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CHAT Manav Kaul's theatre is about revelling in madness

ON things not done Manav Kaul
ON things not done Manav Kaul

S tarkly different, yet strikingly similar. For Manav Kaul, theatre is his unbridled madness and an unabashed experiment with honesty. Through his two plays “Red Sparrow” and “Mamtaz Bhai Patangwaale” which vie for the coveted Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards (META), Manav, playwright and director, journeys through different paths, but at the core are flickers from childhood, either burnt out by life or metamorphosing into larger realities.

However, Manav, the only playwright/director to be nominated for both the categories (original script and director) for both the plays, is a man on the move. And that characterises the poet, painter and one-time actor's theatre too. “I don't like to do what I have already done. At aRANYA, (his theatre group), what we are experiencing right now is heeded to,” says Manav from Mumbai, before leaving for Delhi to be part of the competition. His plays are a dissection of a “bizarrely beautiful country” that holds within thousands of stories, and his theatre an attempt at sharing “this bizarreness”. “I don't want to adapt a Broadway play and show here. What I see, I react to. It is my mind and my madness,” he says.

Of superheroes and nuances

The 36-year-old Manav sinks into the whirlpool of stories to surface with two distinct ones. “‘Red Sparrow' was staged in January 2010, while ‘Mamtaz Bhai Patangwaale' is a new play that I adapted from a short story of mine written a couple of years ago.” “Red Sparrow” takes a cerebral route, a comic take on the idea of superheroes, with the playwright in dialogue with his childhood heroes whom he never met, from writers Nirmal Verma, Vinod Kumar Shukla and Kafka to Bukowski. “The play is about the nuances of writing, its little intricacies, in short, a celebration of writing. All along, I have lived my life in books,” he says. “Mamtaz Bhai Patangwaale”, on the other hand, is a celebration of tender moments. A child's fascination for the patangwaala and his craft and his disillusionment as he discovers his hero is not an artist, but one who sells his skills to feed his family. “This world judges you by what you earn, what assets you have, and it breaks my heart. I came into theatre and writing knowing there is no money,” he says.

But if Manav's stint in theatre is “out of my own madness” to bask in the “humongous freedom it gives to say anything I want”, he says he doesn't have the guts to tell anyone else to plunge into it.

He is among the few practitioners of contemporary theatre who try to plug the glaring lack of original scripts, the parched arena he considers an inevitability. “Why should people write? There is actually no need, because there is no demand, no supply, at least in Hindi. I live in one small room and I have no money, but I don't mind it, since I chose this. But to tell someone to write, I have no guts, because theatre doesn't give the security people want. I really think if theatre is dying, it should die. Then something new will come.” The day the madness and freedom dies, he says, “I will stop it.”

Manav, who reportedly decided against acting in the middle of a monologue as he felt he was cheating his audience, says being true to oneself is the philosophy he still abides by.

The nine plays he wrote — from “Shakkar ke Paanch Daane” in 2004 to “Mamtaz Bhai Patangwaale” — are his efforts to be honest. “If I feel I am not being honest to myself, then I am not going to put up that play.”





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