Mumbai: The Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards (META) and Festival 2020 today announced that the META 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award will be conferred on the renowned director, actor, set designer, writer, teacher and Theater Action Group’s Founder Director, Barry John. A pioneer in the establishment of Drama and Theatre Studies for schools and instrumental in the success of many of its members. He was also Founder-Director of the NSD’s Theatre in Education Company and been responsible for writing the CBSE curriculum for theatre.
The jury for the 15th edition of the awards was announced and comprises renowned playwright, stage director and filmmaker Mahesh Dattani, renowned playwright and novelist Makarand Sathe, an accomplished name in Indian media Shailja Kejriwal, versatile veteran actress and a teacher of speech and drama Sushma Seth, National Award winner, celebrated actor, writer and film and theatre director Saurabh Shukla, actor-writer Vinay Pathak who’s been actively involved in Indian cinema and theatre for over two decades, and renowned film, television and theatre actor and director Lillete Dubey.
META has always recognised the value and importance of theatre criticism and sees it as a necessary tool to better the art of theatre and its larger contribution to critical discourse underlying social and political frameworks. To mark this milestone 15th year, META for the first time has collaborated with the Indian National Section of the International Association of Theatre Critics (IATC) for a conference that focuses on critical discourse in theatre. The conference will welcome around 15 theatre critics from India alongside counterparts from Canada, Hong Kong, Iran, Japan, Latvia, Spain, Thailand, the UK and the USA. The conference is supported by The Kamini and Vindi Banga Family Trust and will take place on March 18, 2020. The Kamini and Vindi Banga Family Trust focuses on cancer research and education through the performing arts and is chaired by Kamini Banga, a marketer, writer, theatre enthusiast and philanthropist.
Jay Shah, Vice President, Head – Cultural Outreach at the Mahindra Group, said, “This is indeed a landmark year for the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards and as we look forward to the 15th edition, we’re also delighted to be giving away the 10th Lifetime Achievement Award to a theatre legend, Barry John. His contribution to stagecraft, especially his focus on introducing theatre into the school education system, the use of drama therapy and his role in shaping the theatre and performance industry have been invaluable. On behalf of the Mahindra Group and the META Festival Secretariat, I congratulate him and applaud his spirit to rise!”
Born and educated in the UK, Barry John has lived and worked in India since 1968. He was the Founder-Director of Theatre Action Group (1973-99), Delhi’s most acclaimed company, and instrumental in the success of many of its members such as Siddharth Basu, Mira Nair, Lillete Dubey, Divya Seth, Pamela Rooks, Shah Rukh Khan and Manoj Bajpai. He was on the faculty of the National School of Drama (1977-80), teaching and directing young actors such as Anupam Kher, Pankaj Kapoor, Anu Kapoor, Surekha Sikri and Manohar Singh. He has also pioneered the movement towards acceptance of drama therapy in his work with the specially-abled and the marginalised. Barry has himself acted in critically-acclaimed films like Shatranj ke Khiladi, Massey Sahib, Gandhi, Tamas, Miss Beatty’s Children, The Last Viceroy, The Frontier Gandhi and Tere Bin Laden. A published author and a Sangeet Natak Akademi National Awardee, he has also acted in the internationally-acclaimed play Othello: A Play in Black and White by Roysten Abel which won a Fringe First Award at the Edinburgh Festival.
In previous years, the META Lifetime Achievement Award has been conferred on luminaries of Indian theatre including Vijaya Mehta, Arun Kakade, Ratan Thiyam, Girish Karnard, Ebrahim Alkazi, the Late Heisnam Kanhailal, the Late Khaled Chowdhary, the Late Zohra Sehgal, the Late Badal Sarkar and Mahesh Elkunchwar.
Thanking META for the honour, Barry John commented, “Having hung up my boots (forgive the football analogy) some years ago, it comes as a surprise to be remembered and awarded, especially to be counted among the distinguished list of past awardees. It is indeed an honour.”
Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards (META) and Festival will be held from March 13th to 18th, 2020 at New Delhi’s Kamani Auditorium and Shri Ram Centre, where META 2020’s ten shortlisted plays will be performed for an esteemed panel of jury members as well as theatre-lovers in the capital. The winners will be announced at a Red-Carpet Awards Ceremony on March 19, 2020, at Kamani Auditorium. The Ceremony welcomes ticket-holders and is an exciting opportunity to be part of an elegant and star-studded evening.
The media launch of the META Festival at The Taj Mahal Hotel in New Delhi hosted a panel discussion – ‘All The World’s a Stage’. The panel, moderated by Sanjoy K. Roy, included Avijit Dutt, M.K. Raina, and Lushin Dubey looked at the discipline and practice of theatre and the live arts across cultures and continents. The session spoke about the essence of performance and stagecraft, it’s history and relevance to society including its role in social commentary and reform. In context of the ongoing socio-political discourse in the country, the panel also deliberated on the significance of theatre as a form of protest citing references of notable theatre activists like Safdar Hashmi, the feminist theatre movement in India and theatre from marginalised communities.
META also announced a partnership with ZEE Theatre to produce and broadcast a META-winning play for television audiences across the country.
Promoted by the Mahindra Group as part of its cultural outreach and curated by Teamwork Arts, a pioneering entertainment company, META annually rewards and recognises the country’s best productions and performances, along with their makers and facilitators, providing encouragement to India’s vast theatre industry across regions and languages, with an aim to increase not just awareness, but also an appreciation of fine theatre.
Sanjoy K Roy, MD, Teamwork Arts & Festival Producer, said, “It’s that time of the year again when META brings a power-packed canvas of the country’s best plays to Delhi. We are proud to have been part of the 15 eventful years that META has traversed and brought to audiences some of the most critical issues of modern times through powerful and overwhelming theatre. META has spoken to people from remote corners of India and transcended barriers of language and dialect, embodying the true power of art! We are grateful for our wonderful partnership with the Mahindra Group and look towards making theatre matter even more in the future.”
META 2020 received over 385 entries which were scrutinized by the selection committee and was pruned to the final list of nominations. Ten nominated plays give a diverse flavour from Indian theatre scene and include plays in varied languages such as Hindi, English, Hindustani, Bengali, Marathi, Malayalam, Assamese (blended with gibberish) and a non-verbal play.
The shortlisted plays, like every year, will explore several complex themes and issues. Chaheta (Hindustani) explores the psychological scars of a survivor of a traumatic event. Ekadashavtar (Marathi) is a political satire based on mythology, while another play Mickey (Marathi) is a modern Shakespearean tragedy and a character study of what happens to the best and worst among us when pressures are high and morals low. Bhaskara Pattelarum Thommiyude Jeevithavum (Malayalam) deals with tyranny, social struggles, love and freedom. Every Brilliant Thing (English) is an uplifting play about love, life, family, mental health and a list of all the wonderful things in the world. For The Record (English and Hindi) recreates the deliberations, disputes and the drama of a 1971 incident when a tribunal was tasked with selecting three artefacts to represent India to the world. It questions the ideas of representation and ‘Indianness’. Gagan Damama Bajyo (A Musical on the life & times of ‘Sardar Bhagat Singh’) (Hindi) showcases the inspiring life story of one of India’s most celebrated freedom fighters and revolutionaries, Shaheed Bhagat Singh. Ghoom Nei (Bengali) is a working-class manifesto which runs through the highway of a dark and broken society reaching towards the light. The Old Man (Assamese and Gibberish) brings out the eternal conflict between human society and nature. Maze (Non-Verbal) depicts the relationship between a servant and an old man who are connected through a web of memory and reality.
META 2020 will present awards in 14 categories including the Lifetime Achievement Award as well as 13 competitive categories of Best Play, Best Director, Best Stage Design, Best Light Design, Best Innovative Sound Design, Best Costume Design, Best Actor in a Lead Role (Male), Best Actor in a Lead Role (Female), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Male), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Female), Best Original Script, Best Ensemble and Best Choreography.