What does ‘watching a play at the theatre’ feel like?
I’m often asked this question because… Well, because I genuinely like watching plays.
Hello. I’m a guy from suburban Mumbai and I stay in an apartment with my parents. There used to be a time when I’d travel every day to work, because I used to be a copywriter in an advertising agency. I’m not anymore but I do keep writing in some capacity or the other. Like right now.
But yes, one of the highlights of an evening out in the city, is me going over to the theatre to watch a play. It could be a huge proscenium space where we all dress up and go and make an evening of it. Or it could be an intimate space, one where there’s a performance every single day and also a lively discussion thanks to the nature of the space. But that’s when we actually go out and watch a play.
But what about when I’m not actually watching an ‘real’ play?
Does theatre still come to me?
I have a feeling it does. I have a feeling that there’s a bit of drama in almost every space around us. It doesn’t have to be a ‘stage’. But there’s always a story happening and we are privy to it.
There’s theatre everywhere we look.
For example, take the morning. Birds may be chirping, light may be streaming through the curtains, but what really catches my eye is my 60 year old Dad, putting on an act (but the right kind) for Mom. So I walk in to see him catching her eye, as he sneakily replaces the lid of the cake box. He knows too much is bad for him, but he has to ‘put himself out there’. Just as Mum looks at him sharply, his hand pulls back. But there’s still the look of ‘this isn’t over’.
These dramatic moments follow me everywhere I go.
I think of the days I used to go to an office. Just as I walk out of my building elevator, I hear the animated sounds of the building chairman talking to the secretary and treasurer. His hands are clearly showing how exasperated he is at the handling of accounts. I see him holding forth as I pass the office, and him belting out in a baritone “Let Us Get Better Water Supply” – while the other members sit in rapt attention.
And then I’m walking out to the gate. Waving to the boy who washes cars in the parking lot… Nodding at the building security person although I’m not sure I’ve seen him before.
A school bus drives by and I notice how one child is looking back at me. There’s a sudden role reversal, pun intended. For him, I’m the actor, I am on stage. He doesn’t care that the boy sitting beside him has given away his expensive chocolates to the children who were sitting at the back. For this boy, seeing my auto-rickshaw chugging away is compelling drama! But we’ve all been there, haven’t we? On either side of this story?
Now I’ve got to board one of the world-famous Mumbai local trains. And there are little plays happening all around. Just standing to one side and watching people entering the station makes me wonder, if only audiences entered the theatre with the same frenzy. But then, this is a matter of the every day. It isn’t ‘entertainment’. Is it?
There are some people who know exactly where to go, when they enter a station. They have a routine, a pattern and they seem to follow it, almost in musical step. They know which swing of the shoulders brings their heavy backpack ahead so that the onslaught of people coming from the opposite direction won’t push them behind. But then there are those who have entered the station but really don’t know where they need to be. Yes, they may have a destination, but, reading the signs, looking for the signs that will take them there; that takes them time.
So yes, it may not be ‘entertainment’ as we have come to understand it, but the spaces that we journey across, even in the course of a regular day in our lives, end up being spaces where we can actually see theatre happening. Theatre that isn’t really meant for an audience and yet has an audience! I can hear some of my colleagues thinking “Unlike theatre that’s meant for an audience but doesn’t have one”. People, this isn’t that piece.
There’s a chai stall outside the very swanky corporate park which houses a huge number of offices, including mine. You have a flood of business-wear-clad people spend their break time walking all the way out of their offices, just to sit down on the wooden bench outside the stall, for their chai pe charcha sessions.
And as if on cue, our chai-wallah gets into character. Each customer is greeted, but perhaps not the same way. You must have noticed this too. There is a certain momentum that each customer brings with him or herself and that is what the chai-wallah plays upon. I remember watching him take one person through an entire saga of how his brother back in the village broke his arm, blamed the farming production company and managed to get reimbursed for his medical bills.
And suddenly his demeanour changes when this ‘Sahaab’, this senior executive, comes down for his cup of chai. And the story for him has a different subject and a different kind of energy!
Stories follow me around, even when I’m leaving office in the evening. I’ve left a little early and luckily won’t be joining the herd heading back to the train station. I’m actually heading out to meet a friend for an evening out. I’ve already reached the location, so I’ll wait for the person to show up.
Ah there she is. She’s on time, but I’ve earned the right to make a show of how I waited long. Because let’s face it, I’m bringing the drama too.