Review: Dreams of Taleem

Posted on Apr 11th, 2010 by Shuchi in Reviews, English Et Al, Zero Theatre Company

Dreams of Taleem ‘Dreams of Taleem’ had an unusual opening. As Girish Karnad’s stentorian voice asking us to please switch off our mobile phones faded, Sunil Shanbag the director walked onto stage. He spoke of Chetan Datar, the playwright who wrote ‘No.1 Madhavbagh’ and who passed away suddenly in 2008. ‘No.1 Madhavbagh’ was a mother’s monologue, of her coming to terms with her son’s sexuality. ‘Dreams of Taleem’ is a lot more – written by Sachin Kundalkar, it is a play outside ‘No.1 Madhavbagh’ within which Chetan Datar’s original work gets enacted.

Sunil Shanbag spoke not like the director addressing an audience, but like one speaking to a friend. His five minutes on stage made an instant positive connect. They also helped to bring clarity to a fairly complex plot; we might have struggled to grasp what was going on without it.

The play opens with Yash (Anand Tiwari) rehearsing ‘No.1 Madhavbagh’, while the director Anay (Suvrat Joshi) looks on. We learn very soon that Yash and Anay are in a relationship, which is a reflection of the play they’re enacting.

An aging theatre actress Sita (Divya Jagdale – didn’t they introduce her as Divya Dutta? Has her name changed or did I mishear?) who had abruptly quit the stage and disappeared twenty years ago, resurfaces with a wish to take on "one last role" in Anay’s play. Anay is elated. Thus begin her rehearsals, intercut with reality. There is some exceptional writing in the portions where this overlap happens.

Sita’s whacko mother plays a major role in providing metaphors that link fantasy with reality. Like the toboggan in Calvin and Hobbes, she is a moving, comic counterpoint to weighty scenes, with her nonstop chatter and her wheelchair going in and out of stage. Many of her scenes do not have much relevance or logic, and the play would not have lessened in meaning without her, yet she was one of the best features of the play. Enacted superbly by Geetanjali Kulkarni, she gave us some laugh-out-loud moments that we talked about long after the play was over.

I wish I could say the same of the rest of the cast. Anay’s performance was very weak – at places such as when he read out the playwright’s mails, it made me squirm. He was decent enough in his phone conversation with his mother, though – perhaps the language made a difference. Among the leads, it was only Yash who stood out.

Through the course of the play, there are digs at the world of theatre – motivations that lead people to become part of it, their reactions to it and what makes them quit. The playwright makes his presence felt through his depressing-ominous emails. In another self-referential stroke, the playwright dies abruptly before Anay’s play is ready for stage.

‘Dreams of Taleem’ is written with panache and ambition. For all my niggles with it, I think it’s worth a watch for serious theatre buffs. And if you do see it, I’d like you to explain to me two things I did not quite get.

1. Why is the play trilingual? Wouldn’t it have worked better in only one language? The actors who played Sita and Ayan were clearly not comfortable with English, and it felt most natural when in the scene of their first meeting, Sita says a line in Hindi and Ayan quickly takes cue and turns to Hindi too. Later, when they become friends and have a much deeper conversation, it seemed forced and unconvincing that they would use English. Likewise, when Sita’s mother speaks Marathi, I don’t see the daughter having her side of the conversation with her in Hindi.

2. Why is the name of the play "Dreams of Taleem"?

PS: Divya Jagdale seemed very familiar. We recalled later that she had played the role of Ajay Devgan’s sister in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam.

PPS: If you believe that hair does not make much difference to a person’s appearance, check out Geetanjali Kulkarni with and without wig, and change your mind.

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Article by Shuchi

Shuchi lives in Bangalore (mostly), when she isn’t traveling out of town for work. She adores theatre and writes about plays she watches whenever she gets a chance.

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10 Comments to “Review: Dreams of Taleem”

  1. So that was Sunil Shanbag. He should have introduced himself, surely?

    Awesome writeup. This and the others. Just discovered your site. Will keep checking back.

    April 11th, 2010 5:58 pm

  2. Hello,
    Good review. Just saw the play at Rangashankara and I found all the performances to be good. Though I am not a serious theatre buff and often at a loss to appreciate the nuances, but I found the performances to be quite intense, powerful and moving. Last play which I saw with such powerful performances was ‘Copenhagen’.
    Even I couldn’t get why the name is ‘Dreams of Taleem’ (That’s the reason I googled it in the first place and stumbled upon your site). I guess ‘Taleem’ has a different meaning in Marathi (different from the standard Urdu meaning). I am trying to find out what it is.

    April 11th, 2010 7:28 pm

  3. Hi shuchi Thank you so much for the review of my play. Taleem is the word used in marathi for the “Rehearsal of the Play ” so the play is called dreams of Taleem . It was our decision to keep the play in three languages as thats how we live and express ourselves in urban life in maharashtra. Thank you so much for your response. sachin .

    April 12th, 2010 6:32 pm

  4. @Maheep: Thank you!
    He should have introduced himself, surely? – Agree. A couple of us didn’t know Sunil Shanbag by sight and there were initial whispers of “who’s he?”. It was not hard to guess, of course.

    @Rajarshi: You thought right about the meaning of Taleem, see comment#3.

    @Sachin Kundalkar: Thanks a lot for dropping by. Great to have the mystery of the play’s title cleared up. I guessed as much about the rationale behind keeping the play trilingual; perhaps it did not translate very naturally from paper to stage.

    All the best for the future shows. I must also mention the thoughtful use of light and sound in the play, my compliments to those behind it.

    April 12th, 2010 7:52 pm

  5. […] Links to the best writings elsewhere on the net about Dreams of Taleem. […]

    April 13th, 2010 10:09 am

  6. Hi Such i, appreciate your comments on the play. I recently saw the play at Prithvi and I simply loved it I am sorry to disagree but Divya’s performace was superb.She is such a gifted actress, her characters had so many emotions and she did a fine job emoting it.

    August 7th, 2010 4:52 pm

  7. Hi Ravi

    Welcome here. Good to know you enjoyed the play.

    Recently saw the film Udaan in which Anand Tiwari plays a college senior. I thought he did a fine job in the film, as he did in Dreams Of Taleem.

    August 7th, 2010 5:57 pm

  8. Hi Suchi,

    Would like to know about yr fav plays, also which ones wud u recommend as a must watch. My friends and I have decided to watch plays regularly.

    August 8th, 2010 1:53 pm

  9. Hi Ravi,

    Good to know you’ll be watching plays regularly. If you live in Mumbai, you’re in luck – it’s at a great location for theatre lovers. I’m hearing high praise about A Disappearing Number which was performed at Prithvi recently. Did you get to catch it?

    Will do an article soon about my favourite plays of the year.

    August 10th, 2010 3:46 pm

  10. As promised – 5 Plays You Must Not Miss.

    August 17th, 2010 5:05 pm

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