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Here we share experiences, discoveries, research and tidbits of our journey in staging a sensitive play "Surya ki antim kiran se surya ki pehli kiran tak" by Surendra Verma. This is Naatak's 30th production

Naatak is a San Francisco Bay Area-based theater group dedicated to producing creative and thought-provoking plays. Since its founding in 1995 by students at UC Berkeley and Stanford, Naatak has staged 29 productions in English, Hindi and Tamil. For more information, visit

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The M.Matya Chronicles --- सूर्य की अन्तिम किरण से सूर्य की पहली किरण तक

Its been thirty years since that fateful evening... and i still remember it like yesterday.. I know now that i was just a tool in the hands of fate playing out a carefully scripted part. As for today read how I feel at :

Obama vs. Okkak

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Surya Ki's music

When our director said she wants Hindustani Classical Music to portray emotions of 'Surya ki', I knew I had got myself into a herculean task. Surya Ki is intense. And this is a simplistic description of the play. Surendra Vermaji, the playwright, has amazed us by weaving layers of emotions into the script. It was evident, for music to bring out these emotions, only Raagas could do the magic. But the question was which ones?

Raagas are many. Each Raaga is time bound and has a mood; it evokes the mood best, when sung at the allotted time. Surya Ki progresses from Surya ki antim kiran (in music timings: din ka antim prahar) to Surya ki pehli kiran (din ka pratham prahar) so we did not need to consider Raagas sung in the other prahar of the day! While it seemed the search list was reduced by half, the long list of night Raagas explained why most music concerts happen in the evening or night!

Raagas are generally differentiated into three types - chanchal, shaant and gambhir. Surya Ki is deep and intense and it intuitively seems that gambhir Raagas would be the choice to make. However, Surya Ki's varied emotions should not be restricted to one type. There are moments of varied intensity in the play such as Okkak's agony or Sheelvati's light romantic moments with Pratosh.

So, the search continued. The play has three distinct emotions as they progress in the night - agony, romance and unfulfilled bliss. For agony there could be Malkauns with sadness, Shankara which has the quality of anger or Darbari - a deep, grave midnight Raaga. Romance could be Brindavani Sarang with joy, Bageshree and Sohni with longing, Darbari with erogenous feel, Chayanat or Jai Jaiwanti with fulfillment or Rageshree with celebration. Unfulfilled bliss in the morning could be Deskar, Vibhas, Bhairav or Lalit in their increasing levels of intensity, and ranging from being happy and thoughtful to being pensive. The best part of Hindustani Classical Music is that Raagas can overlap different emotions.

The play opens with Raaga Puriya Dhanashree, an evening passionate Raaga. It has anger as well as compassion set in it. This built in discomfort of varied emotions is brought by the combination of komal Rishabh, teevra Madhyam, komal Dhaivat and shuddha Nishad. The other choices of Raagas have been based on those belonging to the same (or similar) Thaats. (Thaat is the classification of Raaga. Various Raagas in one Thaat seem to belong to one family as they have similar notes (swar). Their sounds have similarity to certain extent, though their emotions may vary.)

So much for Surya Ki's music journey. Come with an ear to discover various moods of the play!

(Decision making involved brainstorming with Sharvari, Abhishek, Vinita, my music teacher in India, Lalita (our tabla player) and her friend, Harshada, as well as all dancers - Archana, Dhara, Juhi, Mahncy and Sowmya).

Friday, May 22, 2009

Natya Shringar

Designing beards, hairpieces, prosthetics, face sculpting...all the excitement lies in “correcting the perfect face”. What do we mean???

We are “correcting to the perfect face”That would be making the face oval, round,elongated, removing and adding a couple of lines, eyes in almond shape, bright eyes, quiet eyes, projecting edge of the brow, coral lips, coarse lips, and sticking beard and mustache to our clean shaved actors (We assure you ..they look very handsome)

I thought make-up is easy - applying foundation, strokes of colors, eye-pencil, lip color and making hair white. On the job, I realized its not the same as applying make-up to a friend. The play plot, the actors and the face – all combined and set to emote the audience. Nitya's knowledge and experiences, the techniques, is helping us to create a character or make corrections. To transform Navjyoti as Mahamatya, Harish as Pratosh…. demands experience. Keerthi is making corrections to Rajiv's handsome face to sculpt the king Okkak and his dilemma and Sunder as the Warrior General. Nitya will create stereotypical submissive queen into a bold woman Sheelvati of the 20th century who accepts her sexuality and blatantly copes with it outside the marital relations.

Here is the expected age the actors should look on stage … it challenging???
Sheelvati (early 30s)
Okkak (later 30s)
Pratosh (later 30s)
Mahamatya (in 60s)
Raj Purohit (late 50s)
Mahabaladhikrit (late 50s)
Mahattarika (early 30s)
Pratihari (early 20s)

Finding the perfect foundation, color lighters, mustache, lip color....on our task list arduous task for someone who has never bought make up for anyone else!!! Will keep you guys posted on our accomplishments..interested??? join us for the next make up session.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Surya Ki... Sets Production - Pillars Montage

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Feeling judgmental...?

What I didnt tell you are the hazards of being in production. We adhere to certain guidelines and safety regulations. Still, you can hear shouts of "splinter", "blood", "cut" or "nail" or "screw" occasionally.

Are we having fun? Yes. But, dont judge us too soon.

You might ask the question - During this period, did we even think of the actors even once? Let me assure you that we think of the actors not once, but always! Yes, you read that right "always". When we design and construct set pieces - actors' safety is of foremost importance to us. Their physical safety and physical capabilities are factored into our equations. Their mental safety and acting capabilities? - I'll let the Captain Director address that question or judge for yourself by watching our show.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Surya Ki.. the production perspective..

