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Akriti Singh tells a story like it is

Akriti Singh

Akriti Singh  

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Akriti Singh on how she made a space for herself in the Mumbai theatre scene

Akriti Singh named her four-year-old theatre group Storia Senza Storia, which means storyless stories. “Scarlett Thomas is my favourite writer. In her book, Our Tragic Universe, she talks about storyless stories. It means a story which is not a story, so a story that is truth.”

An architect by education and a poet and playwright by passion, the Rourkee-born Akriti came to Mumbai to work with a design company, “I moved to Mumbai to get into acting. So on weekends, I used to attend an acting class, besides some workshops. I started auditioning and got a TV show, ‘Mere Apne’ (co-starring Vinod Khanna and Smriti Irani). I left the job, did television for a while, made money, but I soon realised it was not something I wanted to pursue. Then theatre happened, and here I am, enjoying my work.”

She was an actor with different theatre groups; with Manav Kaul, Salim Arif, Imran Rasheed, Akarsh Khurana. I was also handling backstage, finance, designing costumes and making posters. If you get to go on stage easily, without doing backstage, there is no respect. I learnt a lot from Manav — direction, discipline and the right approach.”

The first play she did on her own, ‘Shah Ki Kanjari’, was a solo based on Amrita Pritam’s story. “I didn't need a director because it was just me on stage, but while preparing for it, I had to think in terms of direction too. That was the first time I understood I could tell a story. I write a lot of poetry on my blog. Slowly I decided to write plays.”

In the past four years Akriti has done about a dozen plays, and written or co-written two — ‘Shah Ki Kanjari’ and ‘The Little Prince’ (based on the Antoine de Saint-Exupery classic). She produced, directed and acted in all. ‘Breadcrumbs’, a spin on popular children’s fairy tales was her first play with the group.

Her latest play for children, ‘Monsters and Dragons’ was written and produced because she asked some chlildren what they would like to watch in a play, and they said, a fight between monsters and dragons. The play is interspersed with a lot of quizzes. “The actual fight is the fight of logic and I tell the children through those quizzes that magic is actually in your head, in the way you think about the world; and if you think differently, then that is magical. Monsters are also in your head, but if you use logic, you can defeat them.”

Akriti was writing a lot in English, but when she made ‘Bol’, she thought about our dialects that are dying, since we don't speak them anymore. ‘Nachari and ‘Ghalib came out of the research she did forBol’. “I got to know of a Maithili poet Vidyapati that led to ‘Nachari’. I found it fascinating that god came and lived as a servant for a poet. I read a lot of Urdu poetry, so I wrote a play about a fictional character Ghalib. I want to get young people interested in our history and language. I also want to do something about the female Urdu poet Parveen Shakir, who died young in a car accident, but led a fascinating life.”

Akriti’s training as an architect has not yet found use in her theatre work. “My plays have not had a lot of sets because of budget constraints, and I have found that the content matters more than the sets. Music is preferably live. In ‘Shah Ki Kanjari’, the story happens in a wedding, so there are three to four wedding songs. I decided that the songs should be sung with dholaks to create the mood.”

As an outsider, Akriti has been part of a subculture of creative people in Mumbai, who come from various places. “Far from being competitive, people here are really helpful, especially in theatre. If I need something — say a prop for a production, I just have to ask.”

In a space-crunched Mumbai, the biggest problem for a small theatre group, she says, is storage for sets and lack of rehearsal space. “They charge so much that it becomes difficult to have long rehearsals. We can’t pay our rent through theatre, we have to do ads or web series. What helps are small alternative spaces. Because at the regular venues, either dates are not available or the rentals are too high. But if you are innovative, you can manage. Like, I did a project called True Ghost Stories, where I just narrated ghost stories from the experiences of friends and acquaintances. It was well received.”

She is currently working on a play about Sultana Daku, a Robin Hood like character. “A friend gave me a book on him. This is a subject I have been wanting to explore,” says Akriti.

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Printable version | Nov 22, 2019 12:26:25 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/akriti-singh-tells-a-story-like-it-is/article28085174.ece

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