P. ANIMA talks to four scriptwriters showcasing at the NSD festival about one play of theirs that hasn't been staged yet
For a dramatist, to have a script yet unperformed, to let his dialogues remain asleep to fresh colours an actor gives it on stage, is reminiscent of a life yet to touch its purpose. They carry these scripts like little gems awaiting their moment of sunshine. The ongoing Bharat Rang Mahotsav gathers the works of the finest writers from India and abroad. Scriptwriters, especially in Indian theatre, are a diminishing tribe. The festival teems with works of dramatists who lived and wrote centuries ago — Euripides, Shakespeare, Herman Hess, Sartre, Kalidasa, Anton Chekov and Henrik Ibsen.
We talked to four playwrights part of the festival about their one script yet to be born on stage. In some of their answers lay the failings of indigenous theatre.
Along with Vijay Tendulkar, Mahesh Elkunchwar gave new definition to Marathi theatre. His “Garbo”, directed by Mohit Takalkar, was performed at the festival. Having written 22 plays, Elkunchwar says his Marathi play translated to English as “An Actor Exits” has never been performed.
“All my plays have been performed, except one,” says Elkunchwar. The play he wrote on 2001-02 was translated into English and published by Oxford University Press. “The play is about an actor in the zone between life and death. It is the time he begins to explore his relationship with art, time, his body, colleagues and death itself,” he explains.
“It has multiple layers and is almost a monologue,” says Elkunchwar, adding he has spent over 40 years observing and working with actors. “An actor has a close relation with his body, and what happens when it betrays him?” he asks. “Further, I am at that stage of life where I am pondering about mortality and that was the triggering point,” he adds.
On the play not being mounted, Elkunchwar says, “Theatre in Marathi is going through a difficult phase and it is always rushed now. A play like this would need people to get together and rehearse for at least three months and that's a daunting task.”
Rehearsal spaces are never easy and costs high. “This kind of play has no commercial possibilities.” If Elkunchwar has to pick actors for the role, he says, “It has to be Naseeruddin Shah or Pankaj Kapoor.”
His name is synonymous with the iconic Hindi play “Jis Lahore Nahi Dekhya”. From the legendary Habib Tanvir to Dinesh Thakur, the play has engaged various directors. Thakur brought it again to the festival. “The play has been performed about a 1,000 times from Sydney, Karachi, Dubai to Washington, in different languages,” he says.
Wajahat, author of six full-length plays and many street plays, talks about the one play never staged. “It is a period play in Hindi with medieval central Europe as its backdrop. But it reflects the contemporary scenario,” says Wajahat.
“I wrote ‘Aki' about 10 years ago and it was published in Hindi, English and Urdu.” “It is the sentiment of nationalism that led to the play. You are told to love your country, die for it, but when the time comes, those responsible to protect it betray and common people suffer,” says Wajahat about the play's premise.
“In Hindi, there is almost no professional theatre group and productions like these would be expensive. The only theatre company that can stage it is the NSD… other directors have liked the play, but they don't have the resources,” says Wajahat.
The young writer/director came onto the scene with the Hindi play “Shakkar ke Paanch Daane.” Ever since, seven plays have marched out of his pen. On Tuesday, he brings “Aisa Kehte Hain” to the festival.
The young writer says he is “dying to direct” the play he wrote about Shakespeare. “I wrote it over a year ago. But it is larger than life and involves dancers. The minus-point is the cost; it is ambitious. I couldn't do it and it is still stuck with me,” says Kaul.
The play Kaul is talking about is “Kartane Karm se Shakespeare”, a different take on Shakespeare. If the renowned writer's “Hamlet”, “Macbeth” and “A Midsummer Night's Dream” have been variously interpreted at the festival, Kaul's play veers from the trodden path.
Kaul happened to read what he calls an “amazing piece” on Shakespeare's link to his writing, his honesty or dishonesty towards it. “I thought of exploring this element, it has not been done before. It is about Shakespeare's problems with himself as a writer, his personal questions and his long journey from life to death,” explains Kaul.
“I have been postponing it, hoping one day someone would come forward and give me the money,” he says in a lighter vein.
Bratya Basu is the only Indian playwright apart from the late Vijay Tendulkar to have two plays of his performed at the festival. Basu's “Ruddhasangeet” will be performed on Wednesday, while his “Darjipar Marjinara” directed by Koushik Sen was staged last week.
Taking off from a Bengali saying, his “Bikale Bhorer Sarshe Phool” is a satirical take on the love story of an old man and a young girl. The play he wrote in early 2008 was published in a local paper but waits to be staged.
“The play, apparently a love story, is a commentary on globalisation and corporatisation,” says Basu. Of the 19 plays Basu has scripted, this is the only play yet to be performed. Basu has held it close as he wants to direct it himself one day. “I have not been getting the time and I am hoping that by the middle of the year, I will be able to do it,” he says.
Keywords: National school of drama, dramatist, Bharat Rang Mahotsav, Euripides, Shakespeare, Mahesh Elkunchwar, Marathi Theatre, An actor exits, Asghar Wajahat, Vijay Tendulkar, Naseeruddin Shah, Manav Kaul, Bratya Basu