Some days leave me amazed at the sheer number of immensely talented people I know, who have struggled and worked relentlessly to
doing what they love. Piyush Mishra is a classic example. Back when we were in SPA, Piyush was a large presence in our lives. Us, the theater walas, were members of a group called Spandan, the naatak company of our college, SPA. And certainly, for us, Spandan was the heartbeat (that’s what spandan means) of our student life.
Piyush, a product of the National School of Drama, and a hardcore Mandi house product (anyone who has hung around that place would know what I mean) had a special connection with SPA. His wife Priya was our senior. And so, we had the privilege of him directing some of our productions and composing music for others.
I never acted in any of the productions he directed, but I was a part of the initial build up, the script reading sessions, the improvization sessions and so on and so forth. The manic activity back stage and the riotous joy after the performances can still send most of us on a high. Piyush was a hard taskmaster. A buddy we were all a little scared of. Someone unafraid to speak his mind, capable of immense affection and immense rage, all in the span of a few minutes.
I did, however, act in a production titled “Accidental Death of an Anarchist”. A Dario Fo script, we were directed by Arvind Gaur, who is now a well-established personality in the theater world. Many members of his group Asmita, performed with us, lending their presence to the songs and crowd scenes in the play- some of them Manu Rishi, Deepak Dobriyal are making their place in the meaningful side of the Hindi film industry now.
Notably though, Piyush wrote lyrics and composed music for this intensely political script. I distinctly remember the day of the performance at the Air Force Auditorium at Subroto Park (we were being paid to perform, it was beyond our imagination at that time!). Piyush was making us rehearse the songs and we were all tired and nervous. A few things weren’t coming together as we wanted and there was tension in the air. In the middle of the rehearsal, Piyush screamed at me. “Tum to gaayak ho Mukta, tum besura kyon gaa rahi ho!” – You are a singer, why are you singing off tune. The disappointment and anger directed towards me shook me to my core. I didn’t dare cry or react…the only choice ahead was to improve.
I see that kind of single minded focus, especially towards his lyrics and music in Piyush’s work today. I enjoyed his lyrics in Aaja Nachle, but his work in Anurag Kashyap’s Gulaal (acting, lyrics, music) really seemed like an extension of that passionate man I saw in action back in college. And now, this piece from Gangs of Wasseypur haunts me, taunts me to go back to my music again.
I am eternally fascinated by the performing arts, but unlike dance and music, theater daunts and entices me at the same time purely because I have little talent for the stage (theatrics in real life is another matter altogether!). Tonight, I watched ‘Chinese Coffee’ at the Epicentre in Gurgaon. Danish Hussain has big shoes to fill when he attempts to direct and act a part played by Al Pacino way back in 1992 on Broadway. Ira Lewis’ script, which takes us through an evening of two failed writers in a heated discussion about their art, their life and their friendship, is a difficult one to perform simply because it required only two actors to sustain an intense performance that slips in and out sarcasm, humor, mimicry and anger with suprising speed. A two-hour long performance by Danish and Vrajesh Hirjee, the latter especially talented and energetic, was well appreciated tonight.
A few things about the play, which revolved around one friend’s reaction to the other’s latest manuscript, struck me particularly. The adaptation we saw today is set in Delhi. At one point, there is a discussion about how this large metropolis does not actually energize us, but sucks the life out of us because by living in it and breathing its polluted air, we are unable to perceive any reality other than this. Or at least that’s how I interpreted the dialogue! I have observed people born and brought up in large cities are genuinely naïve about any other sort of life; worse, they often look down on small town people. I experienced that a bit when I came to Delhi to study architecture for the first time and I was shocked that many of my Delhi-ite classmates were so satisfied with their rather limited worldview!
The other more serious issue and also the one that took the play to its climax is that of the thin line between fact and fiction. What happens when you use real life people as inspiration for fictitious characters and you weave a bit too much of their real life (as confided to you as a friend) in the book? One friend accuses the other, in the play, of ‘stealing his life’! Some years ago, I began on my first and only attempt to write fiction. It was a novella about a group of friends in a big city. Inadvertently, I used a close friend as part inspiration for one of the characters. She, who also is the only one to read this tentative piece of work, saw through this and commented on it, not critically, but as a matter of fact. I was unable to continue the story and haven’t returned to it since, petrified by the thought that I might offend her or borrow more private aspects of her real life for my story! A nightmare in the works it was…..
On a lighter note, the play made several digs at popular fiction, which it clearly classified as trash. I see that kind of attitude among those I follow on twitter, among the literary and artistic type and I can’t stomach Chetan Bhagat either (I don’t knopw why he is always the target, poor guy!). However, I cannot for the life of me decide whether I must mourn the taste of the majority of this country’s reading public (who for some inexplicable reason thrives on self-improvement books, chic flicks and dude flicks!) or accept this as a reality I have no right to be snobbish about!