The Hindu Friday February 29, 2008

Breaking new ground 
THEATRE "Salaam India” has something new to offer in terms of format.

IMPRESSIVE A scene from the play

This past week at Kamani auditorium Theatre World presented ''Salaam India'- a play directed by Lushin Dubey, which saw something new in Indian theatre, "particularly' in its format.

The director in her introductory note to the play said, "We have come through it all. Be it our culture, our history or the structure of our society. We have been subjugated but never defeated. We have steadfastly hung on to our resilience and hope as a people. Our aspirations and our ambitions, our youthful democracy of merely 61 years, our drive towards making ourselves a major global power in technology, in our spirit of entrepreneurship, and in our pan Indianess. Our ability to delve into our rich and varied traditions and adapt them to modern times without forsaking our identity and our roots has been the mantra of our survival. The play has four actors who portray sixteen characters altogether. Different situational excerpts from their life bring about contradictions, joy, humour, hope and aspirations that drive them." 

"Salaam India" had some of the best backstage artist like Louis Banks as music composer, Ashley Lobo as choreographer, Dolly Ahluwalia as costume designer and Martand Khosla as the set designer. Martand designed the set with four-inches broad aluminium pipes, used in a single line to create different areas like the basti on the outskirts, a building in the city, balcony of a house and so on. The director Lushin Dubey made excellent use of it to introduce variation in actors in each episode.

The play presents different the society in Delhi in four different stories. The first is the basti, which is followed by a story built around corruption and honesty. The third story is based on an America-return uncle’s girl named Sonali’s views on dowry, with horoscopes and pujas thrown in.

The last story in built around politicians, with long speeches that at times drag and need to be drastically edited. The play written by Nicholas Kharkongor is inspired by Pawan Verma’s bestseller “Being Indian”. Some of the concepts as projected in the book such as hope and resilience have been built into the character of different actors. For instances the buoyancy of Meena in the basti story of the double agent’s cunning quality as that of Bandopadhya.

The play and the presentation of the whole is a theatrical achievement that breaks new ground. Louis’s music and choreography by Ashley give a body to the play and Martland’s Khosla’s set design provides an opportunity to the actors to exploit it differently. Little more thought by the lighting designer and would have enhanced the overall impact of the presentation. Full marks to each actor for taking on four different roles, with each demanding a different histrionic talent. “Salaam India” must be kept alive.  


The Hindu - Metro Plus Delhi Thursday- March, 06-08
Life on a roll
Lushin Dubey on the challenges of the stage. NANDINI NAIR reports 

"Acting is a wrong word. It's not 'acting', it's 'feeling'." Veteran ac- Lushin Dubey does not 'become' but 'is' the character on stage. In "Salaam India," brought by Theatre World and Airtel, recently to Delhi, she is four different women. Directed by her, the play is inspired by Pavan K. Varma's "Being Indian".

The play shifts between four separate narratives and scenarios. Through insightful and in-telligent humour it reveals Indias idiosyncrasies. But with deft respect it also illuminates Indian Phenomena like jugad, dhandha, the return of the Diaspora and the dowry system. Set in Delhi- from south Extension to the bastis- the play peals away some of Delhis differing layers. With plans to travel with it, Dubey says, "Delhi-centric is now India-Centric. With subtle differences there is a heterogeneous sameness in India."

The first challenge of the play was to convert a novel into a script. Eyes hidden behind glasses, she says, "With a novel there is a lot of fodder, but there is not thread. You have all these different ingredients and you have to bake them together." But with the help of "Nicholas Kharkongor the play succeeds as a comprehensive script and not just a summary of the book. Even when dealing with topics like national identify or progress, it retains a certain buoyancy. Dubey explains that this treatment is true to our countrys nature. "Theres lightness of being. Its a strength which stems from our roots, from our family support"

It doesn't bring forth a chest-beating patriotism. Instead, it is a quiet confidence that comes from accepting who we are.

Each of the four actors plays multiple roles. This method is both convenient and effective for Dubey. A smaller cast expedites travel. It's also a way of maintaining control. "When you feel very strongly about a role and have conceived it yourself, it's often easier to just play it oneself." Theatrically also, the shifts are both exciting and challenging.

