CYCLE NATAK Akram Feroze is on a journey across the country with a cycle for company. TANYA THOMAS
For someone who was introduced to theatre only a year or so back, and who for his first 18 years had never stepped out of his native town, it is hard to decide whether The Cycle Natak is one gutsy venture or, like his mother warned, foolhardy. It is a little difficult slotting Akram Feroze and his free-spirited approach to living out fantasies he built up over a childhood in Karimnagar, Andhra Pradesh.
Inspired by the culture of the natak mandali (travelling theatre groups), The Cycle Natak is Feroze’s project to take theatre to rural India. The next two years, he intends to cycle through all Indian states, staging spontaneous performances at every village or town that will have him. Feroze never completed his undergraduate programme in genetics, and switched to the arts instead. After a brief stint with a television channel, he designed his own leadership-training modules and took them to schools, coaching students on thinking big and chalking up a freelance profession for himself.
Meanwhile, his mother’s uncle, a trustee at the Hyderabad-based Qadir Ali Baig Theatre Foundation, introduced him to the arc lights. The stage bug took hold, and Feroze soon morphed into an actor/writer/director, scripting his own productions, like the monologue “An Interview with God.” Feroze has just turned 23 (“Nobody takes you seriously when you’re 22!”) and was in Chennai earlier this week. If friends can pitch in with the finance, he hopes to next sail to the Andaman Islands by the weekend.
The Cycle Natak was flagged off in Hyderabad about three months back. When he pit-stopped at Bengaluru, he got to meet Arundhati Nag at the prestigious Ranga Shankara. She listened to him, got him to undergo a crash course in mime, and then bought him medical insurance for his trip. On almost every night of his journey, Feroze was in a new village or town, learning about the place and often, performing its different stories. He tries to involve his audience in the story-telling session, he says. A complete novice at the beginning, Feroze has developed a style over time, learning to contact the right people in a new place, and getting them to put together a performance. He admits he is often a “flop actor” though in villages, as his performances are nowhere as flamboyant as the shows the villagers are used to. But they are still game to watch.
It is a little harder in cities, Feroze admits. Chennai is the third metro that The Cycle Natak has reached so far — after Hyderabad and Bengaluru. Getting an audience at short notice in cities is difficult. So Feroze plans panel discussions at all big cities, meeting the local theatre community, and discussing issues like bridging urban and rural theatre. In Chennai, he spoke to thespian S.Ve.Shekher, apart from contacting groups like Evam, Natakapriya, Theatre Nisha, Madras Players, Verb School of Dance, and Koothupattri. To his current roughly-sketched tour map, Feroze plans on including “theatre villages”, places where the stage culture is thriving. Longer stays and hopefully a lot more learning await him there.
At strangers’ mercy
Feroze started out on the trip with Rs. 300 in his pocket, having decided to earn his keep through the journey. He banks on small-town kindness for food and accommodation, and strangers have, surprisingly, been very helpful. Like one who helped him fix a punctured tire. A truck driver, from who he got a free ride, calls him regularly to make sure he is doing okay. So does a family he spent one night in a village with. An old man Feroze met handed over Rs. 30 and asked for his prayers if Feroze happened to visit Ajmer. In Chennai, after addressing students at AMM School, Kotturpuram, a girl walked up to him with Rs. 100 in her hand — her contribution to let him live his dream, she had said.
Feroze says his only difficulties are his poor stamina and the language barrier. The rest, like spare cameras and top-ups on his prepaid connection, Facebook will take care of. After the natak is over? Feroze says he doesn’t plan that far ahead; maybe a life in theatre, he reckons. Is he scared? Only of accidents. Once, he had seen “a man lying dead on the highway, his brains spilling out.” But he didn’t tell anyone, for fear they would call him back. Instead, Feroze kept peddling on.
Tanya is a student of the Asian College of Journalism
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