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The festival of laughter and forgetting

  • The Ranga Shankara Theatre Festival brings six plays that delve into the personal and the political
  • The highlights include plays such as ‘Nava’, ‘Hello Farmaaish’ and ‘Eidgah Ke Jinnat’

A scene from the play ‘Hello Farmaaish’; and (below) ‘Eidgah Ke Jinnat’.
A scene from the play ‘Hello Farmaaish’; and (below) ‘Eidgah Ke Jinnat’.

In his 1980 review of Milan Kundera’s collection of interlinked stories, The Book Of Laughter And Forgetting, John Updike called the Czech writer “an Adam driven from Eden again and again", explaining that he was first banished “from the socialist idyll of his youthful imagining, then from the national attempt to reclaim that idyll in the brief ‘Prague Spring’ of 1968, and then from the Russian-dominated land itself, and lastly from the bare rolls of citizenship". Updike noted that “Kundera is able to merge personal and political significances with the ease of a Camus".

So universal are Kundera’s thoughts on the fragility of memory and the organized erasure of cultural history that they continue to find resonance in 21st century India. This year’s Ranga Shankara Theatre Festival, for instance, takes its cue from Kundera’s book (first published in French in 1979). “The Festival of Laughter and Forgetting, as we call it, aims to capture its spirit but set within the larger context of our life and times," says Nimi Ravindran, co-founder of Sandbox Collective, a Bengaluru-based all-women theatre/arts collective that has curated this festival.

‘Eidgah Ke Jinnat’.
‘Eidgah Ke Jinnat’.

In February, a sold-out performance of the play Eidgah Ke Jinnat, written and directed by Bengaluru-based playwright Abhishek Majumdar, which takes a nuanced look at the militarization of Kashmir, was cancelled in Jaipur after threats from a fringe right-wing group. The same play, presented by Majumdar’s theatre outfit Bhasha Centre, will close the festival.

Several of the other plays, interestingly, are performances within performances—almost a meta commentary on performing itself. It was something the jury that selected the six plays picked up on, given the theme, says Ravindran, though it was serendipitous as well. “Artists respond in their own ways to events and ideas around them...they ask, ‘can art change the world?’ and whether it’s too much of a burden to place on art," says Ravindran.

Apart from the plays, the festival will also feature talks, a music performance by vocalist Pardafash, art and music installations, a zine-making workshop, and an interactive game called Made To Order that explores ideas of social and economic status by Fields of View, which creates games and simulations around policy and human rights.

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