It’s a small world after all

I have something of a fetish for movie trailers. My Twitter/ Facebook feed is filled with links to interesting new film promos. Earlier this month the trailer for Victoria and Abdul landed. The amazing British filmmaker Stephen Frears directs Dame Judi Dench, Michael Gambon, Eddie Izzard, and (wait for it) Ali Fazal.

Yes, our very own Fazal plays Abdul in a bona fide—scratch that—prestigious international movie. And it’s been my privilege to see his humble beginnings in theatre.

Of course, everyone else in the movie has theatre backgrounds too, but we’re interested in our home-grown Pacino. He burst on the theatre scene in a play called Crab, written by Ram Ganesh Kamatham and directed by Arghya Lahiri. His performance was briefly the talk of the town. He shared the stage with Ankur Vikal, who later played a prominent part in Slumdog Millionaire.

The next time I saw him he was playing the likeable protagonist in the Thespo attempt of a play called Damages by Steve Thompson, directed by Siddharth Kumar, opposite Nimrat Kaur, who would go on to make somewhat tidal waves in the international circuit with The Lunchbox and later Homeland. I’m guessing you’re seeing a pattern here.

Ali did a whole bunch of plays before his bigger Bollywood work, and that much-coveted cameo in (Fast and) Furious 7.

After some affable romantic turns (as in David Auburn’s Proof), he aced the roles of a shy bisexual in Michael Puzzo’s A Guy Thing opposite Neil Bhoopalam, the ghost of a militant in Abhishek Majumdar’s The Djinns of Eidgah, and (my favourite) an ageing clown in his terrific solo performance of Scaramouche Jones.

Around the same time as Ali’s advent, Nimrat was winning accolades for her theatre work with Sunil Shanbag, Manav Kaul and for her standout performances in two of our productions, All About Women, written by Croatian playwright Miro Gavran who she later met during her Lunchbox travels, and Baghdad Wedding, written by Hassan Abdulrazzak, for which she won a Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Award.

India shining

Siddharth Kumar, or Robert as he is better known, went on to write a play called The Interview, because of which he went to New York, where he saw a staged reading of it, after which his play was produced and performed in South Africa and the Czech Republic. An Indian group in London even tried to perform it without permission, which is a true mark of success. Siddharth also acted in a television series with Julie Walters, who has ruled the British stage since her debut in Educating Rita.

India shining indeed. And it’s been shining brighter since two Shakespeare productions from here performed at The Globe. Atul Kumar’s Piya Behrupiya has since travelled across the world, much to the envy of other groups. I mean Singapore, Dubai, even London we can deal with. But Chile? And those photos of the cast looking pleased as punch on The Great Wall of China?

Meanwhile, at the Globe show of Sunil Shanbag’s Maro Piyu Gayo Rangoon, Judi Dench went backstage to congratulate the cast, and asked repeatedly for ‘Shubhro’. She was referring to Shubhrajyoti Barat, a theatre thespian, who acted with her in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and its sequel, which also featured Mumbai theatre doyenne Lillete Dubey. One might argue that Shakespeare, like music, is a universal language. And hence Shakespeare productions will travel easier and wider than others.

Not true. Later this year, an English adaptation of a Vijay Tendulkar play is headed to London. Regional theatre has been making its mark across the oceans for years. Gujarati plays flourish in New Jersey and East Africa. It is a lesser known fact that Marathi commercial plays are constantly travelling to the U.K. and the U.S.. Nipun Dharmadhikari, an unassuming chap and talented director from Pune, is on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, and he casually flies off to London and New York for shows of his Marathi musical. He also apparently has a private chat line with Emma Watson.

Of course, this isn’t a new phenomenon. Stage legends like Naseeruddin Shah and the late Amrish Puri have been doing international work for years. The Shah has even performed entire seasons of foreign productions on stage. But back then it was a rarity. Now, enough examples abound. Namit Das and Poulomi Ghosh are in Mira Nair’s stage version of Monsoon Wedding currently playing in Berkeley.

Radhika Apte, who never denies her strong theatre roots, has recently shared screen space with Melissa Leo and Kal Penn in a movie.

Abhishek Majumdar’s plays are regularly produced in England. Playwright Purva Naresh has plays opening in Australia.

Denzil Smith and Darshan Jariwala are rubbing shoulders with Hugh Bonneville and Simon Callow in Viceroy’s House, which has Huma Qureshi in a lead role, who also reportedly began her journey with an involvement in Thespo in Delhi. The list is unending. As theatre in India gets prominence within the country, clearly its global impact is also becoming formidable. The world is getting smaller, and the steps that Indian theatre is taking are getting significantly larger.

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