January 16, 2016

Day Out At Khidkiyaan Theatre Festival

We reached Sathaye College in Vile Parle just as the Open Mic session of Day 2 of the theatre festival, Khidkiyaan, kicked off on a small elevated stage overlooking the short passageway leading from the entrance gate to the small auditorium built by the college.

The proceedings on Day 2 of Khidkiyaan Theatre Festival were scheduled to begin with an Open Mic session with Piyush Mishra and Manu Rishi Chadha while Sudhir Mishra, Makarand Deshpande, Richa Chadda and Sushant Singh Rajput graced the event as Guests of Honour for the evening, enough star power to have the place buzzing the far corner of Sathaye College.

The only plays we’ve attended before at the Sathaye College auditorium were those Mujeeb Khan staged of Munshi Premchand’s stories, casting his students learning their craft at his IDEA Theatre Group. Prem Utsav is an annual fixture at Sathaye College in the monsoons and we’re annual fixtures at Prem Utsav.

Khidkiyaan seemed to follow the same script except for the choice of plays, an eclectic mix ranging from Gunno Bai (Director: Chittaranjan Tripathy) and Old Munk (Director: Dheerendra Dwivedi) to Koi Bat Chale (Director: Ramji Bali).

Unlike Khidkiyaan, Prem Utsav hasn’t structured an Open Mic with Star Power component into its scheme of things. Mujeeb Khan has a different idea and ideal.

Organised by Mukesh Chhabra Casting Company, Khidkiyaan 2016 is the first edition of the theatre festival, a welcome addition to the growing theatre scene in Mumbai.

Scheduled to run five days, starting Jan 13, the new kid on the block picked Vile Parle to stage its first avatar, a welcome change from the usual suspects, South Bombay, and Bandra.

Mukesh Chhabra Casting Company has associated with Bombay Times to bring Khidkiyan Theatre Festival to life. Hola Chef is listed as Food Partner though I saw no food of any kind on offer at the venue. 

Khidkiyaan ends tomorrow, Jan 17, with Poetry Reading and Performance by Ayushmann Khurrrana (5 pm), followed by Piyush Mishra (6 pm) before giving way to the Festival Director, Mukesh Chhabra, for his talk “Insight into Casting” (7 pm).

Anurag Kashyap, Nandita Das and Tigmanshu Dhulia will grace the evening as Guests Of Honour before Koi Baat Chale, a play directed by Ramji Bali, and scheduled for 8 pm, brings the curtain down on Khidkiyaan theatre festival.

If what we experienced on Day 2 is any indication, tomorrow will be another cracker of a day at Sathaye College.


Each day at Khidkiyaan, with the exception of the last day, sees Open Mic followed by a play staged twice, 6:00 pm and 8:00 pm, with free passes given out at a stall outside the entrance, half-hour before the play kicks off.

A young student at Mukesh Chabra Casting Company volunteering at the stall giving out the Theatre Festival schedules and free passes repeated over the din of the queue growing outside his stall, “Only after people with passes issued prior (via online registrations) have settled in the auditorium will we give out passes for seats that remain vacant.”

“Make two lines, please”, he called out over the jostling crowd of mostly youthful North Indians.

“Those who don’t mind watching the 8:00 pm re-run, please leave the queue as we only have a few passes to give out and most of you won’t get the passes for this show (6:00 pm),” he informed the crowd before repeating, “Most of you in the queue won’t get passes for the 6:00 pm show. Come back for the 8:00 pm show.”

The din in the queue and arguments breaking out over queue break-ins prompted another volunteer into quieting the crowd, “The Open Mic is on, loud chatter here is drowning out voices on the stage,” she berated.

I was squeezed for breath in the queue, holding fast to my footing in face of overt and covert edging by potential claimants to limited entry passes.

Trust Mumbai to throw up demand to overwhelm supply.

Eventually, he gave out 10 passes once he got word from inside the auditorium. I got the last one of the lot. It meant that only one of us could get in to see Shadow Of Othello directed by Ishteyak Arif Khan; it would be K who had just finished with attending Open Mic while I was in the queue for the entry pass.

