"The more awards an artist wins, the less insecure he becomes" - An interview with Ramu Ramanathan

Photo credit: Junoon Mumbai Local

Ramu Ramanathan is not a new name in the Indian theatre circuit. In fact, it is a very popular one. He has, to his credentials, some of the most prolific awards in the industry. Recently, Ramu was awarded with the NDTV-Serendipity Arts’ ‘Arts Spectrum’ award in the Performing Arts category. We spoke to him on what it means to be an effective playwright and how he manages to be a journalist and editor by the day and a writer and director by the night. Read on to know his thoughts…

This interview has been sketched by Roshan Kokane, communications executive at the Drama School Mumbai with inputs from Ragini Singh Khushwaha, programme head at the DSM.

Roshan: Ramu, you have written over 30 plays and directed over 20. You are also an award-winning author, a full-time editor and a faculty member at the DSM. How do you manage to play so many roles and yet bag so many esteem awards? What’s your secret?

Ramu: Adam Zagajewski, a Polish poet said, “The more awards an artist wins, the less insecure he becomes and that affects the edges of his work.”  In a country like ours where there is widespread reluctance to acknowledge works of art, every award is important.

Ro: A lot of your work is centred around Mumbai city. Why so?

Ra: I have a love-hate relationship with theatre and with the city of Mumbai. There are days when I have a compulsive love-obsession and there are days when I detest the city from the bottom of my heart. As a journalist, I love the process of education and edification. I think artists have the ability to throw light on the topics that are in dark. For example, I admire Vijay Tendulkar’s penchant to tell stories of volatility of the social middle class drama. The manner in which Tendulkar like Bhau Padhye, Jagdamba Dixit and Shyam Manohar Joshi ripped apart the fabric of sophistication or pretence. They barged into the living rooms of middle class lives and shredded the veneer to pieces.

Ro: How did you get interested in writing and theatre?

Ra: I am blessed to have been brought up in a city with so much theatre and art. I grew up in the LIC colony in Santacruz, opposite the BEST bus depot. There were some exceptional plays of stalwarts like Dada Kondke, Nilu Phule and Ram Nagarkar staged there. It was a cross section of groups and people staging plays for the middle class and working class of Mumbai. Interestingly, it was hosted by the LIC labour union cultural wing. Theatre in Mumbai wasn’t the domain of the rich and powerful and high and mighty, but of all strata of the society. It belonged to everyone. Mumbai also has a history of theatre from the time of industrial workers. 

Picture sourced from Twitter.

Ro: In what way?

Ra: During 1938-39, the Kamgaar Rangbhoomi theatre fest was established. These were informal improvised spaces of performances for workers to watch. One-act plays and Loknatya were really popular then. I have grown up watching some of the performances myself. Well, I am not that old but yes, the tradition of performance has been an old one. I have also attended labour union theatre competitions in Mumbai. Today, Mumbai has around 1000 to 1500 shows in a month and they are mainly performed in four languages namely Marathi, Gujarati, English and Hindi with a sprinkling of Konkani and Malvani. This huge repository of work to watch, inspired me to write. 

Ro: What are your future plans?

Ra: Currently, I am collaborating with theatre artistes to highlight the pitfalls of Aadhaar through poetry. Through this project, I aim to create awareness regarding the privacy and welfare aspects of Aadhaar and the other side to it. Different theatre artists will come together and read sketches that would be later uploaded on http://aadhaar.fail/ I wrote the first Aadhaar poem (Ashwathama) to be read out at the Prakriti Poetry Fest in January. Three readings were in Chennai colleges. The response from the students and educators was good. They said, this poem should be on our syllabus. But we know that can never happen under the present regime. That’s how I thought about writing a few more.

Ro: Are you writing anything presently?

Ra: I am keen to write a play about the World War I in 1914 and its impact on Mumbai, the Mathura rape case and the independent autonomous women’s movement of the early eighties and Dr Ambedkar’s Mahad Satyagraha.

Ro: What advice would you give to young playwrights?

