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Bonn With The Best
Text by Meher Marfatia
Published: Volume 14, Issue 4, July-August, 2006

The focus on India at the recent Biennale Bonn marks Europe's growing interest in the subcontinent's vibrant culture, says Meher Marfatia

It signals a very eclectic and exciting mix of milieus. The recent 10-day Biennale Bonn festival showcased Indian theatre, dance, music, film, art and literature in packed halls, the events leaving raptly attentive German audiences clamouring for more, if, animated hour-long discussions after every session are any indication.

While Europe has always been fascinated by classical Indian traditions, the continent is now curious to understand the contemporary concerns its artists are preoccupied with. Biennale organiser, Elena Kruskemper, explains, "The main reason for choosing India has been that we want to investigate how enormous political, social and economic changes the country is undergoing affect its artists today."

'Challenging' is the verdict delivered by Naseeruddin Shah describing the stimulating series of events. He likens the encounter to venturing into virgin territory - facing audiences unversed in the language of performance being a situation more unique to theatre compared with art-forms like music, dance and art which can communicate with easier universality of expression. The veteran actor-director's Motley Theatre Company staged Ismat Apa Ke Naam after a roundabout, though rewarding, exercise requiring him to translate three 1940s stories by feminist author, Ismat Chugtai, from the original Urdu to English. The lines were reinterpreted in German for viewers to hear on their headphones. "We learned an important lesson: that theatrical language can transcend physical language," he says.