‘Litost is a Czech word with no exact translation int any other language. It designates a feeling…that is the synthesis of many others: grief, sympathy, remorse, and an indefinable longing. The first syllable, which is long and stressed, sounds like the wail of a dog.’ So wrote Czech-born French author Milan Kundera in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1979) which was divided into seven parts. But at the 16th Ranga Shankara Theatre Festival titled The Festival of Laughter and Forgetting, six plays are going to be featured. The ‘seventh’ component, if one can call it so, would probably be the events scheduled over the duration of the six-day festival which respond to the theme. Nimi Ravindran, co-founder of the Bangalore-based Sandbox Collective which was invited to curate the festival, said, “The theme has been borrowed from the novel-book by Kundera. The title and its content resonated with us and the times we are living in.”
Kundera, the elusive author, who incidentally has been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature several times, had examined the nature of forgetting from various aspects, from an ‘official’ level to melancholy memories. He had famously written that ‘the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.’ That context is rekindled through the selected plays to reflect the present day. Be it the stories of nine urban transwomen who take centrestage to tell their own stories (Nava), a group of young people charting out the course for a new country (Rihla), enterprising women embarking on an adventure from a Haryanvi settlement to Outer Space (Hello Farmaaish), a documentary style production that lets a Lavani woman from Maharashtra sing, dance and enthral the audience with her story (Sangeet Bari), a hunger artist who makes a living by fasting inside a steel cage (The Hunger Artist) or, interweaving true stories with Islamic storytelling of a generation of radicalised children (Eidgah Ke Jinnat) – the plays in Kannada, Urdu, Marathi, Hindi and English have been selected from 170 applications received from around the country. The jury shortlisted five plays for the festival with Nava, the curtain raiser, performing as a special invitee.
Ravindran spoke of the other events, “The aim of this festival is to keep the spirit of the words alive in theatre not just with the plays that have been selected for the festival but also through the events and programs curated around it.” One of them is artist Sandeep T K’s work on transgenders which will be on display on the first floor of Ranga Shankara. He had asked his friends from Kerala’s transgender community to imagine an alternative life. He asked them what they want to become, a question which is normally asked of children. The project, called Declaration of Empathy, is based on what African Americans had signed on January 15th 2014 at a public meeting commemorating Martin Luther King Jr’s birth anniversary, calling for an end to the oppression of Dalits in India. The photographs he took are of the transgenders in the roles that they had dreamt to be; in the garb of a lawyer, policeman, Bharatanatyam dancer, teacher, nurse and so on. “It is one thing to sympathise with the oppressed but what’s actually needed is empathy,” Ravindran said of the project.
Apart from visuals, sound makes an appearance as well in the form of a ‘Bioscope’. Curated by the Indian Music Experience, it features an interactive bioscope that shows actual film footage and music responding to the theme of laughter. Other events include zine making workshop, music concerts, Lavani dance demo, poetry and talks. While the plays and art look at the theme in a variety of ways, the festival’s stress on erasure, by highlighting the marginalised voices, is to be viewed seriously. The then Czech government did it to Kundera by revoking his citizenship in retaliation to his role in the brief Prague Spring of 1968. It is a scenario that is possible to anyone at any given time. Such a reminder is necessary time and again.
What: The Festival of Laughter and Forgetting
When: Nov. 5 to Nov. 10, timings available on www.rangashankara.org
Where: Ranga Shankara, 36/2, 8th cross, JP Nagar 2nd Phase