Director Parnab Mukherjee believes theatre can decode conflict issues and tackle societal apathy
“Open your windows and see the world around you,” exhorts Parnab Mukherjee, whose monologue Museum of Million Hamlets: a solo of many voices, created a ripple among the Madura College students. The 50-minute performance was directed, designed and performed by Parnab, the art director of the Best of Kolkata Campus.
There was no stage nor any props for the performance that was inspired from the Hamlet narratives, notes and scribbles of renowned theatre directors Heiner Muller, Andrei Tarkovsky and Takeshi Kawamura. An acclaimed practitioner on Badal Sircar's theatre and Shakespeare-in-education, Parnab has specialised in theatre-for-conflict-resolution and theatre-of-the-campus. An exponent of alternative theatre, Parnab has directed more than 70 productions of performance texts including four international collaborations. He has also performed 15 full length solos which include series of plays on human trafficking, HIV and segregation.
Pranab feels that theatre is an effective tool even in an alien place. “You can cut down upon words and use more images to present your ideas,” he says. And as if to prove it he tapes his mouth shut. “We have become numb to incidents around us. People do not open their windows in spite of attempts to attract their attention,” he says. Pranab conceptualised this play in time for the birth anniversary of William Shakespeare. And through the inner conflict inside Hamlet’s head, Pranab externalises similar conflicts in our own lives. He calls it a memory play. Indifference and the lack of curiosity propelled this performance, he says.
Lamenting the indifference and loss of sensitivity, especially amongst the educated middle classes, Pranab says, “The middle class seeks comfort in matters such as pay commission arrears and admission to medical and engineering courses,” he says. Speaking of conflict, he highlights issues in the North-East India, including the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. He says it is a shame that few people know about the North-Eastern States. “They also have martyrs who fought for the independence of the country. How many of us know about communist revolutionary Jana Neta Hijam Irabot of Manipur?,” he asks. “We have even forgotten our local heroes like Periyar,” he points out.
Pranab warns of the dangers of cultural colonisation and says, instead of fighting over whose culture is better, we could share cultural dignity. He strongly believes that theatre is one medium that can educate people on the realities of life. “I can’t wait for people to come to theatre,” he says, and declares that if they don’t do that, “Then it is imperative for the theatre to go to the people.”
In collaboration with Five Issues, Parnab recently directed the Trilogy of Unrest. It is a set of three plays which includes Hamlet machine, Necropolis and This Room is not my room. He is currently touring the country with Tagore Now!, a theatre installation as a tribute to the poet on the centenary of his receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature. This was premiered for the Swedish embassy in India.