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     Volume 8 Issue 70 | May 22, 2009 |

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One Off

From the Canvas to the Urban

Aly Zaker

Sitting in the balcony of your home listening to Bade Ghulam Ali Khan's thumri, “aajhu nahi ayey pia hamari” (my beloved hasn't come even tonight…) after a welcome evening shower, and the glorious full moon pervading the surroundings, with or without a snifter full of Cognac, you would feel you are in the seventh heaven. Even if you did not, I would. It seldom comes in our life these days that we are able to surrender to such utter bliss. But after the conundrum of the exercise of living everyday how one wished one could have such utterly delightful interludes! We are forever looking for leisure, pleasure and enchanting experiences and, indeed, do not necessarily work because we love to work but because it's our work that allows us such hiatus from it. In our youth, we had a favourite slogan of our own. We used to say “laziness is the secret to happiness.” Therefore a little more of work ensures a little more of idle time.

My thesis is that, pleasure must not seem like work. And wanton exhibition of work obliterate the pleasures of life. We often say that theatre, music, literature, painting or photography is our passion. If that is so, we must handle them with love. I remember being present in a classical evening where Ustad Amanat and Fateh Ali Khan, two famous exponents of Indian classical music and singers of the Patiala gharana, were singing a Khayal in raga Tilak Kamod. The tabla artist, a young and exceedingly talented person, in his exuberance, tried to show off a bit of his mastery and played quite a bit longer in the interlude than he should have, forgetting that it was not 'his' show. The elder of the two, Amanat instead of resuming to sing the next round, told the tabla player, "Ustadji you are great. But don't waste your talent while playing with us, we promise we'd be eagerly waiting to listen to you in 'your' show when it happens". I think these are some of the outstanding examples of artistic conduct that all of us trying our hands in matters of art should take lessons from. Permit me to point out here that I would refrain from discussing any art form other than theatre, as I have been living with it for nearly four decades. I was thinking about a philosophical statement made by a very eminent cultural personality of our country, that an artist's responsibility should be to practice art with a view to internalise it and let those that are either receiving them as an audience or training to become artists in the future to immerse themselves and marinate in the juice of the art and absorb it. What she told me was exactly what I have written as the title of this piece. She said, we should try and carry 'art' from the 'canvas to the heart'. From Chitropat to Chittopat . This is what she told me in Bangla and this, I think, is very important in the context of today's discussion. We have a tendency of crying out with all vocal and physical powers under our command if ever we are given the space of the stage often not withstanding the fact that the audience will have hardly any use for our histrionics at the end of the day. They come to enjoy or at the most receive some message and they should comprehend what is being told from the stage. But unfortunately, “see me”, “hear me” the scream goes on unabated.

A scene from Kopiniker captain.

I was once called by a very eminent theatre teacher, an adroit theatre director- cum-set designer as an “actor's' director”. He was designing the set for me for one of my productions of a Tagore play. His set looked fantastic to say the least but was too intimidating for the actors. I felt the actors could not move with ease on the stage. This is something that I always insist upon. The actors don't have to think about where is what all the time. This interferes with their acting. And what is more painful is that it shows. Even the audience knows that the actor is having problems with the set or a prop or an awkward costume. So the viewer's attention is diverted from the content of the play to the dilemma of the actor on the stage. At the end of it when the designer and I were almost at loggerheads he, in utter frustration, called me a “bloody actor's director”. I laughed and said, “I could not agree with you more, I indeed prefer to work with human beings than with wood or steel”. We became friends again and the relationship became one of mutual understanding and respect. The canvas is just a tool for the painter to paint on just as the set is to the actor. At the end of it all, there has to be a 'take out' that has to have a permanent place on the 'Chittopat'. We often, in our enthusiasm, forget that the final berth for our artistic endeavour should be in the heart. The tabla in a classical song, the set or stylisation or choreography in acting, the object on which the painter paints are meant to support the ultimate goal of reaching and touching the hearts of those that are interested in them. In a song the accompanying music can at best excite us, give us a rhythm to sway by but it can or should never submerge the song itself. This is a lesson that we may learn from the history of all art forms.

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