Suhana safar begins… Ila Arun and KK Raina bring three new plays to Prithvi Theatre

‘Hardit Kaur Gill’, ‘Yeh Raste Hain Pyar Ke’ and ‘Miracle on South Division Street’ will be showcased as part of a four-day theatre festival from November 11 to 14

Ila Arun and KK Raina

By Reema Gowalla

“Hamare paas rehearsal ke liye samay bahut kaam tha, par jinhe theatre ki aadat ho woh manage kar hi lete hain,” says veteran actor and folk singer Ila Arun, who is set to take the stage at Mumbai’s Prithvi Theatre this week with three new plays. The pieces — ‘Hardit Kaur Gill’ an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s ‘Hedda Gabler’; ‘Yeh Raste Hain Pyar Ke’; and ‘Miracle on Matunga Street’, based on Tom Dudzick’s ‘Miracle on South Division Street’ — are directed by noted film, television and theatre actor KK Raina.

A Surnai Theatre And Folk Arts Foundation presentation, the four-day theatre festival — ‘Natakon Ka Suhana Safar — begins today. The stellar cast includes names like Ira Dubey, Nitish Wadhwa, Param Singh, Aseem Hatangadi, Donna Munshi, Shilpa Varma, Rajshri Ponnappa, Prackriti Bhaargava and Ruturaj Shinde. Adapted in Hindi by Ila, ‘Hardit Kaur Gill’ and ‘Miracle on South Division Street’ are majorly feminist narratives, while ‘Yeh Raste Hain Pyar Ke’ is an endearing story of two elderly characters impacted by prolonged isolation caused during the pandemic.

‘Aesthetically adapted, meaningful plays that reflect the times we live in’

Describing the three plays as meaningful art, Raina says, “Now, more than ever before, we need plays that are socially relevant and that forge a connection with people, particularly the younger generation. People are returning to auditoriums amid Covid safety guidelines because they love live performances. It’s important to ensure that watching these shows become an intellectually stimulating experience for them.”

While she enjoyed creating and acting in all the three plays, Ila admits that the story of ‘Yeh Raste Hain Pyar Ke’ is very close to her heart. “This is a new production that opened at Hyderabad’s Qadir Ali Baig Theatre Festival last month. The plot revolves around two elderly people, who in spite of their loneliness during the Covid-induced lockdowns, manage to find positivity in life through conversations, as they go for walks at a neighbourhood park every morning,” she elaborates.

‘Bringing artists back to Mumbai after the pandemic was a challenge’

It’s reassuring for the theatre community to be back on stage after almost two years of hardships that took a toll on people’s physical and mental well-being. “With no work and a raging virus, many theatre artists had left Mumbai and migrated back to their hometown in the past year. And when places slowly started opening up, as theatremakers, our biggest challenge was to convince these artists to come back to the city. Given the low revenue margins and poor income levels in this sector, it’s a miracle that we survived this crisis period and are now able to hold a four-day theatre fest with three new productions,” says Raina, adding, “It will take some time to make up for the losses we incurred during the pandemic. So, artists are putting in the extra effort to bring live shows to the audience, albeit with 50% occupancy in most spaces. In the past month, we have spent days at rehearsals from 10 am to 10 pm.”

Admitting that she loves the theatre life, Ila says, “Even though we did several play readings on Zoom, I am not much in favour of digital theatre. Audiences are an integral part of the theatre. Performances cannot be held in isolation. We need people who are watching the play to interact with us. That exchange of energy is what keeps us going. In the online world, the language or mode of communication changes completely. It somehow becomes a passive experience, which is averse to the central tenet of the art form.”

Apart from theatre..

Known for their acting prowess both on screen and stage, the veteran actors are now also seen on OTT platforms — the latest being ‘Call My Agent: Bollywood’ on Netflix, in which Ila plays herself and ‘The Reunion — Chal Chalein Apne Ghar’ on The Zoom Studios, where Raina essays the role of a heartbroken husband who is grieving after the loss of his wife.

Commenting on the new medium, Raina says, “My experience so far has been fantastic. OTT platforms have provided a new source of livelihood for young as well as experienced actors in India. Be it a writer, director, performer or technician, there is a sense of freedom to showcase their craft and talent on this platform. As long as art remains art and does not become noise, every new medium is welcome. India is full of stories. We should focus on bringing those to the fore.” Ila, on the other hand, is working on a musical and has more web series projects in the pipeline.

Hardit Kaur Gill’ is scheduled to take place on November 11 and 12 at 7 pm, and on November 13 at 4 pm and 7 pm (you can book your tickets here); ‘Yeh Raste Hain Pyar Ke’ will take the stage on November 14 at 10 am; and ‘Miracle on Matunga Street’ is happening on November 14 at 4 pm and 7 pm (tickets).

Glimpses of the cast and scenes of the plays

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