At Natrang Pratisthan’s Rang Samvad event, veteran director Devendra Raj Ankur and his younger contemporary Abhilash Pillai elaborated on their chosen paths.

The story behind stories — Devendra Raj Ankur

The term Kahani Ka Rang Manch probably evolved in the course of Nirmal Verma’s “Three Ekant” produced by Devendra Raj Ankur for the Repertory Company of National School of Drama in 1975. Over the years, Ankur has been carrying on his experiments of presenting stories on the stage without any change in the original. Since he had been working in NSD for a long period in various capacities, including director, it was possible for him to continue with the experiments in collaboration with the students of the school without interruption. In the vast Hindi theatre world his concept was widely debated, both by those who opposed the concept and by those who enthusiastically supported it. One of the supporters of Kahani Ka Rang Manch appeared to be the late Nemichandra Jain — poet, theatre critic and writer — who highlighted its relevance for the Hindi region. Against this background, it is in the fitness of things that Natrang Pratisthan (founded by Jain) invited him to deliver a talk in its Rang Samvad series at the Sahitya Akademi recently.

In the past the Pratisthan has invited a number of renowned theatre directors, playwrights’ writers and social scientists from all over the country. The Rang Samvad events feature directors who talk about their work and journey and are available to answer questions of the audience. But the kind of talk Ankur gave was different in flavour. Though he was expected to elaborate his concept of Kahani Ka Rang Manch, its grammar and the elements that make it different from presentational theatrical devices in a language that has intellectual overtones, he gave a talk in a lighter vein which enabled him to keep his audience in good humour throughout. Though he is known to theatre-lovers as a director and as an actor, his presence on the stage was seldom noticed. In his talk he enthralled his audience as if he were a seasoned actor adept in the art of riveting the attention of his audience.

Beginning with his childhood days, he told the audience that he was born at Sirsa, Haryana, in 1948 into a family with ten brothers and sisters. “My father was a bank officer who was being transferred frequently from one small town to another. This helped me to meet people of different regions and interact with literary people of those small towns and I started dreaming to be a writer and started writing a novel. Small town theatrical activities had additional fascination for me. Then as a student of MA (Hindi) at Delhi University I opted for theatre as one of the papers and became passionately involved in campus theatre, ignoring my studies. I completed my MA much later,” he continued, “Then I was lucky enough to be able to get admission to NSD and this is how my long, eventful and self-fulfilling theatrical journey began.”

Ankur is one of the few stage directors in the country to have been privileged to receive almost all the highest awards from prestigious national and state cultural bodies for his contribution to theatre as a director. He has written books on various aspects of the theatre which include “Pehla Rang”, “Rang Collage” and “Darshan Pradarshan”.

In his talk he clearly stated that what he really meant by Kahani Ka Rang Manch was that it evolved presenting short story on the stage in its original form. “Theatrical adaptation is anathema to us. We are opposed to the simplistic device of creating the character of a narrator to carry forward the storyline. The selection of short stories is made after reading several stories by actors and the final selection is made in collaboration between actors and director.”

He devoted much time to the economic aspect of Kahani Ka Rang Manch. He said that in the Hindi region, amateur theatre groups are proliferating but these lack funds and face dearth of scripts. For them Kahani Ka Rang Manch is most suited. It hardly needs costly theatrical props and costumes. On a bare stage, a story could be enacted effectively enough to engage the attention of the audience. It can become a source of income for fund-starved groups. “These days the sponsoring agencies pay upto one lakh rupees for a show and this amount is enough for an amateur group to thrive.”

In the words of the late Sarveshwar Dayal Saxena, poet, critic and playwright, Kissagoi — storytelling — is not theatre. Ankur has his own style of replying to his detractors who say that with his obsession to retain the originality of the story, there remains little room for the director to interpret it to reflect contemporary sensibility and complexities of the psychological state of the characters . “There are two directors — Bansi Kaul and M.K. Raina — who used to turn up their nose at the very concept of Kahani Ka Rang Manch. Finally they did the same thing happily with me when each of us was paid Rs.10 lakhs for staging stories by Munshi Prem Chand,” he said with a smile.