(This article first appeared in the Mumbai Mirror)
You have used a unique experimental process to create this play. tell us about it.
In this process the play takes the shape of a creation. I have used this earlier in plays like C For Clowns, The Blue Mug and Lady With The Lapdog. We begin with nothing except a few interested people who explore music, puppetry and various other forms of expression. We talk about what concerns or interests us. We had started that process when I was informed about the Prithvi Festival theme- Kala Desh Ki Seva Mein. When I spoke with my team about this they were thrown. They had not given much thought to what desh or seva means to them. So we went off the floor and started to simply talk about issues. The canvas that emerged was huge so we could not present something concrete in time for the festival but the journey led to this play.
With this experiment you seem to have eliminated the formal playwright from this medium. Was there any reason in particular for this?
We have writings from Calvino and Pinter, including parts of his Nobel Prize acceptance speech but yes there is no playwright in the traditional sense of the word. My interest in scripts has dwindled over the years. One was getting tired of performing European playwrights. The actors are the playwrights in this play. Some of the pieces have been written by them. For instance the piece on Babri Masjid has been written by my actor Hyder Ali based on his own experience there.
Has this experiment in creation been performed elsewere?
A lot of modern contemporary dance is evolving based on ideas but modern theatre has largely failed to break out of the traditional British format of theatre where a director reads a script, casts for it, blocks the movements and calls a designer to design the play. Our process is influenced more by the work of masters like Artaud and Grotowski.
You have explored memory extensively in The Blue Mug. Why did you feel the need to revisit the subject?
The Blue Mug mostly dealt with personal memories. When the theme of Kala Desh Ki Seva Mein came up, I thought it would be a good chance to explore it in a context. When I started to talk to the young actors, I asked them to define their parameters in life. They seemed to be only concerned with the right lingo, the right clothes, and their image. It was depressing but as we went along they fought back saying that we may not have been conscious of larger issues but we carry them in us and are willing to explore them.
Each of the pieces in your play has a definite experience and message. Is there is reason to deliberately obscure the meaning in production using elements from theatre of the absurd?
I have been doing plays written by Genet, Beckett, Pinter etc. so it comes naturally to me to subvert and not spoon feed my actors or the audience. For instance one of the actors during rehearsals got very involved with researching farmer suicides. I told him I wont let you come on to stage and simply talk. Instead I put on some music and asked him to move with that information in him. It was raining and he put his hand out and started feeling the rain and changing his expressions. Suddenly we could all feel the farmer, his crop, his pain in the gestures. I am aware that the audience may not get that but it makes complete sense to us.
Aesthetically brilliant and powerful images are your trademark on stage. How far have you gone in exploring that with you craft?
It is difficult to find professional actors and as a result one tends to start ornamenting the play in the very early stages. I am very interested in the visual aspect of theatre but I must guard against it becoming a shortcoming. Theater is essentially an actor’s medium and if the visuals overshadow him, the play may not become the compelling human experience that it ought to be.