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Updated: March 8, 2013 19:28 IST

When words aren’t enough

Pheroze L. Vincent
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Director's cut: Quasar Padamsee charts a new path to understand Tibet. Photo: Pheroze L. Vincent
The Hindu
Director's cut: Quasar Padamsee charts a new path to understand Tibet. Photo: Pheroze L. Vincent

Quasar Thakore Padamsee on the evolution of the theatrical grammar of “So Many Socks”

“What happens when words aren’t enough?” Everything in So Many Socks, which has received six nominations at the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards, is styled to answer this question.

It is a dark play on Tibetan refugees— plot wise and even literally. The acting is physical— there’s more communication through gestures, dance and vigorous movement than through the lines. It takes place within a ring of socks and knick knack. The lighting splits the circle into segments, where parallel acts proceed, flashing back and forth through time to tell the story of three generations of a refugee family. The narratives often collide and coupled with Tibetan chants and light instrumental music, the play feels like a disturbing dream without being nightmarish.

Director Quasar Thakore Padamsee, also known as Q, hit upon the idea two years back while reading Kora— Tibetan activist Tenzin Tsundue’s collection of poems. “The poems were throwing up all these images. The best way of bringing them to life is through physical theatre,” says Quasar. “Movement is not only more emotional, it also informs and takes our story forward.”

He went to Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh— the headquarters of the Central Tibetan Administration— to research the subject with Toral Shah, the play’s costume designer. After that they began auditioning. “We selected nine out of the 100-odd actors who auditioned. Most of them weren’t professional theatre people.”

For movement director Amey Mehta, this was a new ball game. Amey, a contemporary dance expert, had to give up his own style and work with what they had, says Quasar. But diverse styles enrich the performance. In parts it even creates the confused and frustrated psyche of a refugee.

“The concept of not having an identity is something we realise only when we meet a State-less person,” he explains. “The play, for us, was a journey that took us away from what we are comfortable with.”

The cast and crew sequestered themselves for eight days to ideate upon Kora and chart the contours of the play. It was only after this that script writer Annie Zaidi took it up. Annie’s script was not designed specifically for a jatra-like play in which the audience surrounds the performers— a style that traditional Tibetan theatre also follows. Artists perform in a valley to the audience sitting on the hill slopes.

But the script allowed for the various non-verbal elements of the performance to take place. The cast then practiced on each scene, as if they were plays by themselves. “This allowed us to find a grammar for the performance,” says Quasar.

There are many aspects in the play which are not immediately apparent to the viewer. The play opens with Tibetan chants, which are routinely played in trinket shops in Dharamshala. Tension is built up as the background tracks gradually changes from guitar to percussion. In the scene depicting a man immolating himself, the chant is sung again, but mixed up.

Quasar admits that though he is passionate about political theatre, this is not a political play. In fact, though the play takes a clear pro-independence line for Tibet, the director himself leans towards the Left. “This is a comment on Tibetan refugees and the way we understand them. It is about a psyche of a people. The environment or atmosphere, the “mahaul” you can almost taste in their settlements.”

The mahaul comes across in powerful lines such as, “You see a girl walking with a can of kerosene and you know…” As described in the play brochure, more than a play it is an experiment— one definitely worth repeating for the performers and the audience.

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