Nomads of theatre

From Delhi: Atelier Repertory Company’s Mumbai line-up consists of three plays  

On a detour to Mumbai this week is the Delhi-based Atelier Repertory Company (ARC), which has been touring for six months now, ploughing through a road map that will ultimately include twenty cities in five states, stretching from Lucknow to Ludhiana. These are sporadic outings, rather than a long rambling road trip with tent and caravan, but the notion of an eighteen-strong team travelling to far-flung places to perform its entire running repertoire — five plays in all — does evoke the old-world gumption of a professional nomadic theatre company on an extended regional tour. Under the stewardship of artistic director Kuljeet Singh, members of the team double up as actors and technicians, intrepidly spilling over from one production to the next, creating a cohesive and driven work force. Their plays have been socially conscious and politically aware, while remaining culturally accessible to the audiences they have encountered.

Steeped in theatrics

Singh traces the provenance of his group, the Atelier Theatre (of which the ARC is an offshoot), to the frenetic collegiate theatre scene he had emerged from. “I found that post-college, there wasn’t a comparable ethos we could immediately join,” he says.

In 2004, his fledgling group staged 20-odd shows of the Partition-inflected drama Goodbye Blue Sky, to audiences that rapidly dwindled. The reality of running a professional company led the team of like-minded peers to developing other sidelines for sustenance. Apart from their own day jobs, they started weekend training programmes and founded a campus theatre festival, which completed ten seasons last year (a festival sidelight was even showcased in Mumbai). While it helped them in building audiences, running Atelier like a business detracted from its raison d’être of being a bona fide creative foundry with a repertoire of works that could be regularly performed.

In 2010, the American Centre in New Delhi offered them a grant to develop a festival of three plays — Edward Albee’s Zoo Story, and Neil Simon’s Laughter on the 23rd Floor and Rumours (which was performed in Hindi as Khusar Phusar). “That was to prove a turning point, because it provided the basis on which the ARC could be founded,” says Singh. There has been no looking back. ARC has notched up several more productions. Members of the current touring company have been with the group for several years now. While group-members can seek employment in other avenues like film and television, their work in the theatre must exclusively be under the aegis of Atelier. Contributing to the adhesiveness is a non-hierarchical setup, with a democratic distribution of duties and responsibilities. They are supported by a repertory grant from the Ministry of Culture (usually very nominal).

Performance art

The Mumbai line-up consists of three plays directed by Singh. The first is the comic satire Khusar Phusar, which has grown to become one of the group’s flagship plays. It takes place in a dinner party hosted by a government official, quite conspicuous by his absence. The adaptation translocates the goings-on to a Lutyens-style bungalow in Delhi. Then there is Project Antigone, which sources its text from Jean Anouilh’s retread of Sophocles’ Greek tragedy. The central conflict is Antigone’s desire to inter the remains of her brother in defiance of Creon, who has ordered the body to lie unburied on the battlefield. Singh overlays this scenario with voice-overs of couplets by Faiz and Paash, as well as the live singing of verses by the radical 16th-century poet, Sultan Bahu. The production also involves live painting. The third play is Kuchh Afsane, which is a reaction to censorship and moral policing that has been an ongoing problem in the country for aeons, but appears to have compounded over the last few years. The play is a compendium of stories by Saadat Hasan Manto, all of which had been banned at some point or other of their existence.

Atelier Repertory Company will stage Khusar Phusar (today 8 p.m.), Kuch Afsaney (June 23, 6 and & 9 p.m.) and Project Antigone (June 24, 6 and 9 p.m. at The Jeff Goldberg Studio, Khar; more details at

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2022 5:47:35 AM |

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