Ra: Some of my most favourite experiences in theatre and writing have been with young people. I think India is blessed with talented writers and theatre-makers. Every artist needs to understand that it takes a lot of time, energy, practice and patience to create works of art. One shouldn’t lose hope or motivation with failures or rejections. Every great writer (and by that, I mean writers I admire) have been endured decades of failure or depression. Another ability one must hone if they aim to be a storyteller is to be consistently brave enough to try new things and surprise oneself. For this, one has to read the old masters like Odon Von Horvath and George Buchner plus contemporary artistes like Ngugi and Fosse. Simply because you have to study the competition. I see a lot of potential in the younger generation today. I believe that they have the ability to break through cultural and social stereotypes and create a better future for freedom of expression.

Make sure that your content is potent with politics, humour and music.

Ro: In your view what is good playwriting?

Ra: In the last few years, there have been a proliferation of workshops related to playwriting. There is no fixed template for these workshops. In one session, I have taken the liberty to use Fyodor Dostoevsky’s text because there’s a lot one can learn about character sketches and plot lines from the old Russian master. In Dostoevsky’s book The Idiot there is a character of General Ivolgin. This character says, there is perhaps a lie in every sentence. Lebedyev is insufferable, he says, and had the gall to declare that in 1812, he lost his left leg and buried it in a Moscow cemetery. Now the astonishing thing is, Dostoevsky stole the inscription from his own mother’s tomb. Impossible, say workshop participants when they hear this. So how far should a true artist go? Dostoevsky is a true novelist. He will steal, his characters will lie. But ultimately, the work is brutally honest. And that is the point. No?

Ro: How is the writing scene in the Indian theatre circuit? What changes do you envision in the coming years?

Ra: Young people are uploading on YouTube, there are theatre monologues on podcasts. It ensures million hits in some instances. With the Aadhaar poems, the sketches are available all across the country. Plus, we have the liberty to archive contemporary plays. What DSM, Junoon and others are doing in terms of research and archiving of talks, interviews and lec-dems is amazing. This is the future of the Indian theatre circuit. The present movement and the journey.

Ramu was born in Kolkata but finished his education in Mumbai. He is currently the editor at PrintWeek India.

Ramu’s suggestions and playlists:

Favorite plays:

  1. Krapp’s Last Tape by Samuel Beckett
  2. Happy Days by Samuel Beckett
  3. Mahanirvan by Satish Alekar
  4. Begum Barve by Satish Alekar
  5. Trutiya Ratna by Jyotiba Phule
  6. Urubhangam by Bhasa

Favourite Theatre-makers:

  1. Puja Sarup – Puja Sarup is a director, actor and teacher of theatre. She is the founder of group Patchwork Ensemble. She tours nationally and internationally with her group regularly. 
  2. Yuki Ellias – Yuki is an actor based out of Mumbai. She staged an award winning play last year called Elephant in the Room
  3. Deepan Sivaraman – Deepan is a director, scenographer and an academic. He owns Oxygen Theatre Company and is based out of Thrissur. 
  4. Kabir Kala Manch – a cultural group who perform in the villages and bastis of Maharashtra

Alternate careers:

  1. Left back for Fulham Club at Craven Cottage
  2. Fish connoisseur
  3. Be a rock on Nandi Hills in Bengaluru which is 3.5 billion years old

Awards:

  1. NDTV-Serendipity Arts’ “Arts Spectrum” award in the Performing Arts category – 2017
  2. All India Best Play Award awarded by The Hindu for Shanti, Shanti, It’s A War– 1993
  3. Regional Award Winner of the BBC International Radio Playwriting Competition for Collaborators – 2003
  4. Bagged the META Best Play and Best Playwright Award for Cotton 56, Polyester 84– 2006

Weekend Acting Programme : Acting, Self-expression and Communication with Padma Damodaran

 

About the Instructor

Padma Damodaran

MA (Acting) East 15 Acting School, U.K.

Padma Damodaran is an actor, director, writer and trainer and currently performs in Manav Kaul’s Chuhal, Danish Hussain’s Qissebaazi, and Mahesh Dattani’s directed play Menghaobi – The Fair One written by Shanta Gokhale. She also appears on Tere Liye Bro, a web series on Bindass Channel. ​She recently directed ‘Given’ as part of the Royal Court UK and Rage Productions’ Writer’s Bloc festival. Her film ‘Mantra’ won the best feature award at the South Asian Film Festival, New York and her short film ‘Best Friends Forever’ won the National Award for best film on family values. 

