Saturday, 11 October 2014

The ensemble prepares

The shows at Jagriti start at 8pm each night and the actors go down to the theatre at 4 every day. First a line through, where people pair off and run their scenes. Paul alone has a deluge of monologues that he diligently goes through in his favourite chair.
After this a group warm up happens. The seven member cast form a circle and each day a different person leads the body warm up.

Today it was Paul's turn and the cyclical movement of the suryanamaskaram done in a circle was mesmerising to watch.
Next up is the voice warm up. Aparna lead the group in a new one that doubled up as a group massage.

Each actor by turn gets to lie in the centre while the other six give a synchronised massage while synchronising breath hand movement and voice. The massage looked amazing! I seriously considered abandoning the sketchbook to sneak in there somehow.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Jagriti Season 2014

For a second year in a row, Perch is at Jagriti's season. The second of five plays, we're here for two weeks. One week has flown past in all the frenzy and anxiousness of set up, lights, tech and getting an old play revived with some new actors in the cast. But with 4 shows and a rest day now under our belt, I finally pulled out my sketchbook.

One of the nicest things about performing at Jagriti is the studio apartment where the troupe stays. Its a large two storey apartment on the 7th and 8th floor with all the balconies overlooking the theatre. Today's show starts in 3 hours and the luxury of not having to commute but just take the lift down is indescribably amazing. Anyone who has ever been in Bangalore traffic will know what I mean.

6 more days and 7 more shows to go. 

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

First Show in Kandy

We had two shows of Jujubee in Kandy, both organised by the Catholic community there. Father Nandana, the Parish Priest of St. Antony's Cathedral in Kandy had mobilised everyone and they had really taken care of all our needs. The famous annual Buddhist festival of  Esala Perahara was to start in Kandy in two days. All hotels were booked out so Father Nandana had arranged for all of us to stay the first night at the Fatima Retreat in Lewella. That evening, which was our only free evening, we visited the famed Tooth Temple with Sam from NTT giving us a well informed tour.

The next morning we were up at dawn to leave for the venue of the first Show - Good Shepherd Convent, Kandy.
The actors checked out the hall and set up while the morning prayers were said over a microphone. John and I didn't have much to do. There were simple switches for a row of lights and we decided to just switch them on and leave them on.

It was the 125th year of the Convent. There were streamers and decorations all over the hall. One of the most memorable/ hilarious/ sheepish moments of the entire trip for us happened just before the show. We had woken up and eaten breakfast very early and just before the show everyone was really hungry. We were told snacks and tea was organised. We found a room behind the stage laid out with delicious snacks. Samosas in one corner, and then pyramids of egg sandwiches, fish and vegetable rolls, chocolate cake, coffee and juice. Needless to say everyone helped themselves greedily. Just then one of the volunteers looked in to check if we were Ok and was obviously stunned that we had started eating. Apparently only the samosas were meant as a pre-show snack and the whole thing was laid out for after the show. We were supposed to have tea and snacks with the School Principal and the Father!! Terrible sheepishness followed.
The morning show went off pretty well. The convent girls were a little older than the ideal age group,  also a little shy and very disciplined but by the end of it, they were clapping and squealing with enthusiasm. 

