Juvenile Dramatics

There are people who are gushy about juvenile dramatics. They feel that nothing could be better for kids than to spend their evenings in the company of a couple of hundred other kids, rehearsing a play. So much better than watching TV, they say, and it helps so much in developing the childrens’ personalities. It makes them confident and well-rounded, they say.

These people are absolutely wrong. Juvenile dramatics do nothing of the sort. The effect they do have on children is to turn them into obnoxious little twerps. The effect they have on adults is far, far worse.

Of course, rehearsing plays is better than watching TV. But then, pretty much everything is better than watching TV. Reading books, to take but one example. And, at the risk of belabouring an obvious point, I would like to point out that you can read a book on a DTC bus, in your bed, or, of course, on the pot, which happens to be my preferred spot. You don’t have to do it in the company of two hundred other juvenile histrionicians, all of whom are hungry and bad tempered, and most of whom are mentally negligible to boot.

Juvenile dramatics does make the participants confident, yes. I have to agree there. The misfortune, however, is that after two or three productions of assorted plays, the confidence crosses all healthy limts, and egomania sets in. Look at Shah Rukh Khan. Look at Raghav Bhalla and Tariq Vasudeva, those two pots of histrionic poison from The Shri Ram School. From my own school, look at Avani Jain. Or Ilina and Ira Dubey. I don’t know them personally, but seniors and juniors alike assure me that they were even more bitchy than I’m being right now.

To be fair and honest, of course, I cannot claim to be free of the stain myself. I have been involved with the juvenile theatre twice. The first time was seven years ago- Class IX. A class function was scheduled. I auditioned for a part in The Taming of the Shrew, and got it. Of course, in those days, I was young and innocent, and did not know of the peril posed to me and those around me by getting myself involved in highjinks of this sort.

For two long months, we would rehearse The Taming of the Shrew after school hours. Rehearsals would begin at half past two, so that left us, the cast, about forty minutes of free time. During this period, we would injure our bodies by champing on McBurgers, and injure our souls by indulging in idle gossip. All I recall about the gossip now was that some of it was about frogs.

Our director- a bad-tempered and foul-mouthed ex-student called Radhika Gupta was prone to wild mood swings and irrationality. She fired the leading lady twice, shuffled the rest of the cast among a bewildering variety of roles, and, as a matter of course, rent the air with ear-piercing creams that made the local fauna pack its bags up and head for ITO crossing. Her one saving grace, as Baldy pointed out, was that her bottom would jiggle up and down while she walked. But of what use are bottoms when the soul is black. Skin deep, or rather adipose-layer deep only.

After two months, Radhika Gupta exhibited a mood swing to end all mood swings, and returned home to Philadelphia, leaving us quite in the lurch. Thus showing that juvenile dramatics poison the soul of directors no less than members of the cast.

The second instance of my involvement was two years after this, in Class XI. I was older and wiser, and should have known better than to get involved. On the other hand, the alternative to assitant-directing the Class IX play was either to go on the class trip to Jim Corbett National Park or watch the Chennai Test between India and Pakistan (yes, the one where Chennai gave Pakistan a standing ovation). Sunlight dappled through forest greenery gives me motion sickness, and cricket just makes me sick. Besides, at the time, I looked upon this as a golden opportunity to rise in the esteem of Arunima Sinha, who was the other assistant director, in addition to being costumier and makeup person.

My assistant-directorial responsibilities consisted mostly of shouting at the cast when they turned up late for rehearsals or fought with each other, and also of composing the plot and the script. This latter task was done by Avani asking me ‘What should happen next’ and me coming up with stuff off the top of my head. This did allow us to come up with a fifteen minute play very fast- which is a good thing, as there were only three days earmarked for rehearsals. On the other hand, this speedramatisation did lead to the plot being ineffably rotten.

Despite the rottenness of the plot, the blood feuds between the leading gentlemen and the leading ladies, and one of the leading gentleman refusing to show up for rehearsals on the grounds that he had to be playing the piano for the duet-singers at the same time, and could not be humanely expected to be in two places, and the cast speaking their lines fast and finishing in ten minutes instead of fifteen; the play was staggeringly well received by the audience- students, teachers and parents alike. I was extremely surprised.

Anyway. The reason I got started on juvenile dramatics in the first place is because of the current dramatics teacher at MSVV- a pompous old ass called Yuvraj. This bearded son-of-a-gun was the cause of much grief to me a week ago, when he insisted on having the curtain cutting the size of the stage in half, all to prevent his wonderful backdrop from being revealed to the public.

I ask you! A wonderful screen, on which text and images would have been six times as large, making it all that more convenient for the teams, and more interesting for the audience, denied to the organisers simply because of this senile old coot’s runaway ego. In addition to which, the teams were forced to sit scrunched up, practically closer to each other than ticketless travellers on the Bhatinda express, all because the old geezer refuses to compromise.

This, you see, is the result of over fifty years of involvement with the theatre and juvenile dramtics. You take yourself far too seriously. You develop a God-complex. You mumble in your beard. You become a rigid old menace to society. The small children who have been entrusted to you to learn dramatics fear and loathe you. Their attention wanders and they become delinquent. A world that could have been better and sweeter becomes toxic. All because children are spending time that could have been much better utilised getting in some healthy exercise, or reading improving books, pandering to the fancies of a long-dead playwright (or worse, one who is still alive).

That pretty much sums up what I had to say. Now that I have worked the vitriol out of my system, I shall go back to spreading sweetness and light. Have a nice day.

Lightness of Being

Usually, this is the time of year I fall into depression. I don’t become suicidal or manic, but as the winter starts, I become gloomy and nostalgic, and start wishing for the semester to end, already. I kick for home and vacations. I complain to the world at large about the slow passage of time. You get the idea.