Workshop Takeaways:

  • Training to discover the craft of acting
  • Developing confidence, self expression, and communication skills
  • Defining goals and how to focus on them
  • Learning more about yourself, your environment and others around you
  • Thinking outside the box, solving problems creatively, and most importantly, learning to take action

Details:

Dates: 3rd, 4th, 10th, 11th, 17th and 18th February 2018

Time: 9:00 am to 1:00 pm

Venue: Third Floor, Mumbai Marathi Sahitya Sangh, Kelewadi, Girgaon, Charni Road East, Mumbai

Fees: 8000/-

To Apply

Send an email to info@thedramaschoolmumbai.in

Call/WhatsApp us: +91 9619336336

Visit: www.thedramaschoolmumbai.in


Advanced Workshop Programme : Commedia dell'Arte with Marco Ziello

About the Instructor

Marco Ziello

University of Bologna l Teatro Azione, School of Drama

Marco is a theatre actor, director and teacher. He graduated in Performing Arts with Commedia dell’Arte as his specialization from the University of Bologna. He further trained in Commedia dell’Arte at Teatro Azione, School of Drama. Since 2011, Marco has been collaborating with the Porvoo Theatre in Finland as a teacher, director and an actor. He has also been a part of several other international collaborations in Italy, Finland, Spain and Australia.

About Commedia dell’Arte
Commedia dell’Arte is a form of humorous theatre where the manner of performance is more important than the subject of the play. It involves use of masks common fictional characters like servants, old men and lovers that are a part of every performance. It also lays impetus on improvised performances based on different scenarios.

Workshop Takeaways:

  • Understanding the fundamentals of Commedia dell’arte like character building, dialogues, sketching costumes, music and tricks
  • Mask work, techniques and gestures to induce humour to performance
  • Developing an understanding of the common fictional characters through body work
  • Improvisation in spoken text and performance
  • Developing comic timing and understanding the comic body

Dates: 22nd and 23rd February 2018 | Time: 8:00 am to 2:00 pm

Venue: Bhalerao Auditorium, Mumbai Marathi Sahitya Sangh, Kelewadi, Girgaon, Charni Road East, Mumbai

Fees: 5000/-

To Apply

Send an email to info@thedramaschoolmumbai.in

Call/WhatsApp us: +91 9619336336

Visit: www.thedramaschoolmumbai.in


Performance@theDSM : Museum of Species in Danger

Knowing today’s reality, it will not be wrong to say that safety and freedom of women is in danger. This play is a compilation of monologues of women characters from mythology, modern India from literary works as well. Most of the monologues are written and improvised by the actors themselves. The play attempts to sketch lives of women in India in great detail as to how moving in open spaces is vulnerable to their physical, mental and emotional health. The play has been inspired by infamous 2012 Delhi gang rape case.

About the group:

Being Association was established in 2017 by a group of National School of Drama graduates. Set up to work towards purposeful theatre that stimulates the audience, the group has seen recent success with productions like  — Is Kambhaqt Sathay Ka Kya KareYuddhoparant and an adaptation of Dharamvir Bharati’s Andha Yug. Their aim is to engage the society with deep rooted conflicted issues ranging from gender to class through the medium of meaningful drama.

Directed by Rasika Agashe

Visuals : Tarun Sharma & Sumedh

Music: Faiz Khan

Script : Sumedh

Associate Director : Mohd. Zeeshan Ayyub

Details:

Date: 17th February 2018

Time: 7 pm

Duration: 90 minutes

Send an email to info@thedramaschoolmumbai.in

Call/WhatsApp us: +91 9619336336

You can also book your tickets on BookMyShow.


Conversation@theDSM : Mahesh Dattani with Shanta Gokhale

Mahesh Dattani is a Sahitya Akademi Award winning director working in the Indian theatre industry for over thirty years. Besides directing, Mahesh has also been an actor and playwright. He has a degree in History, Political Science and Economics with post graduation in Marketing and Advertising Marketing. Mahesh has written and directed numerous plays and has also dabbled into making films. His film, Dance Like a Man has won the award for the Best Picture in English awarded by the National Panorama in 1998.

Mahesh will be interviewed by renowned writer and theatre-critic Shanta Gokhale.

At the DSM, Mahesh will talk about his journey, his theatre company, the industry around theatre and using theatre and drama for education in recent times.

Conversations@theDSM are a part of the DSM’s Rekha Sabnis Memorial Series.

