Drift of caution: Theatre Binge 3.0 is all about modern-day societal issues

The third edition of Theatre Binge places the spotlight on problems that plague our society.

Karan Pillai Published :  08th November 2019 06:00 AM   |   Published :   |  08th November 2019 06:00 AM
A still from Under Pressure

A still from Under Pressure

Chennai Art Theatre’s annual festival this time tries to raise the red flag on gender, social and environmental issues. With topics like climate change, consumerism, obsession with perfection, and more, the four plays in this edition aim to awaken the thinker in us, with the hope that we find a solution. This year’s Binge is also an urban take on the regional therukoothu concept of all-night performances — hence the shows will begin at 4 pm and go up to 1 am the next day. 

November 9. At Alliance Française of Madras. 

While the international community is riding the wave of the new-age fight against climate change, Bengaluru-based immersive theatre group Visual Respiration is portraying their take on the crisis through a 90-minute piece called Under Pressure. The play, which blends elements of physical theatre, movement, poetry and storytelling, also looks at other topics like consumerism, with characters such as a policymaker, ragpicker, an environmentalist and also an 8,000-year-old tree. 

We speak to director Aruna Ganesh Ram, the performance director of the group, who tells us, “There are three performers in the show. Aditya Garg is a physical theatre actor. He works on creating compelling characters through the body. Asha is a mover and an expressive arts therapist who is also a passionate environmentalist. Deepika is an actor interested in exploring inter-disciplinary art forms.” 
There are three sections in this play — Earth (“This is about nostalgia, going back in time and reflecting on our relationship with nature”), Human (“This shows the consumerist lives that we lead today without realising the footprint that it has on the universe”), and Polymer (“The miracle material that we have unleashed into the ocean”). She further talks about the inspiration for the play and the message that she wants to share through it. Excerpts: 

What was the inspiration for this play?
Until about two years ago, I think I was oblivious to climate change. My husband and I watched a documentary after which he told me to read The Great Derangement, by Amitav Ghosh. Around this time, I listened to a podcast (The Intersection) where Ghosh was interviewed in one of the episodes. In that podcast, he asked a question that has stayed with me till date and that is what has inspired this performance. He indicates mankind’s priority by pointing out the contents that fill the front and last pages of our newspapers. This got me thinking about my own work over the years. Barring a small school show about the Chipko Movement, I realised I had not made any work about this concern. Neither had I encountered any theatre performances about this. At that moment, I just unconditionally committed to making a piece about the environment. 

What’s the core essence of this show?
We’re all consumerists. In urban cities, people are living their lives by clicking apps on phones. Items just keep coming in and out of their homes. I am part of this problem too. But what makes me want to keep buying and throwing? We’ve been so intelligently sold a way of life — one that we believe will make us happier and believe that we are living fulfilled lives. This rampant and somewhat pointless materialism around me was what got me thinking about Under Pressure. For the consumerism part, we went looking at how people behaved in public spaces — in malls, theatres, coffee shops and amusement parks. The vision I had was to capture our material lives into 24 actions (24 hours in a day). Each action was then built into a scene — in a #2minutelife kind of fashion; so it moves quickly, just like our attention span.

What kind of dialogues and music can we expect?
Under Pressure is about perspectives. We present the perspectives of a politician, a rag picker and a tree through personal stories and poetry. The dialogues range from quick sharp phrases to longer conversations. It moves from prose to poetry to the dialogue of the body. We look at movement as dialogue too in this performance. The soundscape ranges from vibrations to spoken word to abstract plastic noises that have been composed to a rhythm.

How have you made sure that the set stays true to the theme of the play? 
The set, designed by Natasha Sharma and Manush John, is fully upcycled. Plastic sheets and plastic pipes come alive in a way that will trigger conversation for the audience, in turn getting them to reflect on their consumption.

Could you describe the costumes? 
Sachi Raval has designed these compelling costumes in layers. The section on Earth has a costume that reflects the layers of the soil. Consumerism is represented by very urban contemporary cuts and collars that raise questions about the importance of vanity, while a stark black outfit will mourn the state of the planet.

Show starts at 8 pm. 


Anitha Santhanam in What’s The Matter

Bengaluru-based performing artiste Anita Santhanam, who co-founded the theatre group Guduguduppukkari along with Sunanda Raghunathan (of Bad Hindu fame), presents What’s The Matter, an hour-long physical theatre piece that explores the patriarchal drive towards perfection while figuring out who exactly makes the ground rules for evaluation. “Pass or fail? More or less? Enough or not enough? These are questions that plague not just my character’s life but also all our lives. How useful are these measurements? Who made them? Are they feminine or masculine?,” asks Anitha, as she explains the concept of her play. “The plot is circular in nature — attacking and unpacking the key questions/themes explored in the play. The dialogues, both pithy and powerful, are in Tamil and English, and are accompanied by lullabies and dappankuthu, ” she shares, adding, “There are two important elements in the set — plastic measuring tapes and an arrangement of flowers and leaves.” With costumes designed by Aarti Karwayun and Anitha herself, the play debuted at Shoonya Space in Bengaluru this March and has since been staged in cities like Mumbai, Kochi and Delhi.

Show starts at 6 pm.


A scene from Kadhirvelan Kanakku

Depicting the opportunities that present themselves when two strangers meet, Karthik Gowrishankar’s hour-long Tamil play, Kadhirvelan Kanakku, is inspired by a random conversation that the director had with a friend. “The story is of two strangers who meet at a small-town bus stop at night — one, a moderately successful shop owner, on his way home to meet his ailing well-wisher, and the other, a drunk, fidgety and scared nomad, who is on his way to meet his father for a reason. The ensuing conversation, an unsettling one for them at that, makes up the rest of the play,” says Karthik, adding that the dialogues will be relatable for the audience. 
Consisting of five actors, including Karthik, the play is open to ages 16 and above and also stars VPS Sriraman, Sabarish Menon, Suraj Raaja and Dhiraj Mohan. Talking about the rest of the line-up of the festival, Karthik is all praise for the other participating groups, saying, “We have a really good line-up this time around with one of the 
oldest theatre groups,  
Masquerade, helmed by KK Sir (Krishna Kumar S) participating. Guduguduppukkari is another group to watch out for with some really absorbing content being brought by them in the recent past. Also, Visual Respiration’s Under Pressure has captured the attention of audiences with their intriguing promo posters and immersive theatre experience with the audience.”

Show starts at 4 pm.


A scene from The Wailing Maid Junction

Krishna Kumar of Masquerade tells us that they have been experimenting with various genres this year, and now with The Wailing Maid Junction, he is exploring the supernatural and the irreal (a day after the release of the horror flick Doctor Sleep). “When this opportunity came up, I requested Charles for the last slot. Ideal to try out a play about things beyond the normal,” quips Krishna, who adds, “Since it’s a late-night show, it is open to buffs of mystery, paranormal and superstitions, and anyone else who is willing to stay up late!” 
Describing the plot of the play, Krishna explains, “The narrative unfolds in a run down branch line railway station where all is not well. People getting down or getting on board passing trains experience events beyond the normal. The play explores the space between the real and the irreal — the region of imagination and insanity.”

Show starts at 10.30 pm.