On 22 December, a performance of great significance will take place at the Old GMC Complex in Goa. Titled Desdemona Roopakam, the play looks at the missing voices of women in epics. It is not just its narrative that is interesting but its form as well. It has been sung like a Chamber Opera, interspersed with Carnatic, Hindustani and folk music. Co-written by MD Pallavi, Bindhu Malini, Veena Appiah, Abhishek Majumdar and Irawati Karnik, the performance also features the original text of Othello and poetry by Tishani Doshi. Desdemona Roopakam is part of a very strong theatre segment curated by Quasar Thakore-Padamsee. Some of the other plays in this selection include Jo Dooba So Paar, Swallow, Lavanya Katta, Nava and Pah-Lak. Each of the works seem to be connected by themes of strength and resilience, with an equally strong focus on gender and sexuality.
Thakore-Padamsee has taken a somewhat different approach to curation this year. “All of us curators usually present works that we like and would want other people to see. Who we are, and how we respond to a work, is often reflected in the curation,” he says. “This time, I tried to change my lens.” Usually he looks for well-produced, well-placed works. This time around, however, the context of the work took centrestage.
The past two years have been tough for the theatre community, who could not perform to live audiences as often as they would have liked. “Now that we are emerging from this situation, I am quite interested to see works that actually matter to the performers,” elaborates Thakore-Padamsee. As a result, he didn’t look for pieces that were just well done or resonated with him personally, but where the act of performance itself was important. “Yes, Serendipity is an art festival, which would like to showcase work to an audience. But it is also a platform for the artists, who are also the first audience for any piece,” he adds.
Each work focuses on personal stories. For instance, Nava looks at the lives of 9 urban trans women, who bring their voices and stories—which are usually silenced—to the stage. Swallow, on one hand, is about mental health, and on the other, it’s a very detailed story about identity and domestic violence. Then, there is Pah-Lak, based on real stories from the 2008 Lhasa riots. For the first time, one can see members from the Tibetan community tell their story in their language, albeit in a modern form. “The fact that this is a Tibetan person talking about his ancestors, it matters. The fact that a dancer in a wheelchair, with only 11 vertebrae, is on stage, that matters,” says Thakore-Padamsee. “Once we started creating a list of works, we realised that strength and resilience is a big part of these conversations.” Most of these works are relatively new, having been created in the last year or so. There is immense variation in form also—a seated form of storytelling in Hunkaro, a musical narrative in Jo Dooba So Paar, a simple and straight style of a play in Swallow, a vernacular performance idiom in Lavanya Katta, and more.
For Thakore-Padamsee, this fluidity is exciting. “Music and dance has become such an integral part of the theatre canon. I have had great latitude to recommend stuff that could go into the music and dance categories as well. Take the Ta Dhom project, for instance, which is very much in keeping with my own lens. It has basti boys rapping their story to the world,” he says. The project brings together rap with konnakol, unique vocal percussion derived from the sounds of the mridangam.
During the pandemic, theatre had taken on a hybrid form, wherein artists performed to the screen. However, each of the plays on showcase at the Serendipity Arts Festival 2022 couldn’t have taken on any other form, except for the live one. “The idea was to make the theatre segment as live and visceral as possible, and not something distant,” he says.