While she is actor and director in "Salaam India", Dubey asserts, "I love directing. But will not give up my acting." In 1995, she set up Untitled Players Guild that staged Shakespearean productions. She has travelled extensively with "Bitter Chocolate", based on Pinki Virani's book, and "Muskaan", on HIV. Having traversed through Shakespearean and social plays, this quintessential stage actor says she enjoys being different passion. But she adds, "I love my play 'Untitled', which will be going to Dubai soon. I play 10 characters in it. It's my most memorable. It was my first solo with puppets. The demands were tremendous."

Having started Kidsworld with her cousin Bubbles Sabharwal in 1987, this childhood and special education specialist knows that talent is found unexpectedly. She feels that other than passion and practice, actors need encouragement. "A pat on the back makes a lot of difference," she says with a teacher's fondness.

Having acted in about nine films, she says, "Theatre and film are my friends." She adds, "On screen, less is more and on stage sometimes more is not enough!" An idea has now taken seed in her mind. She plans to work on a play on foeticide.

The Pioneer Viva City Tuesday February 26, 2008
A potpourri called INDIA 
By Utpal K Banerjee

How varied and variegated in hues is one's view of India? And how colourful is one's recognition of the impact of this plurality on one's humdrum life? While introducing her latest venture, Salaam India on the Capital's stage, the director Lushin Dubey thinks aloud, "Indians, a heterogeneous multifarious lot, are difficult to define, and now even more so since we are at that juncture in our history, where we are springing out of our past into the modern global world."

The play, written by Nicholas Kharkonger and inspired by Pavan Varma's non-fiction work, Being Indian, tries to answer the difficult quetioo"tl1rougn some 21 different episodes in the life of 16 characters in a stereotypical urban milieu. There is the tottering granny who labours with her grand sibling to become 'something, like a Maruti car, visible and tangible.' There is the ramshackle apartment with its medley of inhabitants, putting up a brave front to save their home from demolition and negotiating with a municipal executive for a consideration, yet are they spared at the end? There is the frenetic negotiation on an ageing spinster's marriage but again there are requests - not supposedly dowry - which goes through the sky; but does the nuptial take place eventually? And there are the politicians, debating endlessly and taking sample surveys on the issue of national dish, in line with national animal or national bird, but do they succeed in the pointless bickering or decide on Chinese noodle as the final choice?

Amidst an entanglement of steel tubes as props, only four actors - Shena, Ashish, Andrew and Lushin herself amazingly coalesce and interplay among themselves chameleonlike, and work out all the situations through their independent, or interactive, networks. The results are often hilarious and occasionally sad, but the age-old veneers of Indian life about contradictions, joy, humour, hope and aspirations that drive it shine glowingly at its seams. Says Lushin, "I decided on the idea of confining myself only to two men and two women actors, from the beginning. For an ensemble cast, it's vitally important to have a family spirit and treat actions as though on a playground: with good fellow feeling and without negativism! The play proceeds on a non-linear fashion and the few actors have to lurch from one emotion to another." Further she adds, "The steeltubes do provide an abstract setting, but they are intended to balance against natural acting. Conventional comedies tend to have both realist props as well as realist acting, but my intention was not deliberately to evoke laughter but do one's role charged with emotion and to share emotion with spectators in the factually-based play."

But, are the enacted incidents derived from the original work ?

Remonstrates Lushin, "Only the concept is taken from Varma's non-fiction and the episodes are all invented by Nicholas and me, to do justice to the spirit of the original. I spoke to many Hindi playwrights who offered their own works on the theme, but only Nicholas could wonderfully capture Varma's idea of India as a multitudinous whole. Of course, there were many re-writings of the script and we added reinforcement by way of an initial holistic invocation from Nehru's Discovery of India and Tagore's Gitanjali poem on the Aryans and Non- Aryans all forming part of the same entity, called India. I was lucky to have Louis Banks minimalist music and Ashley Lobo's splendid choreography, to set it off!"

On the notion of adapting a total non-fiction to a dramatic form, recalls Lushin, "When I was performing my solos, Untitled and Bitter Chocolate in London, Varma's book, just released, came to my hands. I read through the book in one go on the return flight and decided, there and then, to convert it into a play."

Pavan Varma, Lushin Dubey & Ashley Lobo

Endorses Varma, the writer-diplomat of Being India,

"I'm pleased with the adaptation that retains the essential spirit of the book, and sets it around high entertainment value. Mine is a portrayal of who we are to be comfortable in our own skin and stop being what people thought we are! We, in spite of all our faults, have four assets: democracy, entrepreneurship, new technology/knowledge and new sense of pan Indianness. Lushin's play - with only four actors has been exceptionally innovative and communicated the essential sense very well. 

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