The need for articulation by new voices in theatre is an ever-present need. Voices of today are capturing the reality around us in all its complexity—using plot, language, characterisation, and drama—to create compelling scripts.
The transfusion of money into the theatre scene—by Mahindra’s, who give annual Excellence in Theatre Awards, and the Aditya Birla Group, which supports five new productions a year—is an excellent initiative. Apart from these, some organisations also host annual festivals. But looking out for new writing talent, and fostering and nurturing it, has found only a few takers. With active support of the Royal Court Theatre, London, several groups in different cities have organised playwriting workshops over the years and even published some of the scripts, but only some of them have got produced.
The Sultan Padamsee Award for Playwriting has also brought forward wonderful talents over the years. Its first winner Gurcharan Das wrote the stirring historical saga Larins Sahib—based on the life and times of Henry Lawrence. Looking at colonialism, and recording the dilemma of a man who didn’t know which side he was on, this play was produced by the Theatre Group Mumbai. Under Deryck Jefferies’ deft direction, Zul Vellani brought alive the complex character of the lead in costumes borrowed from Mughal-e-Azam.
Recently, Faezah Jalali won one of these awards for her irreverent gender bender Shikhandi. In an athletic, over-the-top production staged last year, this trans character from the Mahabharata came alive, delighting audiences across India. Yet another excellent script crying out for translation into regional languages.
The Sultan Padamsee Award for Playwriting is named after the maverick actor-director of the 1940s, who brought a certain professionalism to the amateur English language theatre scene in Bombay.
A recent competition organised by them—the results of which will be announced in Mumbai next month—attracted 102 entries. Among the finalists are delightful tales of the diaspora. While one compares the conservative son with his mother who is looking for a date online, the other talks about two generations’ take on money. Both these scripts work well in a realistic format. Another totally unique script looks at Indians who migrate—two from the countryside to the city, and two from abroad to India.
The play is realised as a series of poetic vignettes that capture the rhythm and lingo of Mumbai perfectly. Next in the fray is a script that looks at the violence of Partition in a style inspired by the lyricism of Lorca. Yet another script juxtaposes the world of an astronaut reaching for the stars with the patriarchal mindset of a Haryana village.
But this competition can only be considered successful if most of these plays enter the mainstream of Indian theatre and are done in regional languages. And if the Theatre Group decides to publish the best of the prize winners over the years, even better.
The writer is a Delhi-based theatre email@example.com