January 11 2001. Chem Audi. IT-Open Skit Competition. ‘Chattaak’, sounded Pranay Arya’s heavyset palm on the round, big face of Nishant Verma, and the whole of Chem Audi erupted in applause and laughter. Pranay boomed, ‘Kameeni…aaj phir se gaajar ka halwa nahin banaaya??’ and Nishant Verma, playing his wife, hiding in that dramatically funny pallu, said – ‘Maaf kar dijiye…’
I know, I should’ve started from the start, but this slap, of all obscene things we have done on stage, stays in my memory for two reasons. One, it was a 2nd year guy slapping a 3rd year guy, playing his wife and the slap was so tight that Nishant could barely control his tears to perform the funny scene brewing on stage. The second reason, which is actually the reason why I am writing this article, is that the slap embodied what IT theatre stands for. It stands for originality, equality and spontaneity. Big words, all, and they will self-explain themselves once the story gets going. Hopefully. So, here is my journey in the magical world of IT-BHU theatre, and to give it a clichéd Hindi film tagline, let’s just say - a journey that changed my life.
August 1999 Limbdi Hostel - Curtain Opens
P. S. – The Pondy thing got abolished next year onwards…thanks to us ‘Good Boys’! Now, we had a Fresher’s Skit Competition, where girls, profs and morals all participated.
September 1999 Limbdi Hostel – Act 1
Not participating in the first one, we had no option but to face the wrath of the organizer, Theatre Club Secy. Abhijeet Mukherjee. His assistant was a guy called Lalu (nicknamed, I am sure, probably because he mimicked Lalu well) and he also challenged us to participate in the upcoming IT Open Expressions competition. This time, fired by the scolding, our branch took the plunge and struck gold. The event was held at BBC, under the lights, with no proper stage, and a boundary made of chappals. (One of my branch-mates lost his chappals in the event aftermath, and never returned to theatre. Thankfully.) Audience count was somewhere between 100 and 200, depending on who was performing. I knew, this was not the best way to hold such events, but the better part was – the quality of performances.
P.S. – I performed two more times at the BBC, once for Annual Mono-act and again for next year’s expressions. That was the last time, when a Theatre event (other than Nukkad Naatak) was held there.
February 2000 Chem Department 1st Floor – Under the blue skies
The big names of IT Theatre, Abhishek Chandra and Vivek Roy were performing in Sparsh (The Annual Cult-fest, now Kashiyatra) Mono-acting Competition and I, more out of ambition rather than talent, registered myself for the same. A slightly chilly February morning, another stalwart Animesh Hazra as the host and my only foolish admirer, Sanchit Agarwal (batch-mate) by my side, I entered another kind of open-air venue. Again, no stage, no audience-seating arrangements and this time, no audience even! But seeing Chandra and Roy perform, it seemed they didn’t care. Their show was breathtaking, mind boggling and had they performed before me, I would never have performed. Another reality of IT-Theatre of the times hit me. Amazing talent, but where’s the junta?
P.S. – We never performed again on that cold, uneven floor of Chem. Deptt. and that was surely a sign of good times ahead.
January 2001 Various Hostels – The Rising
Suddenly, the winds had changed the direction, and as we entered the second sem of our second year, a huge crop of theatre enthusiasts (actually, rival groups) turned ripe. The rival groups, *cough* *cough* were led by Vivek Roy (3rd Tronics) and his chemical boys on one side and Pradeep Singh (4th Meta) and an assorted cast on the other. The poaching for girl actors had already begun in the first semester and verbal volleys (in the most civilized manners) had been exchanged. I, primarily being a writer (and a non-aligned dumber), chose to work with all the groups available. The stage was set for the annual IT-Open Skit Competition, and a phenomenal number of teams (12, for the record) turned up for the participation. I anchored the evening (and it was some evening, with Chem. Audi bubbling with junta) and in the end, Vivek Roy and Sidhharth Dubey’s ‘Aaj ki Taaza Khabar’ uprooted Pradeep, Pranay, Animesh and Nishant’s slap-stick ‘Sazaa-e-Maut’ stood second. (The slap in Sazaa-e-Maut was not planned as lethal as it turned out to be, and that got one of the biggest applause we had ever seen) It was a memorable day for me as (Modesty steps aside!) I was involved in the scripts of the top 4 skits in the event. The Theatre secy. for the year, Abhishek Chandra, an excellent actor himself, was too busy in organization to perform. But the big plus was, his efforts were showing results, and with the above mentioned rivalry coming to the front, theatre in IT was in for some upswing tide.
