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Monday, February 11, 2008

[ ACTOR P.O.V II ] Sultana Daku

I am currently taking part in a nautanki called Sultana Daku... now hold on a sec... for all Indians reading this... this nautanki is very different from the nautanki portrayed in Bollywood. I have to admit that I went into the auditions with a preconceived notion, thinking ...oh nautanki... funny stuff.. over dramatic / over comedic funny stuff....nope not at all... first off, you need to be able to sing.. and sing like.. up there sing ... like waaaay up there...and there are about 18 ways of singing least in this production..behertabeel, sher, vaarta, qawwali , etc.. each time we have sat down for rehearsal, it has turned out to be more than just learning our parts and knowing what to do on stage.. it has been cultural enlightment. There are nuances and details and stories that are shared by the director who is well versed in nautanki... I was not aware that in my own family people had actually watched nautanki in villages and they had experiences that they reminisced when I talked about how I was in a nautanki... (generic reaction of some relatives in India : "Ok so you are in U.S. and you are performing nautanki, an indian folk art, there??") Being in this production has given me a chance to talk to my family about something new, something that I had no idea was a big part of their growing up, they have been telling me about stuff like.. how no one in the audience would know what nautanki was to be performed till the very last minute.. it was a suspense..and a nautanki would run all night so from 10pm all the way to 6am.. so how does that work? The script is only about 60 pages max.. so what happens is that sometimes the audience really like the way something is sung ... there are many encores.. a song is sung in many ways to please the crowd.. I picture it in my head and it's like..those scenes from Shakespeare in Love where the audience is as involved in the play on stage as the actors .. our nautanki in India was perhaps the same way... We may not have a globe theatre.. but it seems as though we did have the spirit and the enthusiam... there are many events and historical significances of nautanki that we discuss in rehearsal, and I am amazed to know that I didn't learn any of that in my indian history classes in india (1st std - 8th std). I am from a place where nautanki was and probably still is performed in its original form and my credibility of being from there was questioned when I was speechless during discussions... I felt deprived that I didn't know anything about all that ... but I'm glad that I am learning... I ended up asking my aunt in India and she talked about how my grandma had a whole nautanki memorized, somehow it occurs to me that all this should be preserved and kept alive... I hope I can do something about that...

So I'm also taking lessons for musical theatre singing and I told the teacher, that I'm in this Indian musical .. it's a nautanki..I told him to come check it out and then quickly I said.. um .. but it's in might not get the thing... we are passing out a synopsis or scene-by-scene summary... but you know it's in Hindi ... so you know... at this point my teacher tells me ... OH so it's like Opera...and I had an epiphany.....he carries on about how not even native italian speakers might understand the opera and what is specifically being said .. but it's about the performance and the singing and the soul of the whole performance... I have to say I was amazed at this interpretation ... it made me think of how... us Indians a lot of times brag about how ... we have so much culture and the west is deprived of a rich heritage like ours... and we brag and brag and brag ... but to no effect or any value ... because I have learned that the west has an enthusiasm and yearning to learn and adapt .. something I think we don't have... our nautanki director shared with us that a student from Berkeley, actually spent years with their family perfecting and learning this art... a foreigner, a westerner.. felt drawn to what we don't even recognize... we brag but in the end.. it's them who preserve and truly cherish...

For our rehearsals we were looking for musicians dholak and harmonium players... let me tell you.. for a nautanki you need to be somebody who is versatile as a musician who can read the movements and improvise and hit the beats at the right spot... a good foundation is required.. no questions asked... but there is more than that... you need to be I emailed a few indian music institutions about how we are looking and perhaps you can join us... I received one particular reply that made me ... well let's just say .. think about many things.. It read something like this ... "We are very rigorous and serious in our classical training, please do not send us messages about such things.." Now... my first reaction was to invite them to our rehearsal so they could learn what rigorous and serious really second reaction was... were they confused by "nautanki" did they think we were doing a cheap dance number (as Bollywood has made nautanki out to be) If they really are indian musicians there is no excuse for them to not know what real nautanki is ... I mean these people are claiming to know the music of India .. how can they not know nautanki... I have decided to invite them to rehearsal and then to the show and have them experience the rigorous and serious art that they obviously don't know anything about ...

Spin off!!!!
Ok, so our nautanki production poster had a footer showing the designers of the poster .. so I go to their page and started browsing and under portraitures..(I need a headshot soon :P).. I see none other than my co-blogger's pic !!! what the... life is so weirdly connected.

If you are around in the SF Bay Area, watch us!! tickets and info Pix from rehearsal


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