The jury verdict at this year’s Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards (META) is apparently anti-war, anti-caste and class, and against gender inequality. A new adaptation of Dharamvir Bharati’s anti-war drama Andha Yug bagged the Best Play prize at the awards ceremony of the 14th edition of META on March 12. Andha Yug, a physical theatre production in Hindi from Manipur’s TAAM company, also bagged the Best Stage Design and Best Costume prizes and shared the Best Innovative Sound Design award with Maya Krishna Rao’s Loose Woman.
“Growing up in Manipur, I have been watching the fight between the army and the rebels,” says Joy Maisnam, a National School of Drama (NSD) graduate who directed Andha Yug. “And the victims have always been the common people. That is the essence of our play: what is the consequence of war?” he says. With only a quarter of the dialogue from the original play, Andhya Yug combines the martial arts traditions of chhau, tai chi and thang ta to create a new language in Indian theatre.
Swati Dubey, who owns the Jabalpur theatre company Samagam Rangmandal, won the Best Director award for Agarbatti, based on the life of Phoolan Devi. The play took three more prizes—Best Light Design, Best Original Script and shared the Best Actor in a Lead Role (Female) award with Chandala, Impure by Indianostrum Theatre, Puducherry. “Things have changed a lot in India, but they remain the same when it comes to caste and class,” says Dubey, a graduate in design and direction from NSD. “If you are from a lower caste and a woman, it’s even worse.”
The nine plays nominated for the META prizes this year were judged by a jury that included actor-singer Ila Arun, actor Kulbhushan Kharbanda, light designer Lynne Fernandez and critic Sunil Kothari. The META Lifetime Achievement Award 2019 was conferred on celebrated playwright Mahesh Elkunchwar. The protagonists of Bhagi Hui Ladkiyan, a Hindustani play about gender and sexuality by Agaaz Theatre Trust, received a Special Jury Mention. “Each year, META brings together stories of resilience, struggle and passion from across the country. The productions from small towns and buzzing metropolises showcase Indian theatre’s strength and diversity,” says Sanjoy K Roy, the festival producer and head of Teamwork Arts.
Faizal Khan is a freelancer