P.S. – My non-alignment ended with this event, and I became a full-time member of Pradeep gang, which was poised to become ‘GAP’ (Grover-Arya-Pathak) the following year. Hardly innovative, I know.
October 2001 M. Sengupta Auditorium (erstwhile G-11) – The Realization
The great rivalry continued into the next year, my third at IT-BHU. Annual IT-Open Skit was around the corner, and once again, poaching was on big time. Our team had lots of fresh blood in Sushant (1st Cera), Kesarwani (2nd Meta) and Ajay Saxena (2nd CSc). Roy and group had a gem in Amitanshu (3rd Trical), who could write and compose music, and act like pros too. And then, they had the writing-acting talents of Siddhu and Roy himself. Some other good teams, like the 1st year Chem group and 1st Meta guys were also in the reckoning. Our experimental take on Human Bombs, ‘Antaragni’ was well received by a house-full junta but Roy’s ‘Jhanda Ooncha Rahe Humara’, with its patriotic flavor was invincible. We stood second, but the biggest positive for us was – we were no more the underdogs.
P.S. – That day, the applause was loudest, and sweetest. I still don’t know why.
March 2002 G-11 – Play it on
The decision was taken soon after that skit – we were going to make a grand play on a scale IT had never seen before. Lots of team meetings followed and seniors like Nishant Verma, enthusiasts like Keerty (2nd CSc), Jyoti (2nd Civil), Raman (2nd Civil) and musicians like Amitanshu were roped in. We wrote it together - the story of a school kid, who is about to die of cancer and wants to do one final project that would change the lives of many around him and on the streets. It was called ‘Kunal’, and the guy who played ‘Kunal’ deserves a special mention. Mayank Mittal (4th Chem) was the most deceptive actors you would ever see, ‘cos he could surprise you with his range, spontaneity and intelligence. A few wet eyes in the audience, at the end of it, were our reward and acknowledgement.
P.S. – It was after making ‘Kunal’, the idea struck me. “Why not do it for the rest of your life?”
April 2002 FOPA Auditorium – A step ahead
That’s what they say in Sport, stay a step ahead of your opposition. And though, it can’t be proved entirely, Vivek Roy’s grand production ‘Ghat ki Tulsi’ (story of 4 prostitutes inside a brothel) had that element of stubborn counter-attack, which is hard to find without an intended ‘target’ group like ours. The ambition, performances (esp. 3rd Tronics girl Anita Reddy’s), and the following praise were sky-high and IT Theatre had taken a big leap forward.
P.S. – Since it was performed outside IT-BHU, at FOPA audi, the publicity for the event was highly targeted and innovative. It used paintings, portraits, poems and even installments to drive home the point.
Session 2002-2003 Various Places – The Sleepy Grand Finale
Coming into the 4th year, everybody suddenly became more responsible which, in the hindsight, was a bad thing to do. Animesh Pathak took over as Gymkhana Gen. Secy and cleaned up the poli-mess it was in. Pranay Arya steadied the Kashiyatra boat just before its sinking and made sure that event was held in all its dignity. And myself, *sigh* got involved with the University Youth Fest team, in the process, getting a huge opportunity to work with wonderful new talents like Sushant, Subhash, Ruchika, Mahak, and Surbhi. And yes, our production group G.A.P. was abolished. Roy left the campus and his protégé, Sidhhu, with some great help from Harpreet, Anita Reddy and a host of newcomers like Ritu Bajpai and Sumit Saxena produced another stunner in ‘Hello Zindagi’, this time performing at Nagari Natak Mandli in the town. So, in our own ways – the batons had been passed.
Looking back is never easy, because the rear-view mirror is foggy with emotional prejudices at times, and I hope, I have not crossed the line anywhere. Faces, names, places, events, even missing chappals, all were part of the IT-Theatre I knew. The theatre, which started at BBC, under flood-lights, and finished at National Youth Fests and Nagari Natak Mandlis. It transformed us, and for our own good, we transformed it. And amidst all these rivalries, paybacks and (occasional) politics, only static was the originality of thought and execution. I hear some good things about the current lot, Abhivyakti, and now Kshitiz are huge leaps forward, and I can’t help but finish with these lines by Sahir Ludhianvi: Kal aur aayenge, naghmon ki khilti kaliyaan chun-ne waale…Mujhse behtar kahne waale, tumse behtar sun-ne waale…!