Shadow Of Othello is a drama set in “a small village in staunch northern rural area of India” where “some unemployed, loafers, half-employed and confusingly employed people, who get inspired by a Hindi feature film ‘Omkara’ to the extent that they start planning to recreate the film. But, soon they realise that to make a film is not their cup of tea and they all decide to make a play.

The drama or “Dramedy” as the brochure categorises it, is how they go about realising their “Omkara” inspiration.


Open Mic is open to all and is staged in a small open passage leading in from the entrance gate to one end of the Sathaye College campus.

While waiting for Open Mic to commence, Sudhir Mishra, the maker of Is Raat Ki Subah Nahin (1996), a film I saw years ago, one that introduced me to alternative storytelling and turned me into a Tara Deshpande admirer, floated around quietly with a mug of steaming something, obliging attendees with selfies, barely registering a change in expression the entire time.

He answered patiently the questions a camera crew of two women put to him, something to do with his culinary prowess of the lack of it, and other aspects of his existence.

At the same time that Sudhir Mishra was taking questions from the camera team, Richa Chadda was striking a pose for the rest of the press who had ranged around her, forsaking the gaunt Sudhir Mishra.

Later, every camera on view, including yours truly, gathered around Richa Chadda and Sushant Singh Rajput as they struck the customary pose framed by Khidkiyaan logo.

Mukesh Chhabra wound his way into the mix.

A small band had stationed inside the entrance and every once in a while they would light up with band music, most likely on cue from someone in the organising committee.

And when they did, all heads would turn to the entrance searching for a familiar face from the entertainment world being accorded a welcome.

The music band only stopped their short intense bursts of welcome once Open Mic got underway with Piyush Mishra taking the stage.  

With space barely two cars wide and six car lengths long, the crowd attending Open Mic was parked tight.

From the queue, I could hear Piyush Mishra ease into songs after a brief tête-à-tête with a charming host; his voice rendered the late afternoon melancholic.

The 'feeling of an emotion' is decidedly different from the 'emotion of a feeling' - the audience sensed the former as his poetry brought the latter to the fore, so much so that his occasional bout of coughing failed to break the rhythm the lyrics laid into the approaching evening.

He alternated between songs and poems though it's difficult to distinguish between the two, occasionally relapsing into explanations that drew laughs.    

Streamers ran above. Lights, camera crews, a music band and youthful enthusiasm added to the festival atmosphere.

Theatre and Bollywood enthusiasts, and aspirants decked out smartly, holding their poise and manner, formed the bulk of the attendees.

Smiles abounded as introductions were made, old acquaintances renewed. If I looked hard I might’ve been able to count stars in the eyes of many gathered there.

From the t-shirts sporting the Theatre Festival logo, an outline of a window, it was apparent that students of Mukesh Chhabra Casting Company were a significant presence.

Some were volunteering at the stalls, one of which had on sale Piyush Mishra’s book of poems, Kuch Ishq Kiya, Kuch Kaam Kiya, written over a period of twenty years. Published by Rajkamal Prakashan, it was released at the New Delhi World Book Fair. His other book on sale was Mere Manch Ke Sargaam

This was only the second time I was seeing Piyush Mishra on stage. The first was at the Times Literary Festival at Mehboob Studios (Bandra) some years ago.

His demeanour, atleast to my eyes, was unchanged, alternating between direct, dismissive, thoughtful, curt, condescending, casual, bored, and expansive, a mark of someone who only relents to being in the thick of things even as he chaffs at it, a hint at idealism at play in an unforgiving industry wedded to glam sham.

Above all, Piyush Mishra seems to exude restlessness of a restive soul, a peculiar intensity of a North Indian brahmin wedded to the arts.

He was quoted saying Kuch Ishq Kiya, Kuch Kaam Kiya “is a work of restiveness”, from a period “when I was an alcoholic,distraught and wanted to destroy myself.

