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Updated: July 16, 2010 19:01 IST

The call of the stage

GOWRI RAMNARAYAN
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GETTING DRAMATIC Alyque Padamsee
TH
GETTING DRAMATIC Alyque Padamsee

Alyque Padamsee on the challenges of handling the latent drama in ‘Broken Images', being staged in the city today

Known as India's ad guru for his revolutionary achievements in advertising, and the only Indian to be voted to the Cleo Hall of Fame, he remains one of India's best-known theatre directors. She is one of the country's finest actors, on screen and stage. When national and international award-winners Alyque Padamsee and Shabana Azmi come together in ‘Broken Images', by celebrity playwright Girish Karnad , the audience can certainly expect something out of the ordinary.

Excerpts from a talk with Alyque Padamsee about this exciting new production:

After 72 plays in 50 years, how did ‘Broken Images' challenge you?

The dichotomy of characters! Two sisters — Manjula is alive, Malini is dead. But, who is Malini? A memory? Manjula's conscience? Has she entered, possessed the living sister? Is Manjula now the reborn Malini? Her shadow?

I don't do quick stuff. Shabana and I worked on this conundrum for three months.

I give time for the actor to bond with the character, to experience the text in all its layers, shades, colours, intensities.

‘Broken Images' is currently being performed in Kannada, Hindi and English, with Arundhati Nag and Arundhati Raja, directed by the playwright himself. How is your version different?

Even when I directed Girish's ‘Tughlaq' for the first time in English, my reading varied from the Hindi and Kannada productions. It converted Kabir Bedi from advertising model to theatre and Bollywood actor. Girish himself was surprised by my interpretation.

Pleasantly…?

(Laughing) Oh yes! Just as Girish, whom we associate with epic works contemporising the past, surprised me with this very modern play!

In ‘Broken Images', I grapple with many questions: ‘Is Malini the victim or victimiser?', ‘Who manipulates whom?', ‘Which sister appropriates the other's psyche?' I am not interested in the surface meanings, but in the latent drama.

This play is technology-driven. In our age, obsessed with the screen image, how did you dare to juxtapose the living actor with the magnified face on the screen?

By showing differences. Shabana as the image is Malini, while Shabana on the stage is Manjula — the prosecuting attorney and the accused.

Any disquieting moments in the psychic probe?

I was inspired by Girish's text to find a different ending to the play. Besides exploring the play, Shabana and I were exploring the self. Many viewers said that they too felt they had a false front hiding the real self within.

Your most ambitious production so far?

‘Jesus Christ Superstar'. I saw Christ as a real flesh-and-blood person, of course, with Mahatma Gandhi in mind! For me, plays are works-in-progress. One day, after watching ‘Evita' with the audience, I changed the protagonist's entry to suggest her rise from the gutters to become the president of the nation. I based my character on Indira Gandhi, who had led a sheltered life. At what point does the puppet become the puppeteer? Fascinating, don't you think?

How dependent are you on your actors?

I believe that a play is created by more than one person — the playwright, director, actor and audience. I never read plays. Actors read aloud for me. I close my eyes. I listen. Images flit across my mind. . .

What changes have you seen over the years in audience response?

Television has robbed us of audiences. Serials, football World Cup, IPL… I am not talking about drawing room comedy, but the theatre of ideas, changing your view of the subject after you watch it.

Then why do you continue to do theatre? You do have a hectic career in advertising.

Advertising is a cruel slave master. (Proudly) Yet, I have not let a single year go by without doing theatre. Why? I know I will be burnt out if I did only advertising. I can't let the flickering flame of creativity go out. I must shelter it from the vicious storms around us.

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