Date and time: 10th February 2018, 5 PM

Venue: 5th Floor, Purandare Hall, Mumbai Marathi Sahitya Sangh, Girgaon, Charni Road (East)  Mumbai – 400 004

Entry: Free


Performance@theDSM : Kaif - An Evening of Music, Poetry and Stories

Kaif means intoxicated. In this performance, the group will sing songs and tell stories of legends from India who were infamous for being intoxicated in love or music, or both.

Featured songs:

Shiv Ki Baraat / UP folk song

Shiv ji comes with a procession of ghosts, sitting on the Nandi bull with snakes hanging from his neck to receive Parvati, his bride.

The song talks about Parvati’s family’s reaction to this eccentric bridegroom.

Sohni / Punjabi folk song

Sohni crosses the dangerous Chenaab river every night with the help of an earthern pot to unite with her lover, Mahiwal.

The song talks about a stormy night when Sohni finds a turbulent river and an unbaked pot, both trying to convince her not to cross today. However, Sohni’s resolve is unshaken and so is her love.

Meera / Rajasthani folk song

This song talks about Meerabai, the celebrated female poet-saint of India. Originally born as a princess and married into the kingdom of Chittor, the song talks about Meera’s love and devotion towards the divine and her resolve to break free from the material wealth of the kingdom and join her true love, the divine Lord Krishna.

Artists:

Guitar, vocals, narration – Pranita Nair Pandurangi

Mandolin – Yashashree Uchil

Pianica/Keyboard – Rahul Gajjal

Dholak – Mrunmay Chavan

Details:

Date: 3rd February 2018

Time: 7pm

Duration: 60 minutes

Venue: 5th Floor, Mumbai Marathi Sahitya Sangh, Kelewadi, Girgaon, Charni Road (East)

Tickets: Rs. 200

Mail: info@thedramaschoolmumbai.in

Call: +91 9619336336

You can also book your tickets on BookMyShow!


Performance@theDSM: Mumbai: The City United

‘Mumbai: The City United’ is a play that highlights the glocal spirit of the city – local as well as global. It throws light on the multicultural and multilingual features of the city and all its difficulties. Concept, visualisation, performance and direction by Akshay Shimpi and Dhanashree Khandkar.

Date: 27th January 2018

Time: 7pm

Venue: 5th Floor, Mumbai Marathi Sahitya Sangh, Kelewadi, Girgaon, Charni Road (East)

Tickets: Rs. 150

Mail: info@thedramaschoolmumbai.in

Call: +91 9619336336

You can also book your tickets on BookMyShow!


The Drama School Mumbai Gets A New Logo!

Dear Family,

As the Drama School Mumbai grows into its own – and stands free from its parent, Theatre Professionals, it was time to remove the TPPL presence from its logo and identity.

While we started with a simple crop, and went on many journeys near and far – we finally came to this place, where we can celebrate the school as we know it, the DSM – and those letters can stand proud and in their own right.

In this logo, are the TPPL company colours, a sense of the Sahitya Sangh, a homage to the old logo, the three letters that for a lot of us, say it all.

I hope you grow to love it as much as you did the one under which you took your journey.

Thank you Shaizia Jifri for bringing the DSM’s new identity to life.

Yours truly,

The Drama School Mumbai


“With Age Comes Wisdom And Compassion!” - An Interview With Anamika Haksar

The Drama School Mumbai interviewed Anamika Haksar, theatre director and drama pedagogue on why she loves playing two different roles. She also shared her views on training and practice young people need to become terrific performers. Read more to get your set of advice…


Image sourced from Pandolin.

Anamika and I have scheduled an interview at her apartment in Mumbai but I am secretly scared. Upon reaching there, my eyes are wandering all over her living room. They rest upon the piles of old books kept everywhere. She makes me comfortable by offering me tea and thus we begin our conversation.

Anamika is 58-years-old. She studied at the National School of Drama, Delhi (NSD) and later went to study at the State Institute of Theatrical Arts, Moscow (USSR). She specialized in Direction and received the ‘Diploma of Excellence in Theatre Direction’. Anamika is the recipient of Sanskriti award for contribution to new theatre language in 1995. She has directed over 35 plays and one feature length film, acted in 15 major plays and taught at some of the most prestigious performing arts institutes in India.

Roshan: You’ve been a director and a teacher. How would you find an intersection between the two? How do you define who you are?

