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Witty And Sparkling Hindi Play To Be The Debut Offering Of Sharon Based Bravo Arts Company

Shuchita Rao

What might empty-nesters do after their little ones fly away? With the desire to give reign to their artistic impulses and to encourage community members to do the same, three enterprising residents of the town of Sharon, Deepak Shahane, Deepak Wadhwa and Div Prakash have come together to launch an entertainment company.  Bravo Arts is a grassroots arts initiative that will provide a platform for local talent to present plays, classical music concerts and Bollywood music shows on a periodic basis. Their debut offering will be the popular play “Shatranj Ke Mohre” directed by Jayashree Shahane. It is set to stage at the Sharon Middle School, 75 Mountain St, Sharon on November 18 at 3:30pm. Tickets can be purchased at https://www.iaassharonma.org/iaas-gold

Shatranj Ke Mohre is a well-known play written originally in Marathi by the versatile playwright from Maharashtra, the late P.L Deshpande. First staged in 1971, the satire with exquisitely etched characters transitioning from a feudal to an egalitarian society, it has run full-house shows in India for more than three decades. The renowned director Mohan Dali had staged the play more than ten years back in Burlington, MA. The play was received so well that it traveled to audiences in Rhode Island, Florida and New Jersey, with the distinguished Bollywood actor-director Shri Amol Palekar in attendance at the last show in New Jersey.

One of the actors in Mohan Dali’s cast, Jayashree Shahane recently changed roles from being an actor to becoming a director. In 2016 she directed the Hindi play “Kissa Angoothi Ka”. This year, she directs the same play (Shatranj Ke Mohre) that she had once acted in.

Shuchita Rao from Lokvani talked to Jayashree Shahane about her journey from being an actor to becoming a director.

Q. What got you interested in directing a play?

A. When I was acting under Shri Mohan Dali’s direction in the play “Shatranj Ke Mohre” in the year 2004, I found that I was more drawn to aspects of directing than acting. I would observe Dali ji’s actions carefully and want to understand his rationale behind his direction. He would answer all my questions and explain subtle things to me. When I expressed a desire to be an assistant director in his next venture, he encouraged me to watch and follow his actions closely, to question and discuss ideas with him. With his aashirwad and blessings, I am directing my second play, Shatranj Ke Mohre. The cast includes 14 local actors and 7 crew members from Sharon, MA and will be a little over 2 hours 30 minutes in duration.

Q. What is the play Shatranj Ke Mohre about?

A. Set in the city of Indore in the 1950s, the play revolves around the lives and values of two central characters, the protagonist Kakaji and the antagonist Acharya Ram Bhajan who tries to emulate being a Gandhian. The play also shows how two young couples react to the ideas of Acharyaji and how their lives evolve and transform over a period of time. The other characters include three high society ladies, a clerk Munim-ji, a couple characters representing the worker class such as a gardener. The three act play with the story revolving around human relationships will be presented in the Hindi language.

Q. Shri Mohan Dali had staged this play in front of the respected Bollywood actor-director Amol Palekar in New Jersey. What was his feedback?

A. Amol Palekarji liked it and spoke to us for a long time about it. He said that plays were mostly popular with Marathi and Bengali audiences and that something should be done to expand the reach to other languages and communities. 

Q.  Can you describe what goes into the activity of planning and staging a play?

A. A lot goes into the activity of planning and staging a play. Earlier this year, our friend Deepak Wadhwa went through twenty different scripts and for some reason or the other, the core group did not like any of them. I had the script of Shatranj Ke Mohre from my participation in Shri Dali’s play and our friend Div Prakash suggested we re-visit it. I had to edit and fine-tune the script to reduce the length in terms of duration. Actors had to be chosen for the various roles in the play. My husband Deepak Shahane designed the set and several people helped build it. We had engineers on the team coming up with complex and innovative ideas such as building three-dimensional windows. We went to Home Depot, bought PVC pipes, large foam pieces, painted them, cut them and erected walls for the set. We selected costumes based on the ethnic wear suggested in the script. My husband Deepak Shahane also selected suitable recorded music for the opening and the interludes. Melodies based on serious ragas like Darbari and Todi were chosen for the intense scenes. Lighting for the scenes and audio setup is being planned currently. As a team, we have been meeting thrice a week and on weekends since the second week of September. Actors have been memorizing the dialogues and we are now practicing delivering them in dress rehearsals juxtaposed with the other elements of theatre such as music and lighting.

Q. On the day that the play will be presented, will you be sitting in the audience and to watch the fruits of your efforts?

A. No. I will be behind the stage making sure the proper actors are entering and exiting the stage at the correct time in the right costumes. I will be there to assist the actors and the crew members in whatever they need me to do.

Q. What are the names of some directors that you admire?

A. I would say I admire Shri Mohan Dali as a director. Maharashtra and Bengal have had a long history of producing, directing and staging plays. I remember attending live staging of plays at Ravindra Bharati auditorium in my birth-city Hyderabad and also watching episodes of “Dhoop Kinare”, a TV serial several times. There have been several wonderful playwrights and directors in the recent times. Actor-director Naseeruddin Shah has done great work. Recently, I was impressed by Prashant Damle’s dark comedy presentation with professional actors from Pune at Natya Mahotsava held in Chlemsford last month.

Q. How have you managed to create an interest in Indian plays in the Sharon community?

A. Last year, after the success of my debut direction “Kissa Angoothi Ka”, the word got around and our friend, a Sharon resident, Shi Deepak Wadhwa called me with an idea. He said that there are many empty nesters in Sharon who would be interested in doing collaborative activities such as staging plays and presenting music programs. Kissa Angoothi Ka had seven or eight characters and was a short play compared to Shatranj Ke Mohre which is a more ambitious offering.

Q. What kind of challenges have you faced in your journey as director?

A. The biggest challenge has been creating a schedule where everyone can meet to practice on a consistent basis. We have doctors, engineers and professionals working for large firms with travel responsibilities in our team. Trimming the play’s duration so that it is not too long was a challenge. Several actors in the cast do not have significant acting experience and are returning to acting after a gap of many years. I have to say though that everyone on the team is working very hard.

Q. And, what would you say have been the rewards?

A. We have bonded really well and come together as a theatre loving community. This evening, one of the actors is making Biryani for everyone to eat after the practice session. I am taking yogurt-raita from my home to share with everyone. As empty-nesters we get together, chat, joke, laugh a lot and that is a lot of fun.

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