May 22, 2024

A chief Guest


Of desultory applause and ‘lawful’ suspense!

The scene is straight out of an incident that happened a few days ago. I reluctantly agree to be the Chief Guest at a function related to theatre. A taxi comes to take me to the other end of the city. It is obviously a long journey. I am in long sleeves and I keep questioning my decision to wear a suit.

I reach the destination, to be greeted by a young lady in shorts and a tee shirt. I am then directed to the venue by two other young ladies, similarly clad. I heave a sigh of relief! “How many seats does this theatre have?” I ask conversationally. “200”, comes the reply.   

The last scene of Mahesh Dattani’s “Tara” is on stage. I am asked to take a seat right at the centre. I firmly refuse, not wanting to tramp across the seats right in the middle of a show and instead preferring to stand where I can’t be seen. Two men enter behind me talking vociferously. I “shussh” them firmly.  

The play ends. The Bangalore cast takes a bow to very desultory applause. The house lights come on and I see about 300 seats, 10% of which are occupied — thirty, made up of cast and crew of the two other plays that performed that afternoon and the audience is near nil.

The two judges then exchange observations and comments with each of the three groups separately – I gather one from Chennai and another from Trichy – right there between the stage and the first row. Do the others join? Are they asked to join? Apparently not! They are chattering away a little distance away, making it difficult for me to listen to the judges’ comments. When I ask one of the volunteers why there is no plenary session to listen to the judges, I am told that the actors wouldn’t like to be criticised in public!

The MC then takes to the lectern and introduces me. I lash out at the bashful actors. “If you can perform before an audience and this is a competition, you had better be prepared to face applause and rotten fruit!”

My speech ends. Among others, a 16-member team of volunteers – I counted – is acknowledged for running the festival. So 50% of the people in the theatre are volunteers. This is what a festival is coming to. In earlier days that theatre would have been packed with fellow students and faculty. 

I get into the taxi and return home. I open the gift box. It contains a mug emblazoned with the name of the institution. Dare I say who it is? The National Law School of India University – NLSIU. Sue me!