Friday, April 20, 2007


Dreamtheatre presents WILLIAM DALRYMPLE'S City of Djinn's ,Organized by Act One Art Group. Director ; Rudradeep Chakraborti Producer: Rahul Dasinnur Pulkeshi Artwork; Arjun Sahdev

Editorial Compiled and Curated by Gaurav Kapoor

Dalrymple interests include Asia, India, the Middle East, Mughal rule as well as the world of Islam and early eastern Christianity. All of his six books have won prizes. His first three books were travel books based on his travels in the Middle East, India and Central Asia. Dalrymple has also published a book of essays about South Asia, and two books about the interaction between the British and the Mughals between the eighteenth and mid nineteenth century. He is a regular contributor to many Newspaper’s etc Married to the artist Olivia Fraser and has three children. He is a fellow of many literary societies, and he has been involved in the making of three television series and a prize-winning radio history. Likes tospend most of the year in Delhi, India, but moves back to London and Edinburgh during the summer.

Dalrymple's second book City of Djinns followed in 1994. The book was the result of a six-year stay in Delhi. Dalrymple examined the traumatic events of the Partition of India, the 1984 riots after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the world of the first British inhabitants of the city who "went native", the Mughals, the Tughluks, and ending with ancient Hindu origins of the city as described in The Mahabharata. The book followed his established style of historical digressions, tied in with contemporary events and a multitude of anecdotes:

William Dalrymple’s City of Djinns, was staged in the capital. Extremely ambitious in structure and craft, the play is a big budget for a theatrical adaptation in this country. Re-correcting the sights and sounds of 'dilli', ' a landscape of domes, a press of people, a choke of fumes, a whiff of spices".William’s love affair with Delhi started in 1989 and the result was City of Djinns , a travelogue. Now, 13 years after his travails gave us a glimpse of this city's forgotten past, a theatre adaptation of the book recreated the magical realism of the city that captivated the Scottish author almost 20 years ago. Ironically, it will have

Tom Alter, who's association with Delhi goes as far back as 1955. "When we were growing up," in a smaller town,"Delhi was the city of sins for us. He reminiscences cycling from Daryaganj to East Patel Nagar to meet various loves, watching test matches for five days at what is now the Feroze Shah Kotla, going to the Cellar nightclub, the first and only one at that time, and being awe-struck by the big city where you could buy a pair of jeans for Rs 50! "Delhi was nirvana," he says, for boy from a small-town in the 1950s and '60s. The city has changed several times since then. As has its portrait from the time when City of Djinns first made its appearance on the shelves in 1994 and took history out of the classrooms. But for all those who want to look back, a theatrical production may be just the thing.

The veteran artist (thespian and a television actor.) who never met Dalrymple until the play, said that he had read the City of Djinns twice and what makes the book special is its ability to catch Delhi when it was beginning to change in 1999. "The Delhi he writes about has changed. If a foreigner carries electronic goods, they are no longer stamped at the airport and the hassles while getting a telephone connection are prehistoric." However, he adds that the Puris who were the victims of partition and riots are still there. "The character of Mrs Puri, a Punjabi lady who has seen partition has touched me."

Tom, slips into the character of the author: "It suits itself very well, to theatre because he writes in a dramatic way. His characters are all very dramatic, there is no normal character in this book, the book is extremely theatrical and therefore we have been able to put it into a theatrical form," said Actor Tom Alter (considered to be fairly affable, at least by temperamental artistes' standards, is easily riled. "No," he says, "I have never been stereotyped." )

As you seek a conversation with the man of many muses, he obliges you with a rather humble remark, "I hope you won’t ask me if I am an Indian. I trust you know that I am one."

For the American, son of Presbyterian missionary parents, who grew up loving the lofty landscape of the Mussoorie hills he was born amidst, 52 years ago, it scarcely seemed exceptional learning the local lingo so remarkably as to perfect a career of it in Hindi films and theatre. As our quintessential Indian splashes the winning smile and confesses his love for Faiz and Ghalib, comfort dawns upon the heart. He has been inspired by a Faiz Ahmed Faiz couplet: "Ek fursat-e-gunaah mili woh bhi chaar din; dekhe hain hamne haunsale parvardigaar ke." ."I am bad at comedy," says the actor.

"I am history," says Segal, all of 95, who consented to a role (after initially rejecting the project because of her decreased mobility) because she discovered the play is based on a book by the same author who has written The Last Mughal. "I hadn't read the book and when Rahul came to me, I said, I don't do plays any longer. Then he discovered that I was reading this beautiful book by the same author.
Segal plays Norah Nicolson, a descendent of General John Nicolson, the "Lion of Punjab", (a British lady who came to India during the pre-partition period and never went back.) who succeeded in recapturing Delhi and quelling the Mutiny because his Indian troops were ready to do and die for him. Ironically, one of Segal's own ancestors from Rampur was a leader of the Revolt. What's indeed very convincing is Zohra's Norah Nickelson.

Produced by Dreamtheatre, the play held from April 13 to 26 at Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts in Delhi taking on a journey into the city's medieval and modern history, seen through the eyes of a foreigner. The play has approximately 50 actors ranging from the stage artists to the real life kebabwallas, snake charmers, Sufi saints and the eunuchs. It's also a musical narrative, where the different musical genres will help recreate a certain era or a place.
Rahul Pulkeshi, creative head, Dreamtheatre, the production company handling the project. Pulkeshi has been a British Council Charles Wallace scholar and has studied theatre in London.

As such his vision for the performing arts goes beyond what he calls "poor man's entertainment". His company is attempting to make an unapologetic business out of theatre - "make it a viable and sustainable source for providing employment and generating revenues". The production necessarily incorporates these values.

"There are Qawwali singers who'll depict Karachi, snake charmers playing their flutes, Punjabi folk songs and even band parties to support the narrative," says Rudra Deep Chakrabarti, director of the play. Interestingly, he read the book two years ago during a train journey and immediately wanted to make a play based on it. And how did Dalrymple react to it? "His first reaction was that its impossible to do a play on a travelogue. But I met him several times with the script and he finally gave me the go-ahead. He has also given me the liberty to use different languages like Urdu and Punjabi," shares Chakrabarti. ( an alumnus of the National School of Drama, has then conceived of his take on the book as a musical narrative. He will be dramatising only what he considers are the most powerful scenes from the book and mounting a series of tableaux to take viewers down the ages. )

The play commemorates the 150 years of the Revolt of 1857 and the 60 years of India's Independence. Ask Alter how the City of Djinns is a celebration of the landmark events and you get a prompt reply, "The fact that the book is written by a Britisher, and in 1857, we fought against them, and in 1947, gained freedom from people like him, but can still appreciate his writing."

From kawaali singers, the kabooter baaz (pigeon fanciers), khalifa, calligraphers, tangewallahs, eunuchs, and all these elements of old Delhi, the peers and all the serious thoughts, which are a part of the book.

Two and a half hours of real time of City of Djinns. Being 60 years of Indian independence and 150 years of the mutiny, historical surface of the capital.
While Live acts are becoming a good career option in indian metros. "Places like Delhi are evolving now and people are discovering the magic of live acts." Rahul Pulkeshi is in the business of finding suitable performances for equally suitable places. He is responsible for bringing in groups like Mystique and Frequency.

Most interesting thing is the venue - Mati Ghar off Raj-path. The facade not just lends itself to tableaux and to a sound and light show, also part of the proceedings, but according to Pulkeshi, has been chosen because here is where Old Delhi meets the New, Lutyen's.

A street bazaar and strains of Sufi music are to liven up the proceedings and add for sure to this nostalgia trip.

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