It hasn’t happened this year. Oh, sure, I still miss everybody and am waiting impatiently for vacations. I wouldn’t mind the semester ending- there are only three really interesting courses this time around, and I’m not even paying that much attention to them. I am nostalgic- but then I’m always nostalgic. I’m cheerful and nostalgic this year, not gloomy and nostalgic as I was last year. I feel good. Even my batchmates, whom I normally despise, I now see as amusing and entertaining creatures whose cheeks are mine to pull. Kidding.

This, I surmise, is because of three reasons.

Firstly, because I’ve been occupied with preparing and conducting the Mod Quiz, and was enjoying myself far too much doing that to feel depressed.

Secondly, and on similar lines, I’ve been preparing for the CAT. This, too, has been going well. More importantly, it’s been going on virtually non-stop, leaving me little, if any time, in which to be depressed.

And finally, my summer holidays were so very satisfying this year. I met Baldy, and Dolan, and Machhi… oh, wait, I’ve already put the list up in another Fillet. You get the idea. No need to go into details again. Anyway, I met everybody, and because of that, I’m currently afflicted with the good nostalgia. Nostalgia, like cholestrol, can be good or bad.

Oh, and I’ve been sustaining my cheery mood by calling Ishaan and devouring the Jeeves books, which I’m now issuing from Biblio.

Indeed. Life is good. Just wanted to reassure you on that account.

Nostalgia Bites III

So.

This Monday, I went to my old school- Modern School, Vasant Vihar, and conducted the Mod Quiz- the annual interschool quiz. This was the latest- and perhaps last- in a series of visits to school since I passed out. I’ve been either to conduct quizzes, or programming contests, or to make arrangements for conducting them, or simply to meet my teachers and juniors and chat. Since I passed out, I must have returned to school well over fifty times.

It used to mystify my parents that I could drop a week of college classes just to come down and help out at MODEM (the computer symposium)- which I did in first and third year. It never mystified me, but that’s because I never thought about doing it, I just did it.

When I did think about it, though, I realised that many people leave school and never look back. The majority, in fact. Then, I too was mystified.

I still can’t explain all of it, but here’s a start- it’s nice to be appreciated, and I’m appreciated much more at school than I am at college. Sad but true.

The appreciation goes like this- your old teachers are delighted to see you. People five years your junior talk to you like you just left school. I ask to be quizmaster, and Mrs. Bahl and Mrs Soni go and fight with the principal, Goldy Malhotra, (who is a horrid horrid woman) and persuade her that I am indeed a good substitute for Soutik Das (who is a useless useless quizmaster- according to sMac, anyway).

Appreciation is when you get a book as thanks for conducting the quiz. The book’s a formality- but what makes it special is Kunal going to buy the book, picking something out that he thinks I’ll like, and then Kersi telling me about it and hoping I’ve not read it before.

Appreciation is when Mrs. Poonam Mathur asks you to stay an extra day and take your old job as moderator at Economite (the economics symposium). This, when my crowning achievement as moderator four years ago was to get into a fight with a horrible Valleyite (who went on to become Baldy’s girlfriend, but let’s not go into that).

And here’s the crux. If everything goes well, I crack the CAT, and I make it to an IIM, most of the people in my college batch will congratulate me, smile, take treats and deep inside, be pissed off as hell that I made it and they didn’t. The old story of the Indian crabs. Wheras most of the people from school are going to be delighted that somebody they knew made it.

That’s the difference.

That’s the reason.

Beware of Becky Sharp

I finally finished Vanity Fair, by William Thackeray, on the way home this week. I’ve taken nearly two months to read it- not because by reading speed has taken a sudden plunge or because the language is excessively tedious or sludgy, but because Vanity Fair is a frightening book. There’s only so much of it you can take at a time before getting scared of what’s going to happen next.

This is because Thackeray skewers his characters, his readers, and the human race at large with the same happy indiscrimination with which Vikram goes about whacking people with golf clubs. Of course, Thackeray uses very subtle, very witty English instead of a nine iron, but you can’t help feeling uneasy around him all the same. He’ll build up characters and paint them in glowing terms, and then suddenly whip around and reveal their flaws with total ferocity. Nobody escapes- each of his characters is either malicious or stupid, and almost all of them are on the make. This is a novel which almost makes you ashamed to belong to the human race.

There’s more to it than that, though.

You see, I had started Among the Chatterati, by Kanika Gahlaut at about the same time as Vanity Fair. I took, only two hours to finish that, but let’s leave that aside for the moment.

Among the Chatterati is about India’s Page 3 People- the party animals who will go to amazing lengths to have their picture on the society pages of the newspapers. The humour is more obvious than in Vanity Fair, the narrator is sympathetic towards at least a few people, but as in Vanity Fair, everybody is on the make. In Vanity Fair, people use all their energies and influence to be presented at court, in Among the Chatterati they do the same to have their names and pictures on Page 3 the next day. Thackeray’s characters live in a state of perpetual luxury on very little money by simply not paying their bills, while Kanika Gahlaut touches upon fashion designers and maharajas who live in the style they are accustomed to by getting other people to pay all their bills. And, of course, in both books, everyone bitches about everybody else.

What’s the point, then?

The first is that Kanika Gahlaut missed out on the opportunity to write a masterpiece rather than a bestseller. Delhi in 2000 is similar enough to Regency London, and probably more complex, for her to have done a complete exploration rather than a minor incision.

Vanity Fair higher than Among the Chatterati, but I plug them both.

And the final point is that 21st century Delhi is like 18th century London. This is something so cool and wonderful that one of these days I’ll dedicate an entire post to it.

Till then, this is the end of this one.