'Jazz' a theatrical tribute to Bollywood's unsung musicians

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By Robin Bansal

New Delhi, July 25 (IANS) "Invented by the devil for the torture of the saints" - that is how playwright Ramu Ramanathan defines jazz in his play of the same name on the lives of Goan and Anglo-Indian musicians who never got their share of fame in Bollywood.

Based on research by Naresh Fernandes, the editor of Timeout magazine, and directed by theatre veteran Etienne Coutinho, the musical combines fact with fiction to spin out the story lying buried under the colossal commercial behemoth called Bollywood.

"Jazz" was staged Thursday as an opening act of the first Delhi edition of the Park's New Festival of dance, culture and music, conceived and curated by the Chennai-based Prakriti Foundation.

"Jazz" is the first production of Denzel Smith's theatre group Stagesmith, which had a successful debut at the Prithvi Festival in Mumbai last November.

"The idea of this play came to me from Goan musicians' contribution to Bollywood and their lack of recognition. Bollywood is larger than life but there is one sort of dominant ideology there," Ramanathan, who missed the festival, told IANS over phone from Mumbai.

"Movie stars and other recognised faces steal the limelight while in actuality there are many people involved in the process who have an unspoken history. This play is a tribute to such unsung musicians who are lost in oblivion," he added.

Between the 1940s and 1970s, Mumbai's film companies, music halls and hotels offered employment opportunities for Anglo-Indian and Goan musicians who were well versed in Western classical music, especially in jazz.

Some of the stalwarts among them included Anthony Gonsalves, Chic Chocolate alias India's Louis Armstrong, Sebastian D'Souza, Mickey Correa and Frank Fernand.

The play also makes a sardonically humorous dig at legendary music maestros like Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Shanker-Jaikishen, O.P. Nayyar and R.D. Burman. It shows how the Goans not only played and arranged film soundtracks for meagre incomes but also taught the nuances of western music to the composers.

Ramanathan says conjuring up characters and relationships for "Jazz" was a glorious journey.

"The play is about many issues apart from the sense of suffering of the musicians or the travesty of talent. It is also about tracing back the decaying history of Bombay or Mumbai as it is now called and the mentor-protégé relationship," he said.

Something unusual to catch during the play is the protagonist's life story that is told through video projections in the theatre apart from the onstage acts.

When asked what significance "Jazz" held for him, Bugs Bhargava Krishna, who plays the lead in the play, said: "'Jazz' is a docu-drama that compresses time and expands space in a new way. The best thing about it is the stream of consciousness where you live on every moment. One is always aware of art but one tends to forget it. 'Jazz' treats that art almost like a lover.".

The play will be next staged in the Park's New Festival in Kolkata later this year and will have stand-alone stagings in Mumbai.

Talking about the musical, Ranvir Shah, founder of the Prakriti Foundation, said: "'Jazz' epitomizes great quality theatre that is engaging and entertaining. The minimalistic stage setting, the experimental pre-recorded video clips enmeshed perfectly with the crisply written script and the energetic lively performance all come together in the play to bring together a delightful performance."

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