Theatre

The discoverer of black holes

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Nilanjan Choudhury has used theatre to tell the lesser-known story of one of India’s greatest scientists

In 1930, 19-year-old Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar discovered that stars were destined to collapse into nothingness and become black holes. But Chandra’s discovery, for which he won the Nobel Prize in 1983, would go without recognition for years, due to his mentor Sir Arthur Eddington, professor of astronomy at Cambridge University and foremost astrophysicist of his age.

Nilanjan P Choudhury, in his play The Square Root of a Sonnet explores why Eddington didn’t allow for Chandra’s recognition. The play, written by Nilanjan and directed by Prakash Belawadi, has been critically acclaimed by scientists and theatricians alike.

The play has been performed across Bengaluru, Pune and Mumbai. They were invited to stage the play at some of India’s science institutions like IISC Bangalore, IISER Pune (on the occasion of National Mathematics Day), IIT Bombay (as part of Fourth Wall, the Annual Theatre festival), TIFR, Bombay (as part of the International Conference on Super Symmetry, 2017). Besides this, the team has been invited to IIT Delhi and IISER Kolkata to perform in March this year.

The audience included veteran physicists (including two of the discoverers of the Higgs Boson from CERN), people who knew Chandra professionally and personally — his colleagues in Chicago, his extended family in India, science historians, school teachers and students and general audience.

The play has also been published by Writer’s Workshop (one of India’s oldest literary publishing houses, founded by P Lal).

Nilanjan says the most gratifying experience has been the audience reactions. “There were people as young as eight, who enjoyed the show and went back to read up on black holes. There were also those who are not from a science background but revealed they didn’t know science could be so interesting. Scientists liked the fact that the characters were brought down from their pedestal and looked upon as humans.”

Nilanjan says he did receive feedback that the play is verbose and dialogue heavy, to which he justifies that content is often more important than form. Above all, the meeting between science and theatre is the best thing about the play, he adds.

The Square Root of a Sonnet will be staged on February 16 and 17 at 8 pm and on February 18 at 3 pm and 6.30 pm at Jagriti Theatre, Whitefield. Tickets at the box office and at bookmyshow.com.

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Printable version | Dec 11, 2019 9:23:26 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/the-discoverer-of-black-holes/article22714189.ece

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