Why this blog is called "Gallimaufry".

gal-uh-MAW-free\, noun.

Originally meaning "a hash of various kinds of meats," "gallimaufry" comes from French galimafrée; in Old French, from the word galer, "to rejoice, to make merry"; in old English: gala + mafrer: "to eat much," and from Medieval Dutch maffelen: "to open one's mouth wide."

It's also a dish made by hashing up odds and ends of food; a heterogeneous mixture; a hodge-podge; a ragout; a confused jumble; a ridiculous medley; a promiscuous (!) assemblage of persons.

Those of you who know me, will, I’m sure, understand how well some of these phrases (barring the "promiscuous" bit!) fit me.

More importantly, this blog is an ode to my love for Shimla. I hope to show you this little town through my eyes. If you don't see too many people in it, forgive me, because I'm a little chary of turning this into a human zoo.

Stop by for a spell, look at my pictures, ask me questions about Shimla, if you wish. I shall try and answer them as best as I can. Let's be friends for a while....

19 June 2008

A Lament

I love Shimla. Though not by birth, I consider myself an honorary Himachali. I claim this by virtue of having been able to visit this state over two dozen times in the past 15 years, and now, when I have actually got the opportunity to live here. There is much that this little town has to offer. Clean air, gorgeous views of the rolling hills and snowy peaks, many varieties of wild flowers, and, above all, a populace that is universally friendly and accepting of strangers in its midst.

What, then, is my lament?

I do not miss the crowded roads, the honking horns, the foul air of my hometown. I do not miss the hurly-burly of metropolitan life. I do not miss the malls, with their little ‘M’. Our own Mall beats those hollow any time. I do not even much miss the swanky multiplexes which offer a choice of four films or more under one roof. But I do miss the vibrant forms of entertainment Bombay offers.

This former Bombay-ite, mocked friendly-like by her local friends as a dilettante, misses being able to watch theatre in Shimla.

I miss the thrill of an opening night. I miss the little paper lamps that are strung up in the area outside. They sway gently & cast merry shadows on the enthusiasts milling around. I miss the open-air café which does brisk business with tea and snacks. No fancy-sounding coffees. Only the good old-fashioned tea, with milk & sugar added in the kitchen.

I miss checking out the blurb on the pamphlets handed out; studying the month’s programme, carefully noting the dates of future shows. I miss the going off of the first bell. I miss shuffling in. Serious lovers of theatre are rarely seen elbowing fellow enthusiasts out of the way. Everyone takes a seat they think offers the best view and acoustics. After all, you do not wish to miss a single word or gesture.

The play begins. There is a lovely little proscenium stage. The seating arena for the audience fans outward in a sort of elevated half-circle. The acting space looks awfully small. The actors troop in. Tonight you may be watching a black comedy. Last week, it may have been a 'collaborative creation' or improvisational theatre: where the action was originally created not by a writer, but by the performers themselves. Next week, you might get to see a romantic comedy, a medley of clever scheming, calculated coincidence, and wondrous discovery, all of which contribute ultimately to making the events answer precisely to the hero's or heroine's wishes, with the focus on love. It might even be a “social”, a heavy, tear-jerker melodrama spotlighting anything from adoption to adultery to the abandonment of the elderly or the infirm. You might be watching the play in English, Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Tamil or Malayalam. I miss scanning the papers for reviews. I miss reading them and then scoffing at the way the critic’s remarks have missed the base!

I miss laughing hard at “Hai Mera Dil”, shedding a tear at “I’m Not Bajirao”, being moved to the core by “Gandhi Viruddha Gandhi” or “Tumhari Amrita” …. I miss that palpable silence which falls on the house when some lines of a play strike a chord in its watchers. I miss the standing ovation given to a group of players. I miss going backstage to tell an actor how much his work has thrilled me.

So where is all this in Shimla? Why do we not see much of the local theatre groups? Is it because they are, like their brethren in most other Indian cities, strapped for cash? If this is the case, where are the well-heeled amongst us? Why are they not coming forward to encourage an activity that can be creative and profitable at the same time? Why is there such a paucity of space for creative expression? Why are the czars of government not coming forward to act as patrons by creating better facilities and by subsidizing productions?

The theatre in Gaiety is on its way to being readied. But what about other spaces? The auditorium inside Kali Bari is antiquated, offering neither good visuals nor decent acoustics to the viewer. The stage is at such a height that if you happen to be seated in the first few rows, you are almost tempted to raise yourself on tiptoe, if only for a better look at the down-stage activity. Funnily and unintentionally, the auditorium in Kali Bari achieves Bertolt Brecht’s “defamiliarization effect”, in that it gives the audience the required emotional distance to reflect on what is being presented!! I have not seen the auditorium of HP University, but fervently hope it does one better than the one I mentioned.

And where are those vital ingredients of this endeavour: the playwrights, the actors, the directors, the producers, the sound and light specialists? For good theatre to exist and flourish, we need not just good facilities, but also enthusiasts among those who create and those who, for want of a better word, consume the artistic product.

