6 August 2008

Hitting the right note: Hungry Heart Festival 2007

The third Hungry Heart Festival promises to be a naach-gaana affair, says Trisha Gupta.

First held in 2005, the Hungry Heart Festival has grown to be a permanent fixture on the Delhi calendar. The Hungry Heart Society was established in 2005 by three Delhi-based women: Sohaila Kapur, Smita Bharti and Monica Bhasin. “Smita and I are the writer-directors and actors, while Monica handles the production and finance side,” says Sohaila Kapur. “We thought we could bring our skills together and give Delhi a different sort of theatrical experience.”

“People in Delhi only go [to watch plays] where they can have a laugh,” Kapur says. She sounds matter-of-fact, but it’s clear that Kapur and her colleagues see their festival as a platform for theatre that deals sensitively with contemporary issues, with a special emphasis on portraying “women of substance and influence”. The first Hungry Heart festival took “women in relationships” as its theme and featured Anuradha Kapur’s powerful production of Antigone (starring Seema Biswas) as well as Deepti Naval’s first public recitation of her poetry.

While usually engaging with contemporary subjects that resonate with her urban middle class Indian audience, Kapur’s own plays are not necessarily “serious”. In fact, the festival’s second instalment in 2006 had “comedy” as a theme and featured five plays, all directed by Kapur herself.

This year’s theme is simply “musicals”. The festival opens with Naya Theatre’s production of Agra Bazar. Drawing on the consciously plebeian poetry of eighteenth- century Urdu poet Nazir Akbarabadi, the play was written by veteran director Habib Tanvir soon after he moved to Delhi in 1954. It was originally performed with non-professional actors from Okhla. Later, Tanvir reworked the play in the Chattisgarhi nacha folk style – which he continues to work in – with actors from the region. According to critic Javed Malick, what was revolutionary about the play was that it put on the stage “not the socially and architecturally walled-in space of a private dwelling, but a bazaar, with all its noise and bustle… its sharp social, economic and cultural polarities”.

The huge scale and infectious energy of Agra Bazar makes it a tough act to follow. But the festival has at least two other grand productions. First performed in 2003, Ashley Lobo’s dance theatre production About Nothing uses jazz, kathak, salsa and Western contemporary dance to mull over questions of relationships, violence and respect. Usman Peerzada’s Pathay Khan is a nautanki-style play performed by over 30 Pakistani actors and dancers. Peerzada is also bringing with him the famous Sufi singer Sain Zahoor. Kapur’s own play, Rumi: Unveil the Sun, about the Sufi poet Rumi and Shams Tabrizi, incorporates kathak and qawwali.

The other productions are on a less spectacular scale. Smita Bharti’s The Nun and the Prostitute is a humorous look at reality television and contemporary notions of morality. Finally, there’s Meeta Vasisht’s performance as the legendary Kashmiri mystic poet Lal Ded. (See page 18.)

These last three are directed by women, in keeping with one of Hungry Heart’s original objectives. “Lal Ded premiered at Hungry Heart in 2005, and I’m glad to bring it back,” says Vasisht. “The festival is personally dear to me because it’s run by these wonderful women.”

Source : Time Out Delhi Vol. 1 Issue 2. April 20 - May 3, 2007.

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