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‘Plays should reflect real issues’

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Joy Sengupta and Rajendra Gupta on theatre and more

For both Rajendra Gupta and Joy Sengupta drama is life. The duo went against their parents’ wishes by taking to theatre. They are alumnae of the National School of Drama and learnt the craft from the doyen of drama, Ebrahim Alkazi. They were in Chennai recently to stage Vijay Tendulkar’s play “Kanyadaan”. The Take Two (at The Park), from start to finish, was about acting and the thrill of relating to the audience. But while the 30-something Joy readily launched into a 100wpm (words per minute) conversation, the veteran Rajendra was more measured.

Chitra Swaminathan listened in.Joy Tell me about your tryst with English theatre. During my Delhi days (as a student of drama), I considered English theatre elitist and distanced from reality. My moorings, like yours, is in Hindi theatre.

Rajendra Initially, even I had the same reservation. So much so, all these years I did not attempt even a single English play. The hesitation is because we do not think in English. Language is the only hitch. Once that is overcome, you are comfortable doing any kind of play. I realised this recently. What connects people is emotion, the milieu doesn’t matter much.

Joy So which play proved to be your turning point in English?

Rajendra “Chanakyashastra”. I was surprised when Sanjay Srinivas (the play’s director) approached me to play an English-speaking Chanakya. He said, ‘You can do it.” When the director is confident, half the job is done.

Joy Chanakya in English!

Rajendra The play is set against a corporate backdrop. The theme of management has been well-conveyed through Chanakya’s profound wisdom. Today, I feel good I accepted the challenge. It has helped me grow as an artiste. Then “Kanyadaan” came my way. And I thought, ‘What’s this fuss about Hindi versus English plays?’

Joy Maybe because both were Indian-English plays?

Rajendra Yes. That was the comfort factor. In fact, Chanakyashastra in English could be taken to a larger audience rather than in Hindi.

Joy English is spoken at home, in offices and schools today and there’s so much writing happening too. Indian-English authors have come of age. Many of these works can be performed on stage.

Rajendra That would be wonderful.

Joy I still do not accept an English-English or an American-English play. I feel out of place as I draw my strength and thoughts from my roots. Our plays should reflect real issues, all that’s happening around us. Why should we waste our creative energy on perfecting an American accent and trying to be someone else?

Rajendra That’s why, even in my own productions, I prefer adaptations to translations when I choose foreign plays. Translations will be enjoyed more by people who have read the original. Of course, there are exceptions such as Chekov’s works that can enjoyed in any language.

Joy Also, there are some plays which cannot be adapted. For instance, I did a BBC production, an English translation of “Mricchakatikam”. They had retained even the original names. There were just slight twists here and there.

Rajendra It also depends on how one handles these productions.

Joy For instance, Shakespeare. The NSD always does a lot of the Bard’s plays. Amal Allana did “King Lear” in a Rajasthani setting.

Rajendra But such productions are done more for academic value. You can do only limited shows. As a professional theatre artiste, I am not for such plays. I want my work to be seen.

Joy No doubt, when one invests so much time, money and effort, commercial and artistic values need to be balanced. It’s no mean task to set up and sustain your own theatre group. It involves so much of running around for funds, publicity, rehearsals, halls…I tried and gave up.

Rajendra I too could not handle it. Not at the cost of my acting career.

Joy One happy development in recent years is the entry of many youngsters into the field. They are bold enough to form groups. It means fresh ideas and experiments. So essential for theatre to survive. For instance, the Writer’s Block that happens every year in Mumbai brings to the fore many potential scriptwriters.

Rajendra So does the annual one-act play competition. Acting, direction, sound, lights, sets, costume designing…are now sought-after career options. Many of these professionals dabble in cinema, theatre and television simultaneously. Anyway, it is silly to see the three fields as rivals. I’ve done several serials and films (remember Mukhiaji in “Lagaan”?). You have done that too. A performance or script should touch the soul, represent your sensibility and be handled with honesty; the medium is secondary.

Joy With films getting a ‘serious’ makeover, theatre artistes can now make the ‘big’ move not for fame and money alone.

Whatever the temptation, I still say it is the stage that gives actors a voice and space of their own.

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