Theatre is not just about entertainment. It is not about going to a particular spot, sitting passively and absorbing the spectacle on offer. Human beings do not merely hear and see things, they also sense them. They are able to appreciate the subtle nuances of a tone, a blink or a movement. The beauty of theatre lies in the fact that the quality of the audience affects the play and the players. Unlike films, plays are not a passive, one-way, pre-packaged experience. In plays, as in films, there are rehearsals. But once the show gets going, a theatre artiste does not have the opportunity to give another ‘take’ – to make another attempt at mouthing a dialogue: what has been said, has been said. Audience reactions affect acting as it happens. The warmth in the tone of a speaker travels directly to the viewer; a glimmer of a tear in the performer’s eye immediately causes the spectator to respond. A skilled actor, through the blend of voice, tone, gestures and outfits succeeds in creating a world and transporting his audience to it. The actor’s energy expands and fills up the space which is also occupied by the viewer; the energy flows from one to the other. The viewer feels the despair of Mahatma Gandhi at Pyarelal’s delinquency; he feels Zulfi’s longing for Amrita; he laughs with Dhanjisha Batliwala & quibbles with Madhukar Kulkarni.

Kay Kay, Naseruddin Shah, Dinesh Thakur, Aul Kulkarni, Shabana Azmi, Boman Irani, Mehrbanoo Mody Kotwal, Rahul Da Cunha, Feroze Khan, Sanjana Kapoor, Shernaaz Patel, Rajit Kapoor, Jayati Bhatia: they allow you to enter their world and experience, in the span of two hours, many highs and lows, rapture and anguish, a whole world of moods and happenings.

I want this in Shimla. I want this for Shimla.


Scribbler said...

It's a matter of one person with a vision. Or several of them.

When I was talking to Arundhati Nag here in Bangalore some ten days or so ago, she told me that Bangalore had just not had the space for theatre to grow and develop until ranga Shankara came along. After all, it needs not just a theatre but also a meeting point... a place where the auditorium isn't given out for weddings or for lectures but is devoted to all the art of theatre alone. And then, it has to be open constantly for that purpose--it shouldn't be closed off to those who are unable to afford a certain rental fee. And then somebody has to ensure that the people interested in theatre get an opportunity to see theatre from outside the place they live in, get exposed to new ideas, start thinking differently. And it took Mrs Nag, what, 10 years to make it happen?

It's not impossible, but just money alone and/or a theatre building won't make it fall into place. I am heartened to hear that a group of Hyderabadi citizens have come together to consider putting up a theatre that will be devoted to theatre alone, much as Prthvi in Bombay or Ranga Shanakara in Bangalore work. Maybe that will happen sometime in Shimla, but it will take a good bit of work.

Gallimaufry said...

Well, I didn't say that lack of space alone was the problem. But it seems to be one of the big ones. I'm sure there are theatre groups, but they're all lying low for lack of support in various forms.
Pity one won't be living here long-term, for this IS a worthy cause. How can I change things? Well, I'm starting my going hammer & tongs at an idea that's been in mind for a while. Am giving myself a deadline within which to finish it. Surely, there will some brave souls in town who'll bring my baby to life....

Scribbler said...

I think lack of a space--and I mean a physical as well as an intellectual space--is probably the only problem.

Good luck with what you're thinking of! Success isn't so odd...

Atoorva said...

Just came back from NSD after watching(once again) the ever delightful "Ghasiram Kotwal" .You are absolutely right....Shimla is no longer'play'-ful ...the gaiety is lost from the Gaiety theatre.But on second thoughts isn't it true for most other cities too? In my hometown Lucknow, theatre has almost died. There was a brave attempt till early 90s of shifting the venue of theatre to Tv studios(when a weekly play was telecast )from DD...but that too is no more.How many colleges today organise drama /one act play competitions....They prefer fashion shows . Kolkata of course is an exception...theatre is still alive in that city ....in fact to my surprise ,even our AG office has a two day drama festival. It was heartening to find that not only bangla but also English and Hindi theatre is flourishing over there .

Gallimaufry said...

Thankfully, Atoorva, Maharashtra is an exception to the rule you've observed. Theatre's alive & kicking there. I speak not only of Bombay & Poona, but also smaller towns like Nasik & Sangli. But, in the end, for any form of art to survive - or thrive - you must have dedicated band of aficionados.
It is as Scribbler points out - in Shimla at least the problem is of physical & creative space....

d SINNER!!! said...

A few months down the lane, I've come across a few theater persons of Shimla and well, it is disappointing that theater is loosing its ground.

Books from Mr.Bhasin and other eminent authors about Shimla, at one or other point speaks about the glorious theater past that Shimla had.

The activists (who now just sigh, when the word theater is spoken) are indeed trying their best but can't do it all alone,they need support-not only from Shimla residents but even the government here!

It is a pity that not only theater but even cinema isn't available here. I miss the "cinema" part which isn't a bollywood hit but could be called "legendary"!!!

Anonymous said...

Hi there,
great to see such feelings for theater.....are there any places to stage a play.....we are mumbai based theater group currently in shimla and were just wondering if it could happen.....also will it be a good idea to stage an English Play....
hope to hear from u soon

theater group: newkiddatown@yahoo.com

Geetali said...

Aniel, Shimla's Gaiety Theatre makes a wonderful venue for small plays. If interested, please climb up the steps near the Town Hall and approach the theatre from the entrance on the Ridge. The people at the counter will guide you to the powers-that-be. Alternately, you should contact the people at the Himachal Pradesh Department of Art & Culture, Dr. Prem Sharma, to be specific. Be warned that ever since it was refurbished, Gaiety has been staging a variety of programmes, so it may not be immediately available.
But then, Shimla being Shimla, a friendly request goes a long way.

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