Whether it’s an adaptation of Antigone or ‘story-telling’ using the works of greats such as Premchand, Saadat Hasan Manto, Kahlil Gibran or Haruki Murakami, as a theatre group Motley has been in the business of bringing literature to the stage for as long as one can remember. Their latest production, Riding Madly Off in All Directions adapts the cerebral ramblings of Canadian humourist and writer, Stephan Leacock’s short stories to the stage.
If that weren’t enough reason to engage with this theatrical experience, Naseeruddin Shah’s direction and his entire immediate family – wife Ratna Pathak Shah and kids Vivaan, Imaad and Heeba being front and centre of this production, organised by the India Foundation for the Arts (IFA), is all the more reason to engage with it.
For those of you who aren’t aware, Leacock is a humourist to the literary world – not a playwright. His short stories are often described as satirical, bordering on absurd and subtly hilarious. Yet, the formidable Shah crew take on the challenge of dramatising essays. Each piece is a standalone only connected by Leacock’s absurdist imagination in action – whether it’s Vivaan as a card-conjurer or Imaad who falls victim to it (or does he?), Heeba’s ‘financial career’ that relates how an early 20th-century working-class, middle-aged, woman who tries to open a bank account, Ratna relating the roles of A, B and C, variables in mathematics or Naseer as the ‘Asbestos Man’ which describes a future world full of hairless faces and asbestos suits – a world that has not only eliminated death and disease, but birth as well. What can you expect from the play? “Leacock’s works were written during the 1920s, but you’ll find that they are timeless and still relevant today. Some of it is serious, some are hilarious. But we hope it will entertain everybody,” says Heeba.
Needless to say, their acting is thorough and well-researched. “I prepared for my role by actually meeting a magician, spending time with him and seeing how he works. He was kind enough to teach me his tricks, although magicians usually don’t reveal their secrets,” says Vivaan. The youngest member of the family, he recounts that it was a great experience to work with his familia. “We used to laugh and fight a lot – in fact, we all had time slots for who was going to be in a bad mood!” muses the 27-year-old, confessing that he’s something of a cinema, literature and theatre historian in his spare time. “We’ve worked with each other before, but this is the first time all of us are coming together on the same stage. We had a lot of ideas coming in and it took a lot of understanding and getting used to each other. At the end of the day, it was great fun!” says Heeba.
Ask her to pick out a challenge and she talks about her parents’ work ethic. “They are great when it comes to punctuality or work. We had to be consistent and match up with them. I think we managed that,” smiles Heeba. And what do they hope you can take away from it? “An understanding of humour – what it means in our society and how it helps us to cope with any situation,” adds Vivaan in conclusion....