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Touch of nostalgia

Jagriti theatre revives its old connection with Habib Tanvir’s Charandas Thief! with an online screening

Published: 01st July 2020 06:53 AM  |   Last Updated: 01st July 2020 06:53 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

BENGALURU: The art and culture fraternity has been significantly hit by the pandemic, with few solutions in sight. And theatre artistes find themselves in a situation where re-inventing themselves and their works seems to be the only way out. As spaces in the city await government guidelines on re-opening, Jagriti in Whitefield is sifting through their archives to engage theatre-goers.  

One such is Charandas Thief!, a production directed by veteran practitioner Arundhati Raja, which holds a special place for Jagriti since it was this play that marked the inauguration of the auditorium, which was to initially take place in 2006.

“Back then, I contacted Habib Tanvir as I wanted to inaugurate Jagriti with this play. When I got through to him on the phone, I explained to him that I wanted to perform his play and to base the production on Anjum Katyal’s English translation. I was met with silence for what seemed like an eternity. I wondered what could be wrong. I will never forget his reply that finally came over the phone, in a deep, resonant voice and in impeccable Queen’s English accent, saying, ‘My dear, in all these years that this play has been performed by so many different theatre companies, you are the first one to ever ask my permission to do so. Please go ahead.You have all my blessings’,” Raja recalls.  

She promised to let him know when the dates were fixed, even planning to invite him for the opening night. “Sadly that never happened. Jagriti didn’t open until January 2011. He had passed away on June 8, 2009,” she says.

Habib Tanvir’s Charandas Chor was first produced in 1975, opening up a new direction in Indian theatre performance. “It is a landmark play. It has been performed at many festivals, even winning the top award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1982,” she adds.  

The story revolves around Charandas, a lovable thief who vows never to tell a lie. He also makes three other vows believing that he will never be tested on them. But life takes him on a ride where he is constantly tempted to break each vow. The play takes him on a journey where he meets people who are not thieves but the question that arises is how honest they are. The fun-filled family entertainer which is meant to leave one contemplating, is set in Bengaluru and uses the city’s unique English with its smattering of Kannada, Tamil, Hindi and Urdu.

Raja admits that while there’s nothing that can compare with a live performance, this is the best alternative at this point in time. “Live shows cannot replace the energy on stage or the fun element. If all had gone well, we had two performances scheduled in April and May. But now, even to share our archival works, we have to check about copyright issues,” she says, adding that it’s a long road ahead.

(The production is available on Jagriti’s YouTube channel)

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