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Off to Sri Lanka

As soon as we returned from Bangalore it was time to pack up and go to Srilanka. And when I say "pack up" I really mean it. Jujubee had been invited by NTT to do 6 shows in Kandy and Colombo and the large and lovely props made by Aarti had to be very carefully packaged to go as check-in baggage.
We were at the airport phenomenally early as requested by Srilankan airlines and they were so helpful that we had a lot of time to spare after check-in.
While doing this sketch, I stood with my sketchbook balanced on the handrail with a double volume space below me overlooking the concourse. Just as I finished and closed my book one of my pens fell down. I looked down and could see it there but no one passed by. I decided to take the escalator down to the boarding gates as it was almost time anyway but once downstairs I couldn't find my way back to the place where my pen was. Instead the labyrinthine corridors kept twisting away from the new building into the depths of the old airport and row upon row of musty handicraft shops! Ultimately I came all the way back and got a passing official to throw up my pen but the new airport remains a bit mysterious.
The flight to Colombo was just one hour with a lovely view of the Palk Strait. On the way down to land we hit some of the worst turbulence I've encountered in my memory. Colombo was covered in low rain clouds and at one point we suddenly dropped - I felt as though my stomach was in my throat but then we were out again and all you could see was blue water and the endless green of coconut trees.
Heading out of Bandaranaike airport we didn't go into Colombo since the first few shows were lined up in Kandy. There was a sleek 20 seater bus and Sam Perera from NTT waiting there for us - we were off to the hills!

Monday, 11 August 2014

A typical week at Rangashankara

Across the road from Rangashankara is Adithya, a typical Bangalore fast food joint. It opens early for breakfast and dishes out simple and delectable food all day through. Real value for money, there's regular stuff like idli and dosai, heavenly benne masala and some Karnataka specialities like neer dosai, open dosai and ragi dosai for breakfast. Full and hearty meals for lunch and in the evening when we're all feeling peckish before the show there is Paddu (kuzhi paniyarams), akki roti and kottakadubu.
The coffee at Adithya is pretty good stuff too and needless to say we spent a large part of our extra time (and money) there.
Another regular fixture in our week in RS was a sleeping Vedanth.

Okay, granted, that does not look like him but Vedanth had just become a father 10 days earlier and little Ameya was keeping him up on night duty so literally whenever he could get a few extra minutes he would use it well. The first half of the week was less hectic, we had single shows of Giraffe every evening but over the weekend there were shows of Jujubee in the morning and two shows of Giraffe after lunch. 

Sachin and Vedanth were the musicians for Jujubee and the first show on Friday morning, that had over 250 children in the audience was dedicated to little Ameya.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

The Giraffe moves into Rangashankara

One of the biggest changes to the play in this run of shows was a scene inserted into the middle of the prawn factory. That had to be rehearsed and blocked before the first show on the 22nd. It came out really well and I won't say more - do catch the show whenever you next can and see for yourself.

We did a total of 8 shows from tuesday to Sunday and every morning we would assemble for Rajiv's feedback session. The backdrop for this was invariably the same - the set in the configuration of the last scene from the previous show with Rajiv taking centre stage and enthralling us with the most "outstanding moments"  from the previous day.

John and I usually toss a coin at the start of a run, to decide who lights the first show. Frome there on we alternate shows. This had become a sort of ritual that the group looked forward to as we would fight about it and make it a best of 3 tosses, and then a best of 5 and finally a best of 7. But this time, much to everyones' disappointment we had made our decision on the train!
So I got to sketch Muddanna's light booth on the eve of the first show while J had to prepare.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Touring with Perch

After a quiet 1st half of 2014, these last few weeks have been a lot of travelling and all of it with Perch. There's still more to come in the next few months and so I decided to dedicate a sketchbook/journal just for my travels with Perch. And I'm already half-way through the book!

John and I travelled by the Shatabdi to reach the rest of the cast who were already in Bangalore a few days earlier rehearsing for "How to Skin a Giraffe".
We reached in time for lunch. The cast were rehearsing at Play Practice, a new space near Bangalore university and we were looking forward to catch a run-through to brush up on our lighting cues but when we reached we found them like this :)
Just kidding. That was a short nap after lunch.... as always. But we did catch the run through and there were several small changes and edits to the play making it crisper and helping with the flow of the narrative.

