Namit Das: Music in His Veins

An archival interview with Namit Das, in which the actor-singer of the Mumbai stage looks back at his musical legacy.

What are your earliest memories of music?

My earliest memories take me back to Mahim, to the house where we used to stay, Makrand Seh Niwas. It was the first house we had shifted into, as paying guests, when my father (ghazal singer Chandan Dass) arrived in Mumbai. Everything took place with the sea as a backdrop — my father’s riyaaz, my trying to mimic him on the ‘baby harmonium’ that my mother (Yamini Dass) had bought me. It’s just the memory of a note… sa… the beginning, and everything is sort of engulfed in that — my father’s struggles as a singer, my mother’s love for her family, the sound of the sea, Victoria Library, the traffic on Cadell Road and those odd evenings in Shivaji Park where one had nothing to do but just watch Mumbai. Actually, watch Bombay become Mumbai (laughs).

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Caryl Churchill’s Far Away

A young girl far away from home wakes up in the middle of the night. She has heard the sound of someone screaming. Perhaps, her aunt tells her, it was only an owl. But it isn’t an owl, and the girl’s life will never be the same again. Caryl Churchill’s brief but chilling play depicts a surreal world hurtling towards political and ecological catastrophe, a world where nothing can be trusted – not even the birds in the trees.

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A scene depicting the Pandharpur yatra in Abhijeet Khadeʼs Thararli Veet.

The Spectre of Censorship

A look at censorship woes faced by urban theatre in Mumbai in recent years. This article was filed in July, 2015.

In Chaitanya Tamhane’s National Award-winning film, Court, a throwaway comment about an obsolete sect by a defense lawyer (Vivek Gomber) during case proceedings results in him being assaulted by vigilantes outside an upscale Gujarati eatery, Chetana, in Kala Ghoda. He was defending Narayan Kamble (Vira Sathidar), a resolute figure modeled on prominent lokshahir Sambhaji Bhagat, whose ‘poetry of protest’ may have incited a sewage worker’s suicide. Through the lens of censorship in the performing arts, the film takes a look at India’s chronically fraught legal system. Kamble’s art of dissent is contrasted with reactionary commercial theatre where the xenophobic baiting of so-called North Indian immigrants passes without censure, and is even relished by the public prosecutor (Geetanjali Kulkarni) and her family during an outing to the Acharya Atre Natya Mandir in Kalyan. These juxtapositions masterfully set up the worlds on both sides of the proverbial divide, that often create the very flashpoints that lead to censorship.

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S/He is Nancy Joe

A review of a dance-visual performance that brings together street ballet, graffiti, and testosterone.

This year’s ITFoK line-up included S/He is Nancy Joe, a stirring look at transsexualism, from Czech performer Miřenka Čechová. Billed as a docu-dance, it is relentless in the manner it broadcasts searing episodes from the life of a transsexual man, born a woman, but scrambling and fumbling on his way to acquiring the trappings of his own gender. It is a solo performance that has moved audiences internationally before arriving at Kerala shores, where the throngs in attendance are arguably less inured to issues of gender ambiguity although Čechová puts on a ‘sound and light’ show that certainly keeps them entertained. In a festival whose thematic focus has been ‘gender’, her work stands out like an island in a veritable sea of topical angst precipitated mainly by the violence (historical, recent and ongoing) against women, though some remarkable work has been exhibited from that vantage at ITFoK. Here, there is violence and blood, but the idea of masculinity is stripped away from boorishness and swagger and privilege, being instead the aspiration that brings inevitable closure to a very personal struggle.

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Rajit Kapur’s The Glass Menagerie

This review was originally featured in the Mumbai Theatre Guide.

When we walk into Rajit Kapur’s new production of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, there is a polished austerity on display. A sparse but tasteful living room is sprawled before us, but the universe of the original setting — St Louis, Missouri in 1937 during The Great Depression, with its miseries and privations — isn’t immediately evoked. In Mr Kapur’s version, a fire escape, sometimes the only semblance of a porch afforded by such living quarters, becomes a dreamy podium for a busking violinist (Anaar Desai) who performs charming musical accents for the play’s more agitated moments. Now and again, we are reminded of the worlds (and freedoms) beyond — the much referenced docks where the play’s leading man, Tom Wingfield (Jim Sarbh), finds solace in drink or the movies that provides him vicarious escape from a stifling household replete with domineering mother and mixed-up sister — even as the homeyness still lets on a sense of the unspectacular tragedies that would soon inform the ordinary lives of our protagonists.

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