From Surya ki antim kiran se, Surya ki pehli kiran tak, we are not undergoing the emosanal attyachaar that Okkak is going through. Rather, from Surya ki pehli kiran se, Surya ki antim kiran tak, we are thinking production. We are thinking how the sets can withstand and endure the forces acting against it. We are thinking if constructing something is worth the effort.

We eagerly look forward to the production day - arriving excited and at the end of the day we leave contented. It's tough to explain why, you have to experience it.

Our day starts with a nice drive to our base (Pradeepji's house) in So.SF. We assemble in the briefing center (living room) to be apprised by our Commander (Pradeepji) of status updates and new developments from Captain (Vinita). We make a task list for the day, gather tools from garage and head to the field (backyard) to commence our operation.

After a few trials and having a prototype ready, we break for lunch, mean midday feast - courtesy of Mrs. Commander (Kumkumji), while discussing a varied mix of topics - sports, politics, movies, people, past plays, storage (ssshh), etc..

Based on the prototype, we are now mechanised robots manufacturing the full set piece. To ensure that prandial comatose doesn't strike us, our Chaiwala (Pradeepji) provides excellent elaichi chai with snacks. If its too hot, our Bartender (Pradeepji) offers Margarita (and Virgin Margarita tsk-tsk).

By the EOD, the pieces are ready for assembly and testing - all the labour that went into making this masterpiece - finally being tested. And voila! We are elated!

Our day ends with a tired, exhausted but nice drive back home.

This is one of the well planned, less demanding and more professional production I've worked on. It's a brain-teaser recollecting and refreshing topics that we've learnt in the past - from "angle-bisectors" to "areas/volumes" to "torsion/shear". It is always a learning experience ;)

PS: Interesting? Curious? Join our backstage tour on the days of the show.

First Run Through - Sujit's Post-mortem

This sunday 5/17/09 first run-through was successfully completed to the satisfaction of the ultimate surgeon of Naatak, Sujit Saraf. He definitely thinks the audience will like it and will be shocked by the concept and had the "Sujit-ish" inputs of " चढ़ जाओ, dont walk tentatively - walk deliberately, इमोशन दिखाओ face पे, dont stand like bollywood kings like Prithviraj Kapoor - kings are humans too, walk and talk normally".

In these photos director Vinita Belani, Sujit Saraf and a Scene from the rehearsal.

from the Designer's Desk (or poolside lounge chair)

Period piece, husband, wife, the other guy. Oh been there done that and done it well too. In fact, quite recently. Or so I thought. A chat with director Vinita, a script reading and a rattled misconception later, I was in with both feet.

Period piece, husband, wife, the other guy. Only now, to me, the subject is so mature, so sensitive, so beautiful, so emotional and as real today as it was then. The subtlety of expression, the minimalist decor and a beautiful script that just draws you right in.

The Design for marketing had to reflect that and that was the challenge. It wasn't only about the 3 people and sex, but the relationships, aur gehri, aur mehatvapoorn - the dynamics, the love, the agony, the manipulation, the irony, the nascent passion; the fine line that draws between the truth of emotion and just plain masala.

The play's visual theme uses fabric and color to depict the characters. There was my concept - intertwining fabric. Put a bunch of flowing fabric, rustle them up, toss them around , mix 'em up.. and then try taking them apart. The knots, twists, crushed material, overlaying colors and suggestive forms... That would speak the subtle truth about Okkak, Sheelvati and Pratosh. No bed, no faces, no words.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Lot of wood but no sade...

And the set in PIECES here presented by Vijay, Keerthi and Siva on top and Manjusha all by her beautiful self. Finished up a lot of the pillars and towers and beautiful things that make the set what it really is. Our fearless leader Pradeepji kept piling on the tasks and the food and the margaritas ;). How could we say no? Pillars and Towers and Receptacles and Steps and the BED and all that jazz. Most of the big stuff DONE! Phew. What a day.

But wait, there's more. Everything was loaded up and we drove down to our beloved Diro's house and unloaded and racked 'em all up and enjoyed a spot of tea while chit-chatting. Until we were granted a view of the decorations that were to grace our set... Here we all are with the "Ooohs" and the "Aaaahs!"

More updates coming. We've got soooo much work to finish up. Can't wait, can't wait.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A set worthy of Okkak!?

Since the king himself has started the blog I will begin by paying my respects :). Me being one of the production crew. Thrilled and excited to be working in my first Naatak production. Bringing the sets up for this production has been fantastic. We've got a wonderful set coming up on stage at the Cubberley in Palo Alto, I'm happy to say.

Pradeepji our master planner, producer, our fearless leader in this endeavor has been nothing but on the mark with his planning and designing. The man's a wood work maestro and so is his workshop. I'm learning a lot of mad skilz on the job here. What with the wood shaving, cutting, measuring, glueing, nailing and stapling. Stuff can get pretty exciting.

We have most of the sets done by now. We have a few things for the background to be done. I don't want to reveal too many details. Come on out to our production and you'll see it in all its glory. Meanwhile a quick shoutout to all the crew of whom I'm the designated QA. If anybody has any issues with that they can take it up with me :D.

I love the character KING OKKAK!

This is one of the most brilliant script I have read in my acting career so far. Very crisp, beautiful language, no excessive dialogues (hence no need for any edits). Hats off to the playwright Mr. Surendra Verma. I am playing the protagonist King Okkak in the play. Mr. Verma has described the kings agony & love for his queen in a terrific & gut-wrenching manner. For sure, Surendra Verma has been able to put himself in the shoes of Okkak.

How would you feel if your wife whom you dearly love and who loves you back too, is forced to sleep with another man? I ask this question everyday as I prepare for this role in front of the mirror, while driving, on the treadmill ........