The next morning we would move into Rangashankara for tech and more rehearsal.... sketches of that to follow in the next post.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

My special little sketchbook

I have a pocket sketchbook that is so small that it frequently gets lost. I stumbled upon it this morning searching for something else and found that there was an entire series of sketches that I hadn't blogged. It was from a trip to Mumbai last November. As I leafed through the sketches the memories came back clear and detailed and it struck me all over again, how lovely it is to sketch memories in a sketchbook.
I prefer it to taking photos any day. Of course photos bring back memories if and when you go through all 40 GB of them, but with the sketch, even the making of it is a memory in itself.

Our theatre group was travelling by the Mumbai Mail to stage a play "How to Skin a Giraffe" at NCPA and we were a big group scattered across two coaches. As we got in there were some people who recognised Rajiv and they turned out to be teachers from The School, KFI . It's always nice to meet and get to know people on long train journeys.

In fact, we were on the train longer than we stayed in Mumbai. It was incredibly hot and humid for November but the route was quite beautiful. We also spent a lot of time in the stations because the entire set for the play was booked and taken in the brake van. And it was sad to note that the amount of unofficial looting that goes on at the Chennai Railway station when you try to book your parcels in was far far more than at Mumbai.

I couldn't do any sketches at the fabulous Tata Theatre where we performed. Assembling the set, rigging and focussing light in time for the show was too hectic but I did a couple of sketches at the hotel. We stayed at Sea Green Hotel on Marine Drive and in the morning and late evening we walked from the hotel to the auditorium along the sea shore. It was an old hotel with a lot of charm and great big rooms with mosaic flooring. A little run down but two great views from my balcony. Turn to the left and it was Brabourne cricket stadium. And turn to the right.....

This sketchbook is a great one to have. It's really tiny and compact but opens out flat so I can do doublespreads. You can check out some of my previous posts done in this book. Its my go to book when I'm hurried or travelling light or want to sketch unobtrusively and just capture memories. Its called a Brahmabook and I haven't spotted them around in a while. I hope they still make them.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Madras High Court Heritage Walk

On Sunday morning bright and early at 8 am a large group of us gathered near the old Light house within the Madras High Court campus. The event was a heritage walk cum talk organised by Intach and the gathering of over 50 people were mostly architects, history enthusiasts, journalists or Intach members. The talk started off at the base of the Light house. Built in 1834 and faced with beautifully dressed granite it is in the shape of a large fluted doric column. It has a spiral stairway inside and a pile of firewood was lit each night at the top as a signal to approaching ships.

I was under the impression that we would walk through the building and then there would be a talk later in a hall. That's what I had understood from the invite but as it happened there were short talks about specific parts of the campus and its history right through the walk which lasted 2 hours in total. So right from the start I kept getting five minutes here and there and sneaked in these quick sketches.
From the Lighthouse we walked along the Eastern side of the main building. Sujatha Shankar, a senior Architect and Convener of Intach Chennai took over the talk at this point and started talking about the detailing and the style. The happy marriage of brick and granite that forms the building language.

The High court building took many years to build and doubtless many people contributed. But it's design is mainly credited to Henry Irwin and she spoke about how he was deeply influenced by previous works by Robert Chisholm (in fact just along the beach at the Chepauk Palace and Senate House). The High Court is generally acclaimed as one of the best examples of Indo Saracenic Architecture and we went up close to an arched opening on the east face where she enumerated the many ways in which it was a confluence of various styles.

We then moved into the East Portico. The building has entrances in all 4 cardinal directions but the East gate is currently kept locked up. Mr. Rajah, an Advocate with the high Court and part of the High Court heritage committee took over talking about the history of some incidents at each of the locations we had passed. The gate itself, which I tried to capture as a background in this sketch was beautiful 3 dimensional wrought iron work. But since we couldn't get into the building from here we walked around to the North Portico.

Along the way, we stopped at this statue of Sir Bhashyam Iyengar who was the first Indian acting Advocate General. Mr Rajah pointed out interesting trivia like the fact that the correct formal attire for an Indian like Mr Iyengar was - Silk turban, Robes, Panchakacham (dhoti) and shoes and so this is how he is portrayed in his statue

Our first stop inside the building was the High Court Museum. It has a vast collection of documents, plaques, various objects and furniture used long ago in the courts and this room at the back that is set up with the original furniture. I could only get a peek in and then we were off to the Madras Bar association Library.

