some of the dialog without the sub-titles; always a nice feeling. The director had brought a few of the tapestries to show us all and talked a bit about the making of the film and the women and men that she had met with. Their artwork is available for purchase through the Kala Raksha Org.

The second film that was screened was about the mobile theater industry (yes I said industry) in Assam, entitled “Where Othello Sets Sail with Titanic.” This film was close to an hour in length and followed seven-ish different mobile theater companies during their theater season which lasts nine months of the year. About 90 to 100 people make up a mobile theater company and they travel together, for nine months, away from their families, in cramped buses, to 60+ different locations throughout Assam bringing new stories to the region including to areas where the people don’t have televisions or even electricity. Mobile theater for these people is true edutainment (educational entertainment) in these parts. The companies set up their stages, backstage, orchestra pit and tent for seating in every location they go to where 2,000+ people to attend a single show. The documentary shows footage of some of the shows that have been put on – among them, as you might have predicted from the title, Othello and Titanic. The visual spectacle in Titanic, that they are able to create on stage is no small feat and all the more spectacular when you realize how low-tech it is. About 150 different plays are presented by some 40 different mobile theater companies in a single year. After the show the director was discussing the demand for good playwrights in that region. Right now there are anywhere from 5-10 playwrights having to churn out 5-15 scripts a year. Many of them resort to translating existing pieces from Shakespeare or Hollywood but they also write regional stories. I have many more fun facts but I’ll spare you.

I’m not sure if Vikalp@Prithvi did this intentionally but I really loved how both of these filmmakers were able to find and tell really unique and positive stories about regions where the news is often very negative.

To continue our night of culture, we opted to have dinner at The Irish House and enjoy Monday Karaoke Night with some friends. I chose to sing “A Whole New World” from Aladdin. Now in my head I saw this turning into a group sing-a-long. Let’s just say that didn’t happen and I can never go back to The Irish House – my local friends said afterwards that they didn’t actually know what that song was. I clearly know the crowd pleasers.

I’m sticking to “Build Me Up Buttercup” for next time.

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