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For him, all life is a stage

It takes a Preetam Koilpillai to throw up a cushy job and pursue a passion with uncertain economic prospects.

Koilpillai: Doing what he likes best, theatre

THE WISHLIST is long. "I want to write my own plays. I want Black Coffee productions to be sell-outs. Always. Someday I want to direct a film." If piano-man Preetam Koilpillai, who set up the theatre group Black Coffee in 1999, is certain about one thing, it is that he wants to make a living out of theatre. Come what may.

Consider this. He gave up a Rs. 20,000-a-month offering at a top hotel doing what he likes, that is playing the piano, to give himself up to theatre. "I am trying to organise myself, get disciplined, start from scratch. I am getting cards printed. I am looking for sponsors," says Koilpillai. "Because, believe me, people are interested in theatre, good theatre."

But is there any money in theatre, you can't help asking. "Yes. If you know how and where to look for it." Before Black Coffee can firmly stand on its feet, Koilpillai keeps busy doing, what else, theatre. Part of the exercise is holding workshops. "I held a very interesting workshop at Srishti School of Design recently and am conducting one at Alliance Francaise till May 23." So, who comes for these workshops? "You will be surprised how seriously some of our youngsters are taking theatre these days, the audience too is younger than before. Their energy is infectious," offers Koilpillai. If you look surprised, he ignores you.

"It is not easy," admits Koilpillai. "But many young people are willing to take up theatre as a profession. At the workshop, of the 18 who have enrolled, a large number say they came because they want a life on stage."

And this, despite the fact that most schools don't have theatre in the curriculum. A point that irritates Koilpillai no end. "We should decide once and for all whether we want to take this art form forward or scramble together a play just on a whim."

Even Koilpillai, who loves theatre passionately, had to take his time to decide whether he wanted to plunge into it full-time, because of the way the system works. "I knew it was my calling when Mahesh Dattani asked me to co-direct his play, Final Solutions. This was after I had done a role in Map of the World directed by Abhijit Sengupta and bit roles in other plays years ago."

"There is no rush like rehearsals." He should know, being in the midst of another Black Coffee production: Bill Manhoff's delicious comedy, The Owl and the Pussycat. "We should be ready to stage it in seven weeks. I like tight schedules." Koilpillai loves to portray the "alternative, the raw, street-level life" in his theatre. So it's no surprise that one play that he wants to do sooner than later is Trainspotting. "Not the slick movie version, but the play, which is raw and real." Besides, he loves musicals and comedies. Genres he wants to try out when he writes his own play or script.

You can't help drawing the Switzerland-England-returned Koilpillai, who has made Bangalore his home, into the language conundrum.

"Yes, I admit English theatre is elitist. But this is the only language I am comfortable in. That's why I do plays in English."

Having chosen a road less travelled by, Koilpillai knows it won't be easy. But there's no coming back. And there's Black Coffee to perk him up along the way.


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