INTERVIEWSwetanshu Bora, a shortlisted playwright, tells the story behind his progressive play, ‘Once, On That Street'
Sometimes, though you've said it a hundred times, you still have to acknowledge what a small world it is. Where, the regular six degrees of separation has been downsized, and everybody knows someone who knows someone.
After one too many readings of “Once, On That Street”, you find yourself thinking about the characters in the play, who become someone you know. And the reality of the situation they are in is a problem you narrate in your voice and you say, “Did you know about Maya?”
The play revolves around the strong-willed Maya, her roommate Karan and her partner Shankar, and the relationships the three of them share as men and women in India 2.0.
In the previous instalment of the MetroPlus Playwright Award series, we read about Swetanshu Bora, and his play “Once, On That Street”. In conversation with the playwright, we find out…
What is the story behind “Once, On That Street”?
I was selected for a writing residency by Rage at their annual workshop which encourages new writing in theatre, “Writer's Bloc”. I had this story which I had been playing with in my head for a long time but it was at the workshop that I actually penned it down.
Do you know your characters?
As a writer it makes it easier for me when I am writing about a real person. Maya is loosely based on a very good friend of mine, and the character of Karan is based on someone I met when I was working in the IT industry. As a writer, it's easier for me when I write about a real person.
You have chosen a very progressive theme, are you concerned about a divided audience?
Not really. Honestly I think that this is a story that is dying to come on stage. I feel strongly about my subject and there will be a lot of people who will be hungry to watch it and they will connect with it.
Did your familiarity with the art give you an edge? Did you enjoy writing more than acting?
I think so. It worked out really well for me because when I was writing it I pictured it on stage. I could picture the costumes and the props, which could be a bad thing. As an actor, I am looking for the hooks that the playwright leaves to help us interpret the character, this time I was providing those hooks. I saw what it was like to be on the other side. And I don't think I can choose between the two. In fact, writing is a new romance and I am very excited about it.
Will the dialogue in Kannada be subject to change, depending on the city the play is being performed in?
It was something I had put a lot of thought into and resolved by deciding to keep the lines in Kannada. I wanted day-to-day dialogue and did not want to make it theatrical, and we were encouraged to do this in the residency. I had to stay true to the character of Mr. Gowda and in the real world Mr. Gowda would speak in Kannada. I don't know a word in Kannada so I asked a friend of mine to translate the lines for me. Although they're not written in stone, as far as I am concerned they will stay the same and I would encourage directors to stick to it as well.
Your play closes leaving the audience in the lurch…
I chose to leave it the way it is because it is not an easy answer. The play ends with a question because I would like the audience to go back thinking about the situation. I know I am taking a huge risk, and I might annoy a few people, but it is not the solution that is important but the nature of the problem. Besides, if I actually give the audience an answer, it would not sound as powerful as it does now.
CATHERINE RHEA ROY