City Life – Theatre Stage, Mandi House Roundabout
A play ground.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
They all are speaking at the same time, speaking over each other, and so uninhibitedly and loudly that you will fear their lungs might explode any moment.
Actually, these six young men are reading. They are reading aloud, randomly, from whatever they happen to be holding in their hands — which is either a newspaper or a book.
Four of these men are sitting in a circle on the trimmed grass, here in this landscaped roundabout in central Delhi’s Mandi House. Another man is perched some steps away, as if diligently following the pandemic-era dictum of physical distancing. And the last man in the group is standing close to the busy road – reading Bhishma Sahni’s play Haanoosh.
Members of the theatre group Aarambh Rang Manch, these solemn-looking folks are among the many stage actors who descend daily to this traffic island to rehearse for their forthcoming performances or some such pursuits. Being the heart of Delhi’s theatre district, the grassy roundabout serves as a makeshift stage for professional as well as amateur actors. The prestigious National School of Drama is within eyeshot, so is the statue of playwright Pushkin.
This evening, “we are exercising our diction”, says “Guruji” Lokesh Verma, the group’s senior-most member. With a booming voice full of cadence and infectious earnestness, Mr Verma is engaged with the staging of Vijay Tendulkar’s play Footpath ka Samrat. It is to be performed at Akshara Theatre as soon as pandemic-related restrictions begin to ease. The aforementioned exercise is a part of the rehearsal. There are more actors in the play, but “this is just the second day of the new year, and many are still in holiday mood”.
The current cast has assembled from disparate localities in the city. Vaibhav Dobhal and Sandeep Pal came from Lakshmi Nagar, Sahil Rana from Vijay Nagar, Amit Kumar from Munirka, and “Guruji” took the metro from distant Azadpur.
All these college graduates are fully aware of a theatre actor’s struggles. The ongoing pandemic has added more challenges. Speaking for all his colleagues, “Guruji” says, “Haar jayenge, yaa paar jayenge (we’ll either lose or we’ll cross over to the other side)… but we’ll not be cowed down by the hardships.”
Now the entire group huddles into a large circle to restart the reading exercise. Once again, each man’s voice is splitting from, and mingling with, the voices of the others. The rehearsal will continue till 8.30pm.
The world’s a stage