Article Published in THE HINDUSTAN TIMES

Theatre, here I come

Navtej Sarna

The play, they say, is the thing. You might see movies until you can recite the Sholay dialogue backwards but that does not mark you out as an intellectual elite. You are slightly better off if you spend the evenings lounging around an art gallery and come out looking suitably pensive and melancholy or if you sit bravely through music concerts and dance recitals, nodding sagely until you get a crick in your neck. But to be in the scene and on the move, you have to see plays.

And there, I think, I’m being simplistic. Its not so cut and dried that you merely walk into a theatre, buy your ticket, eat your popcorn, step on your neighbour’s toes and go home, happy in the thought that the evening was well spent. Like justice which not only has to be done but has also to be seen to be done, you have to be seen seeing plays. That, in these troubled times, is the only way to be known as a patron of art and learning. You may not get your face on a postage stamp but by sheer persistence the theatre-crowd will begin to find your countenance familiar.

But achieving this is not easy and the voice of experience can warn you that one must not step into it without being fully aware of the trials and tribulations involved. I ventured forth only after I had been tempered in the blast furnaces of lesser avenues to intellectual elitedom.

Let me expatiate. I gave up modern art quite early. There us a limit to imaginative interpretation and the day I found myself describing a particularly unedifying splash of colour as the Fall of the Twentieth Century Man I know that the limit, like the Rubicon one hears so much about, had been crossed.

I moved on. And a pleasant evening which by all rights should have found me on the tennis courts, saw me cooped up in a music concert. Ragas and talas went by like the idle wind which I heeded not. At that point my neighbour, as well-modulated and arty as they come, turned to me “ Er, excuse me,” he whispered, “I know one of them is a sitar but what is the other one?” I followed his gaze to find a pair of perfectly identical tanpuras! I walked out.

You have, no doubt, by this time realized that it is no tyro but a veteran at the game of instant culture who is approaching the play scene with such accomplished savoir-faire. And the scene if it has any instinct for survival had better look out for itself. A set of kurta pyjamas and a pair of fairly run down chappals is all I need. In my immature days, I had preferred the tie and blazer stuff because it shocked the gay cavaliers of theatre halls. But now I know that I will never be one of the family that way. And being one of the family, we have hinted before, is of the essence.

I will be seen at the intervals of all plays (whether I see the play or not). I will act broke and scrounge around for coffees (thus adding a dash of realism). I feel deprived that I cannot grow a beard; handicapped no doubt by the fact that I already have one. And one these days I’m going to stand the in foyer and talk of alienation in Brecht-a point on which (in less experienced days) I accused director of taking an innocent audience for a ride.