Anamika: I think I am a creator. I simply create. Defining yourself is a tough job, isn’t it? Very often, I’ve let others define me by my work. I like directing and my work is a little offbeat and experimental. I don’t depart from the norm, my work takes that discourse naturally. 

I’ve been privileged to work with B.V Karanth, an eminent theatre and film artist. I imbibed a lot of values and the process of thinking differently whilst working with him. I was also privileged to go to Moscow to train myself for six years from 1982 to 1988. Moscow was a highly cultured city at that time and there was a great sense of consciousness among the audience. 

My desire to question the norms repeatedly and create a body of work around it is strengthened by them. I wouldn’t like to call myself anything but what my work resonates. Luckily, it has been able to stand out as a new expression of theatre language. My work in theatre is mostly based on movements, poetry, and visual imagery within the text. It has redefined, for me, realism from a very stereotypical perspective. That’s how everyone started calling me experimental. Particularly, at this point, I feel calling someone’s work experimental also means dismissing their efforts. It means that they are doing something that everyone finds hard to understand and accept.

So that’s Anamika Haksar for you. An experimental theatre-maker. I’ve worked my whole life with theatre and it is only now that I have begun making films because I want to say something that theatre cannot say.

As a teacher, I’ve tried to break the centralist relationship between a teacher and students. I’ve always aimed to make my students learn and understand theory as a part of their experience, through processing their performance and their body. I try to liberate my students just like the way I felt liberated in Moscow. 

R: Do you have any memories of childhood or early adulthood that you think have helped in becoming who you are today?

A: I had wonderful and understanding parents who told me I was free to pursue my dreams. My family didn’t have a  background in theatre. My mother was a teacher, my father was a diplomat and my sister is a human rights lawyer.

“One thing that my parents imbibed in me was the utmost respect for ordinary people.”

Despite the fact that I was born with certain privileges, I can proudly say that I can crossover anywhere. I don’t believe in class or status. I’ve been to villages, smaller towns and I can be comfortable with everyone. I have always had respect for people with different backgrounds. My sister always fought against the state machinery so we had a lot people visiting us from Burma, Nagaland and Iraq.

That’s also why I think, today, I can speak to younger kids in their idioms and not just their language. They understand me. I tell my students to study who they are and where they come from to have a thorough understanding of their backgrounds and bringing it up in art and work. Whether they are from a village or a city, a Dalit or a Brahmin.

Face your background, cross it and enrich your work with all that you’ve gone through in your life.

I help my students to come to a conflict to realise the dynamics of their belonging and contribute creatively to their art. The other thing is, when I was 16, I met Badal Sarkar and we worked together for four years. We were a big group  with stars like Anil Mehta and Sudhir Mishra amongst others. Most of them have now transitioned successfully into the film industry. We worked a lot on our body, trusting ourselves and others with exercises. After working with Sarkar, I joined the National School of Drama. Joining NSD worked a lot in my favour.

With B.V Karanth, we used to travel extensively. We have been all over Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. We used to go to all the villages and watch traditional performances, especially folk art. At that time, I didn’t know the importance of travelling and watching traditional art. Today, I understand that all of it has contributed to my work and has had profound impact on my life. My work has been moulded by contemporary aesthetic values but I’ve always found an echo of traditional art in it.

If you see my play Antar Yatra that questions stereotypes around identity of women or Uchakka, an adaptation of Marathi novelist Laxman Gaikwad’s autobiography, you will come to know how I’ve blended traditional art and performance with contemporary thoughts. The plays travelled all over Maharashtra. From performing shows in Pune and Nanded to studying mill workers and pickpockets in Mumbai. We wanted to reach different kinds of people. We wanted to break prejudices with certain kinds of text.

A production by Anamika Haksar

R: You’ve had intensive training for a decade. How would you narrate the experience and importance of training to a performer?

Training helps you with self-awareness. It also helps you understand what tools you need to express yourself better. Training has to be very compassionate and considerate and to an extent that helps you open up closed doors. Also not to forget, one needs to be careful in the name of training. A trainer shouldn’t impose just one way of looking at things but open a multiple ways of looking at life, looking at theatre and looking at oneself. That’s how students start understanding the vast world of theatre.

“Training has to be very compassionate and considerate.”