If his seeming pre-occupation with his phone for much of the evening except when on stage, taking and making calls, receiving and answering messages or merely scrolling through them in the middle of selfies with adoring fans attempting conversations, short interviews in-camera for networks, and customary photo-ops framed by Khidkiyaan logo, were any indication of restlessness or bechaini then his book of poems will make for an interesting reading.

He was curt but never insulting, a persona that goes with sharp edge he brings to his work, one that is refreshing and original. His songs in Gulal is a case in point.  

After he was dragged, reluctantly it seemed, for a short in-camera interview with a duo of bright, pretty, nervously smiling anchors looking for light hearted sound bytes on cooking skills and the like, they asked him what he thought about Khidkiyaan Theatre Festival.

If they expected him to launch into a long monologue, a bullet list of pros a theatre festival of this nature brings to the table, or praise for the organiser, they had asked the wrong person.

“It’s good, has to be good,” he replied with a mildly taken-aback look that seemed to say “it can only be a good thing isn’t it? Why isn’t it obvious to you?”.

By all measures, Khidkiyaan 2016, was a success insofar as the buzz it generated for the event.
K messaged me from inside the auditorium that the entry pass hadn’t fetched a seat, likewise for about 50 others.

I remarked to the youth who had heaved a sigh of relief on the queue dissipating that if the first edition is any indication, the next one will need to look for a larger auditorium to accommodate the audience.

Lights had come on and groups of festival attendees had formed by the stalls, the entrance gate, on steps, and the stage as they awaited their turn for the 8 pm re-run of Shadow Of Othello.

Behind me, a youth in red was going on about his experiences answering calls for auditions. His friend with a distinctive hairdo, not a strand out of place, listened in silence, only occasionally interjecting the other’s narration to move it along.

The evening had cooled to Mumbai winter standard and only the urge to visit the washroom interrupted his narrative as they made for the washroom for relief.

I watched as introductions were made, smiles exchanged. Conversations veered around acting, opportunities and entertainment industry gossip.

With Hindi drama serials ruling the roost on the telly, it was not uncommon to spot familiar faces in the mix while teams working behind the scenes were not as easily apparent, Ranpreet being an instance.

Ranmeet sat on the edge of the small stage waiting for the clock to strike 8 pm. She was with friends from the industry when I first heard her raise her voice in mock authority and turn to her friend, laughingly, “Thappad Marungi. Main U.P. Ki Sardarni Hoon.” They dissolved into smiles.

She’s an Assistant Director and has assisted Directors of films and television serials. After we got talking she spoke about the struggle inherent in the entertainment industry, and of the need to be visible all the time to get work.

“If you take a long break, it’s difficult to get back in the things again,” she commented. “Once I build a reputation for being a good Assistant Director, things will get better,” she said, implying that the grapevine is critical to get word of reputation and work ethic around. It cuts both ways.

“But I absolutely love this field,” she said, her eyes outshining the lights blazing down on the patch by the stage.

“When scenes are crafted on the sets, I try and anticipate the Director’s sequencing of the scene for the camera. And when I get it correct, I’m happy as it means I’m learning well to be able to get it right,” she enthused, her eyes lighting up.

From where I sat, I saw no quiet corner. The night buzzed in that low tone that corners lit up by light insulate those they shelter.

Shadows shortened, lengthened and disappeared as attendees moved about, seeking assurance for hopes, aspirations, failures and the like. Only in such gatherings can these assurances play out.

While breaking into Bollywood films remains a tough ask, the opportunities television serials offer means casting companies will continue to see aspirants flock for training, and most importantly placements.

And theatre is where they can hone their skills, and network for opportunities.


Combining the business of casting with the business of theatre production, Mukesh Chhabra has hit the sweet spot with Khidkiyaan, ensuring the combination scheduled for the duration of the event remains relevant to the aspirations of the bold and the beautiful while providing a platform that raises visibility for the intersection of the two.

I expect Mukesh Chhabra will touch upon it in his talk tomorrow – Insight Into Casting.

The building of the brand has only just begun and if the response to the first edition of the Khidkiyaan Theatre Festival is anything to go by, it’ll see a long run.

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