Once again Mr Rajah regaled us with many historic tales and anecdotes to try and give us a picture of what it meant in those days to be a member of the Bar, the kind of people they were. Some tales of abject corruption but equally as many of high integrity and honour.

Finally we were also shown the Chief Justice Hall, a very ornate courtroom and with so many of us inside I decided to try and sketch the ceiling as I couldn;t quite look across the hall. The first chief justice was Sir Thomas Lumisden Strange, apparently a great man who was incorruptible and highly regarded,  and a huge portrait of him hangs on the wall facing the Judges, supposedly reminding them of what they need to live up to.
The ceiling itself had a geometric pattern of wooden frames holding up a cardboard painted false ceiling that looked rich and ornate. The same kind of 4-8-16 geometries were seen in a lot of the Jali work and metal work all over the building.
Intach plans on holding this walk and opening it out to all citizens every 2nd Sunday of the month. I would highly recommend it!
And on a final note - I finished another sketchbook! That's the second one to get over this weekend.

Monday, 12 May 2014

People sketches at Marina

After a hectic week of work, I found our CWA group was meeting at Marina beach on saturday evening. I decided to try and focus on sketching people like I did some time back at the park.  But somehow the architect in me always gets drawn to straight lines and perspectives so just to get that out of the system I did a quick one of "Endrum Vasantham Cool Bar" a shack that sold water and soft drinks on the beach.
Then I told myself firmly "only people!!"" and loosened up with this sleeping guy. After that I turned around 180 degrees exactly where I sat and before I knew it another perspective sketch. Oh no! What's wrong with me :(
An hour had gone by and I could stay at most another hour. By then I realised I was on the last 3 pages of my sketchbook so I decided to make it count.
Lot of people just come and sit on the promenade wall as its the largest free open space with great breeze.
By then we were a group of 6 or 7 sketchers so I sneaked one of Kandaswamy. That guy in the upper corner was on his phone the whole hour and probably longer after I left.
And I finally reached the last page of my sketchbook. It's a fat one that I inaugurated in June 2011. Felt great to reach the end and then flip back and look at the journey. By 7.30 I wrapped up at the beach and headed to a friend's house for dinner. Their daughter is six and a half months old and moves with blinding speed on the floor!

Wednesday, 7 May 2014


Sunday was supposed to be an interesting sketching event and I was sick at home. Over and above that, I was upset that I hadn't found time to try anything I had learnt the previous week at Dhruba's workshop.
Now my house sits right opposite a Kalyana Mandapam (Community wedding hall) and this is another source of constant irritation. Loud music and drums at 5 am, firecrackers bursting at 11 pm, clean-up trucks and water lorries honking at 2 am and terrible double parking and traffic congestion year-round. You can build anything anywhere in my city if you grease the right palms.
So Sunday morning, when my frustration at missing the sketching event was getting compounded by loud drum beats coming in from across the street, I decided to cut my losses and did a quick pencil sketch of this guy standing in the portico of the Mandapam. The drum is not a mridangam. It is played standing up and accompanies a Nadaswaram. It sounds pretty good when its not 5 am.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

It's nice to be a student again

This last weekend I attended a watercolour workshop by Dhruba Mazumder which I had been looking forward to for weeks and it more than lived up to my expectations. Over the last few years, most of my sketches have been pen and watercolour washes but somehow, while attempting a "pure"watercolour, I found my courage failed me at the end and I added pen strokes to get my desired effect.
The workshop was in a conference room of a hotel and the management very sweetly changed all the bulbs in the lights as we didnt want yellow lights. You can see the white new filaments sticking out and it made a huge difference. Watercolour is all about light!
Dhruba took us step by step, doing small demos and then making us do them ourselves. By the end of the first day I ended up with this.
It's also the first time I'm using any brush other than my travel brush. This one above was done completely with a one and half inch wide flat brush. I had no idea that such big brushes could give such sharp lines. The workshop was very strong on technique and well structured.
By the end of the second day I ended up with this. By then we had covered various types of washes, brush strokes, colour mixing and special effect techniques. More than anything it was so great to be a student and learn something new. Dhruba is a great teacher and I hope I get better with watercolours with practice.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