My job as a teacher is to open their body, mind, gestures and postures. My job is to also translate the theory that they learn into gestures and expressions so that it becomes an experience for them. Training the mind is very important to me but after keeping in mind the region where the person is coming from. It has to be done both ways, gently and strictly in order to open up a person’s potential.

Another kind of training is through seeing. That is called training through the eyes. Maharashtra has witnessed many years of traditional theatre. In the last 200 years, they’ve had impetus on contemporary theatre. There was a time when the mill workers would watch two shows a day where the eyes are being trained in the best traditional ways. I am also very grateful for the training I have received. I traveled a lot and learned to respect folk artists. I have seen some folk performances in Karnataka that were staged for the whole night; with physical challenges and competitions. I have a very strong memory of that and I carry it wherever I go.

Finally, what I also learnt from Moscow was the importance of careful analysis and discussion between students and teachers to improve the performance. We were also studying paintings, music and art forms. All of it helped us develop a sense of perception and understanding of the world. Training in Moscow made me realise the capacity of my body and space with respect to performance which is quite different from the English theatre where the impetus is only on the speech. I really value the teaching methods I was exposed to in USSR. 

A production by Anamika Haksar

R: Do you agree that age and experience play a major role in becoming a better artist?

A: I don’t necessarily feel that age and experience go hand in hand. Although, with age comes compassion and wisdom. You understand how to talk to younger people. You understand that you cannot be brash or arrogant. You cannot pull them down or even use too refined a vocabulary they may not grasp.

There are a lot of things that age may give you but not everyone embraces it. I’ve met people who haven’t learned anything from their journey. These people can be very imposing, conservative and rigid. I’ve personally received a lot of push back from my contemporaries and directors elder to me but I’ve never let it affect me. So I am neither for or against age being an indicator for excellence. Growing old and not willing to learn can make you fossilized, egoistic and conservative.

A production by Anamika Haksar

R: Drama with movement, body and text has been your forte. You’ve specialised on this front creating multiple productions. Does it hold a special place for you?

A: I began directing plays using movement, body and text. At Moscow, we were made to do acting for the first four years of our training. So as a learner, I’ve nurtured values from dancing and acting. I am very grateful for that. Training in Moscow helped me hone my art.

“I am completely mesmerised by the coordination of body, movement and text. For me, it is a holistic form of  theatre.”

Photographs clearly don’t give you an idea of movement and space but you can see how I’ve always used them in my productions. I’ve worked in many regions where movement and body expressed a language. I’ve tried to ignite my actors in the right space.

Training your body is supremely important. I’ve trained myself for years on movement and body. Theatre-makers in India have to have total expression. These practices need to be inculcated in contemporary theatre scene. It’s a very strong body of visual metaphor.


R: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in three decades of your experience with theatre?

I think in the beginning when I started directing and teaching, acceptance among people I worked with was difficult.  I was young and working with international actors, Russians to be precise. I have received a lot of love and warmth from my actors. Sometimes my actors had to face the wrath of hatred from others whilst working with me.

A lot of people couldn’t find the intersection between dance and theatre in my performances, so naturally a lot of times, they would walk out midway. When these people walked out, there were also others who sat and enjoyed my shows until the end. When I started directing plays, it was the first time that metaphors, visual movement, dance and theatre were coming together in India. Some people called it bizarre to my face but I was always lucky to work with a team of young people who were loving and understanding.

I realize that young people are always receptive. Except the first time I was teaching. I left the class after a few minutes. It was quite humiliating for them to accept someone of their age as their teacher and for me to hear them taunt about age difference. I was trying to break grounds. I wept for a couple of months and later, it didn’t matter. I just went on and on. There was so much acceptance and exuberance from people I was working with.

Many assured me that I was really not doing anything wrong. Slowly, the audience that would leave started staying back and recognising experimental theatre. When I did Antar Yatra, a Tamil epic, we devised a huge space. The critics at that time wrote highly about it. Archana Shastri and I designed it very carefully but it wasn’t celebrated the way it should have been. I was a little disappointed. We had released our fixed deposits and invested in the performance. So there were these times but I have to say that it’s completely your choice. You can push yourself and keep working on the criticisms or you can go back to your comfort shell. I am very grateful to my country. Without any self-propagation, I’ve earned a lot of respect. Just at Kochi-Muziris Biennale, we had about 6,000 to 10,000 people watching my creation.

