The Firebird, Saikat Majumdar, Hachette, 2015, pp 233, INR 499
From the few visits to Circarina—the Calcutta playhouse with the revolving stage—that one made in the early flush of youth, the figure of an elderly dhoti-clad gentleman who would sit in the front row rises up from the depths of memory. He would always be holding a freshly-picked rose in his hand, which he would present to one of the performers immediately after a song and dance sequence. It was a heady experience watching those plays, the throbbing darkness inside the hall, the coloured spotlight beams lighting up the elaborate sets, the filmi music, the Bollywood style bump and grind and the crackling storylines. All of it came back in a rush while reading The Firebird, Saikat Majumdar’s novel set in the world of commercial theatre. A powerful story of subversion, decay and dissonance in a north Calcutta family with a young boy at its centre.
Ori. A complex and slightly unpredictable child whose mother Garima Basu is a stage actress, a profession that doesn’t find favour in their middle-class family. The young Ori, who studies in class five at the beginning of the book seeks refuge in the tales told by his grandmother—Mummum—or hangs out with his cousin Shruti and her college friends. Ori’s own father is an alcoholic and a sleeping pill-addict who is mostly at the margins of the plot.
Fresh off a Pulitzer for Disgraced, Akhtar returns with a mordant play that explores similarities between free-market and Islamic fundamentalism: Amitav Kumar in The Guardian
Ayad Akhtar’s new play The Invisible Hand opened this week at the New York Theatre Workshop. When the lights come on, you see a man sitting in a chair while close to him stands a bearded guard with a Kalashnikov strapped to his back. The seated man is an American banker being held by jihadists somewhere near Karachi. In the opening scene, the prisoner is holding out his hands for the other man to clip his nails, which the latter accomplishes not without some tenderness.
Thespian Habib Tanvir lived an exhilarating life: it is a justifiable conclusion if we consider merely the triumphant arc of his career. Habib Tanvir—née Habib Ahmed Khan — was born in 1923. He grew up in Raipur, in an atmosphere that celebrated the decadence of mushairas, Kali Bari theatre and Parsi theatre. After finishing his BA from Morris College in Nagpur, he pursued an MA in Urdu from Aligarh university in 1944 (but didn’t finish it) and went off to Bombay to work in cinema, subsequently getting involved in the leftist cultural activities of groups such as the Indian People’s Theatre Association, which was the cultural wing of the CPI, and the Progressive Writers’ Association. Tanvir lived in Bombay for nearly a decade and later spent a year at RADA, the renowned theatre school in London, before moving to the Bristol Old Vic to be a student of production in theatre. He spent three years travelling across Europe, before returning to India to start Naya Theatre.