India Votes

We are electing our representatives for the central government today. Who we vote for will determine the Prime minister. The choices are not great but the event itself is quite a spectacle. The 2014 Lok Sabha elections is happening in 9 phases spread over a month and we in Chennai fall into phase 6 today. I come under the South Chennai constituency and within that there are various sub-sub-sub parts that determine where I queue up. Considering South Chennai has 3.5 million voters and the country has 81,45,00,000 people on its electoral roll its quite a management miracle.
I went with my grandmother who is 85 years old and determined to exercise her right. Our polling booth was in a corporation school and 10 residential areas have to come here to vote. The open quadrangle had ten different queues snaking around under the shamiyanas. I had thought I would have plenty of time to dash off many sketches but thanks to my grandmother I was given red carpet treatment. A security guard ushered us in and we were out in five minutes! Actually all the queues were moving pretty fast.

Earlier in the morning I sketched another line of folks waiting to vote in Mylapore just outside my house. This was around 8 in the morning and the line was very very long. Generally the lines are much longer before office starts. All the schools and colleges have to shut as they become polling booths and counting centres. 

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Fresh as always

This veggie shop sits at the corner of Chitrakulam and further down you have fruit shops and seasonal carts. The whole area South east of the main Mylapore temple is abuzz with fresh produce and is a great place to sketch. As I walked past this one, the display called out to me. Neat pyramids of tomatoes, potatoes and onions, cascading piles of snake gourd (podalanga), stacks of banana stem (thandu) raw mango, ridge gourd (peerkanga) and bundles of very very green drumsticks.
It was around five in the evening, and the shop next door was not open. There was a table and a bench where the owner would probably arrange his vegetables but he wasn't there so I took the oppurtunity to perch comfortably and get a good view of the inside and the outside of this shop.
Five minutes into the sketch (of course!) the shop owner turned up. But as I sighed inwardly he started watching me sketch and then actually asked me to take my time and finish. He waited till I was done to open his shop!

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Delving deeper into Mylapore

I live in Mylapore. My office is in Mylapore. If you take a look at the tags on my blog post, the label "Mylapore" is very recurrent. And the reason is that there is just so much to see. So much stuff that is sketch-worthy. It's the oldest area of the city and in some small pockets within it, time seems to have passed slower.
Take for instance this cycle-rikshaw that I saw at the corner of Chitrakulam. We rarely see these in the centre of the city. Cyclists are so totally sidelined on our roads and a three-wheeler cycle is all but extinct. I remember when, as a school kid I would travel by bus. The last bus stop was two kilometres from our house and if you felt like splurging you could treat yourself to a rikshaw ride - one of these. The drivers were mostly elderly men with sinewy calf muscles. We even had horse-pulled carts but I'm pretty sure I won't be able to find one of those anymore - not even in Mylapore. No, I am not that old. It's just amazing how in barely three decades this city has transformed so rapidly.

Chitrakulam itself is an area within Mylapore. Past the main huge temple complex and the big tank there is a smaller pond called Chitrakulam and some smaller temples. Adi Kesava Perumal Temple, Srinivasa Perumal temple, Vedanta Desikar Temple. I didnt get the time to go into any of them because I finished the first sketch and was enthralled by a very narrow street that I wanted to capture.
This is Chitrakulam south street. Going further in the streets get narrower and I will need to go back another day, delving deeper to sketch those....