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Quality takes a quantum leap

With the aim of encouraging sincere campus theatre groups, Masquerade organises annual drama competitions for college students. ELIZABETH ROY reviews this year's fare ...

A well-written script from IIT Madras, "A Play in a Play" won the Judges' Special Nomination for Acting.

NATAK 2001, which happened last week, was a significant upswing on Natak 2000. The judges while announcing the competition results repeatedly beamed ``the quantum leap in the quality of productions". Krishna Kumar, the architect and mainstay of Masquerade, the organisers of Natak, said their mission is to encourage, recognise and celebrate the good work of campus theatre groups and to give them opportunities to develop their skills and achieve a degree of professionalism. He and his team, learning from a critical appraisal of Natak 2000, organised pre-event workshops and training in theatre for colleges participating in the festival. They also made possible interactive sessions for all participants, where they exchanged ideas, shared anxieties and got into the spirit of healthy competition and camaraderie.

The infrastructure support from Masquerade was thorough, generous and meticulously executed. All the basic lighting and sound facilities that the designs required were provided. So were basic production money and technical support and advice. There was also close supervision to ensure fair play. The same five colleges that participated last year were back again this year with better scripts, a better understanding of the complexities of theatre practice and with their skills well honed.

M. O. P. Vaishnav College for Women opened the festival with an adaptation of Poile SenGupta's "Mangalam". The production threw up strong characterisation and some good actors. However, more than an adaptation, what came through was a script that had been tampered with. The over-emphasis on sexual abuse within the family reduced it to a simplistic level. Shalini Challa and Lakhsmi B. walked away with the award for Stage Management. IIT, Madras, wrote their script, "A Play in a Play". Moving back and forth between the auditorium, the stage, Natak and the many levels of reality, the script was well written and energetic, but somewhat lost the audience towards the latter half. Mihir Mysore's arresting performance (a bit of Jim Carrey and The Matrix!?) was the Judges' Special Nomination for Acting. Ajit Narayan won the Best Script award.

The other original script came from the Women's Christian College. Shahina Zakir, a young friend of the team, wrote "The Price to Pay" for Natak. It said if children are taken for granted and are given for adoption you might have to pay a price for it. In spite of unforeseen circumstances that jolted the production, the team honoured their commitment to Natak and the audience. The presentation, though on a modest scale, was well done and won awards for Best Actor (Nidhi Verghese) and for the Best Sound Track (Sarah Stephanos).

Stella Maris College, which swept Natak last year, adapted Synge's classic short play "Riders to the Sea" to the exotic colours and swaying hips of a Gujarati fishing village. It was a show of spectacle. The sound track with its original score and soul stirring singing was striking but the volume drowned the play. The costume design was tasteful, authentic and well coordinated, but the dancers wore bizarre designs, which bore little relevance to the rest of the costumes. There was plenty of talent on stage but neither the actors nor the play could fully evolve or develop because of interruptions from voice-overs and other factors. However, some professional work from Priya Krishnan won her the Best Makeup award. They also won the award for Set Design and Execution (Nasra Roy). Her sets were aesthetically pleasing and defined space with an eye for detail and was the only set design entry that flirted with structures.

Justice Basheer Ahmed Sayeed College for Women with Eve Ensler's "Necessary Targets" swept every other award. The play took a close look at a Bosnian refugee camp for women. The two psychiatrists, who go there to help the women cope, end up recognising the reality of their own lives. The play held the attention of the audience. Nikhila Kesavan who won the Best Director award put space to good use and with the help of lighting created three distinct areas for action. The stage also captured effectively the milieu of the refugee camp and its disturbing oppression. They won awards for Best Lighting Design (Farah Ahmed and Kousalya R.), Best Costumes (Zakiya Fathima), Best Supporting Actor (Sameena Parvin), and naturally for the Best Play Production.

"Riders To the Sea" ... a Stella Maris College presentation that won awards for make-up and set design. — Pics. by S.R.Raghunathan.

Nikhila Kesavan enthusiastically credits hard work and Natak for their success. More than the awards, she is thrilled with the exposure they have had, the opportunity they had to work, watch and bond with the other groups. More than anything else, she feels they owe it to Natak for having awakened in them a consciousness for theatre and the realisation that there is more to theatre than saying the lines and acting the parts. With feedback like that from the participants Masquerade can rest their case. ``This is what at the end of the day saves my skin'', says Krishna Kumar with his penchant for investing in the young. ``It's worth it even if it means we lose money.'' They do not have to if the Chennai public can give credence to what Natak can contribute to our children and to the future of theatre in our country, if we can come out in strength to support them, by filling auditoriums. Hopefully next year more colleges will come forward to participate, hopefully the productions will be even more professional and take that extra effort to move into the challenges of composite set designs.

Krishna Kumar on his part is considering the possibility of full-length plays and giving each college its own day, and of using the foyer space for student artists and designers to share their work. He would like to collaborate with colleges to organise longer, more sustained workshops.

He is also considering a change in approach to ``competition", hoping that what draws the colleges to Natak will be the privilege of being invited on the basis of excellence. On our part we can start thinking about how best we can support Natak 2002.

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