The journey has been tough but rewarding too. At times I felt that I should have received more recognition than I have. For example, Sangeet Natak Akademi celebrated their golden anniversary and didn’t invite me. It’s painful but I also know my worth. A lot of worthy people are marginalized by politics, so essentially it’s a choice you make. Ultimately, I want my work to be truthful and artistic. It should evoke feelings that are felt deep inside the heart and soul. It is hard but it is also beautiful. I’ve also received warmth and love from a lot of places I’ve travelled to. To be honest, in the end, it is your work that speaks and transpires into the love you receive.

A production by Anamika Haksar

Q. A lot of your work has revolved around social issues and injustice. What motivated this commitment to such issues?

A: To be honest, I really cannot pin it down! Antar Yatra was a poetic journey about women. If you look at Raj Darpan, it is about the censorship act forced by the Britishers on Indians. We showcased the multi-perspective vision of Indian art. It wasn’t about the troubles or issues of an individual but about the country.

Dalit poetry and literature have a special place in my heart. It has metaphors for the modern world. It has always drawn me close. Hard-hitting contemporary stories attract me. I would never try to do a love story. Not because I don’t believe in it but it doesn’t draw my attention.

Some of my feminist friends asked me why was I using Namdeo Dhasal’s text. He mistreated his wife. I told them that I wanted to juxtapose his actions with the sufferings of his wife. The pull of the contemporary life is important. I really feel the urge to talk about issues that matter or cause an emotional stir. Even for my film, we documented what it meant to live in old Delhi. I have an old rishta with old Delhi. It has life in its most intense form. How could I not try to portray that?

The essence of theatre is to pull you out of your existence.

Also, my sister’s influence whilst taking up cases against the army rule in Kashmir and Manipur affected me. She is a very political person. But I don’t belong to any political party. I may belong to a certain mold of thinking. I work on anything that challenges stereotypes. I have a compelling urge to express joys and sorrows, both rare and every day. I have an urge to communicate them. 

A production by Anamika Haksar

Q. You’ve been training young actors and theatre-makers at the Drama School Mumbai. What are the most effective tools that a young story-teller can use?

A: I’ve always asked students to pick up elements and characters from their neighbourhood and be proud of their history. Otherwise, they start closing up. Usually for people from a lower economic background, there are complexes and conflicts that need to be resolved. Begin your art from your differences. Don’t be scared to show that you are a son of a farmer or you milk cows at home. That’s my first rule while teaching.

Secondly, what’s important is imagination. I try myriad things to open up my students. We work on photographs, paintings, proverbs and musical pieces. Those exercises are to open up your imagination in such a way that you are really feeling what your performing.

Third thing is being playful. Having fun with each other and being able to receive and give is also important. Then there has to be some sort of training for the body. Any training that gives your body an aadhar or anchor is must. Do whatever is conducive to your own regional climate. Be it yoga, chhau or any other dance form. It can bring your rhythm across. That’s it.

Invest a lot of thought and work on Indian culture, be it paintings, music or art and then move to western art. Sometimes exercises can be psycho-physical. Elements of performance are always to be explored by playful exercises. It opens up sensory perception like taste, sound, vision and feel. Training is a lifelong process. The more you invest in it, the better your performances get.

This interview was conducted, written and edited by Roshan Kokane. With inputs from Ramu Ramnathan, Lyra Niharika Dutt and Ragini Khushwaha.


Thespo & The Drama School Mumbai: Natyakala Workshop 2018

Image used for representational purpose!

Like last year, Thespo and the Drama School Mumbai have continued to work together on an exciting series of workshops for young people in theatre. Natyakala 2018 is running across 9 cities this year, expanding to Guwahati and Kolkatta in the east and Ahmedabad and Baroda in the west.

Natyakala workshops focus on developing foundation acting skills. Participants are introduced to basic concepts in improvisation and devising, understanding use of space, working with an ensemble and understanding oneself as performer.

Our first round of Natyakala workshops go live in Jan 2018. Dates and cities are as follows:

20th Jan – Mumbai

21st Jan – Pune and Nagpur

10th Feb – Delhi

11th and 12th Feb – Jaipur

For more details, including venues and timings, please keep a lookout on DSM Facebook page and website. If you are in any of these cities on the dates mentioned and would like to register for the workshops, please register by calling or sending a WhatsApp on 09619336336.