The META capped its annual showcase of the country’s best theatre in style
ON A COOL March evening at the Taj Mahal hotel poolside in New Delhi, Zohra ‘Appa’ Sehgal sat on a chair onstage and brought the garden down. “I could’ve gone to Hollywood. I could’ve been like Springsteen and been a rock ’n rolling priest. If I’d lived instead of dreaming, who knows what I would’ve done?” She went on to recite, with apt twinkles of fingers and eye, Hafiz’s famous poem: Bhalaa shabaab-oaashiqui alag huen bhi hain kabhi? Abhi to main jawaan hoon!
Sehgal was performing at the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards (META), the premier theatre awards in the country. The stage fraternity, who seemed to know this, turned up in strength. In their fourth year now, the awards decided to open the field to plays of all regional languages. Ten plays were shortlisted from 200 entries and invited to perform in the capital across six days before the final ceremony.
The jury, comprising several eminent theatre personalities like director MK Raina, actor Vinay Pathak and critic Romesh Chander, seemed to firmly favour reworkings of established chestnuts in the repertoire. The three plays with most wins were all inspired from older stories — Rajat Kapoor’s Hamlet — The Clown Prince won five awards, including for Best Production and Best Director, Layla Majnun won four times, and The Absent Lover scored thrice.
The winners were awarded cash prizes ranging from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 35,000, but the recognition in front of peers seems to have been the best part of the experience. Said Atul Kumar, winner of the Best Actor award for Hamlet, “Everyone in all the major theatre cities in the country talks about the META. They have become a brand for sure. It’s very encouraging and extremely emotional for me since the event is held in Delhi, and I’m from the city.”
Actor and theatre personality Lillete Dubey played host for the evening and seemed to have spent some hectic time googling acting quotes: her range extended across Oscar Wilde, Marlon Brando, Eugène Ionesco, Somerset Maugham, Orson Welles and onwards. “I think you’re a meta-woman tonight,” deadpanned Vinay Pathak to Dubey.
Sanjoy K Roy with Teamwork Productions helped organise the event and was happy with how things turned out: “This year there was a much larger turnout for the productions across the week. People seem to have bought into the whole thing.” Added Kumar, “What I found most notable was the impact of the recession this year. Two years ago it was a much more lavish event, but though it was toned down it was all still fabulous. It’s always great fun to get together with your peers and friends on a night like this. And the alcohol always helps!”
Recession notwithstanding, there were several notable moments, droll and comic. Romesh ‘Charlie’ Chander got the wrong envelope to read his award out from. Vir Das reprised his standup routine from last year. And there were some mild voices of dissent. Chander commented onstage that “there are a lot of young theatre people out there, but none in the audience here.” Not everyone was happy with the final choices. Overheard in the audience: “All the people with the weird names are winning.”