Vinodhini Vaidyanathan talks about her journey in theatre

Vinodhini Vaidyanathan

Vinodhini Vaidyanathan  

Vinodhini Vaidyanathan, whose plays are coming to the city this weekend, says there is hope for theatre only if the audience comes looking for more than just entertainment

The two plays are at least five years old yet there is a buzz whenever they’re on tour. Vinodhini Vaidyanathan wrote Nadaga Express for The Hindu Theatre Festival in 2015, and Nagercoil Express even earlier for the Short+Sweet Theatre Festival. Now on a double bill tour, Nagercoil Expressum Nadaga Companyum, written and directed by Vinodhini Vaidyanathan, will play in the city on Sunday.

Vinodhini explains that both are now “larger in form and content. I’ve added more layers in terms of plot and theatre.” Originally Nagercoil Express was just a 10-minute play, “then I added two more characters for an Evam production in 2016-17.” For Nadaga Company, she has included many more forms including therukoothu. “Earlier the dance moves were choreographed internally. This time we made sure that we learnt the traditional therukoothu moves. Veteran artist Akkur Ezhumalai taught us and generously shared his repertoire of songs.”

Reading the list of the cast, one tends to stop with Alexander Babu and Bhargav Ramakrishnan. Ask Vinodhini about casting stand up comics, and she tartly points out there are “only two” and both have done theatre before. “Only in the last few years have they become popular stand up comedians. I see them as actors.” Another aspect is that both plays are social satires and comedies. “I want actors with good comic timing and an understanding of comedy in a script. Both Alex and Bhargav have this and that’s what makes them good stand up comedians as well.”

Vinodhini Vaidyanathan talks about her journey in theatre

  • Gil Alon: The Israeli artist whose theatre I love. I worked on a play with him in 2007 and stayed in touch. Being part of his workshops changed how I look at being creative or how I approach theatre.
  • Na Muthuswamy: Founder of Koothuppattarai whose writing I try to emulate. His works are known for their absurdism and he was writing absurd theatre even before it was a thing in India.

Vinodhini has been an actor (theatre, web series and cinema), playwright and director. Cinema is not too complicated, she says, and explains why she casts herself in her plays: “It’s very rare that theatre actors get good roles with different groups. As an actor, I want to be on stage and explore as many roles as possible.” The roles in films are limited due to stereotyping, she rues. “I use the stage I create as an opportunity to put myself out there as an actor.” Which of these roles does she prefer? The actor, she says. But it is challenging to keep them separate. “I depend on my co-actors to bring in 180° feedback.”

Her preferred medium is theatre. On television, “I’ve done only one small show so I don’t even count that”, but accepts that OTT platforms are seeing some good work. She has worked with Sudha Kongara and SP Charan for two web series and the roles were “good, contentwise. People are willing to experiment, and the content is watched across the world. There is scope of actors who want to do good stuff.”

Live theatre, however, holds her heart. Vinodhini entered theatre 17 years ago; her first play with Magic Lantern was in 2003. There have been positive changes, she muses. “There is more exposure to live arts now. When I joined Koothu-P-Pattarai in 2006, theatre was still niche. Today, schools and colleges have drama as a subject and kids are open to working full time in theatre.” The flip side is that the economics haven’t changed. “People don’t want to buy tickets for a play; they ask us for free ones. But they will pay for a music show or stand up comedy.” She terms theatre as “more rewarding than watching a stand up comedian spout jokes,” but adds this “is only my personal opinion”. Speaking of which, she candidly admits that having Alex in the cast has helped sell tickets. “We sold out so quickly for some shows.” But she is not sure that this will happen always or with other shows. “It’ll still be a struggle,” she concludes. Theatre will pick up only when audience look for more than just entertainment. “Participative viewing is still an alien concept. We are better at being couch potatoes, which is why OTT platforms have boomed.”

Nagercoil Expressum Nadaga Companyum
  • Starring Alexander Babu, Aravinth Sundar, Bhargav Ramakrishnan, Naresh D Raj, Shravan Ramakrishnan, Vatsan M Natarajan, Vikas M and Vinodhini Vaidynathan
  • Both plays are in Tamil and open to anyone over 13 years
  • On March 1 at Sitra Auditorium, off Avinashi Road
  • Tickets available on BookMyShow

Finally I ask if she has a dream role. “It is not a small role; always a small actor playing a role that makes it small,” she retorts. She is willing to play any role that “is given to me and punch it so that it stands out.” Her aim is not to overshadow other actors but “to think of what I can bring to the role and make it stand out in that scene.”

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2020 6:59:50 PM |

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