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What ails theatre?

Theatre personality Vijay Kenkre   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Vijay Kenkre grew up in a home surrounded by theatre as his parents Damu and Lalita Kenkre and aunt Sudha Karmarkar were stalwarts of Marathi theatre. “Which is why,” he says, “I decided I would not do theatre. I wanted to be a chartered accountant, and I also played cricket. I got into theatre by accident. I was sitting outside my college, when I was called in to read a play. They said, ‘he is good, take him’. Some of the inter-collegiate plays I did, won awards. But when I came into professional theatre, six of my plays flopped, till I did Karti Premat Padli, an adaptation of PG Wodehouse’s The Small Bachelor.”

Kenkre’s last few plays — like A Perfect Murder and Maharathi — have been thrillers, and before that he directed a dozen comedies. “But I still haven’t done a classic whodunit and I want to do one; I plan on directing plays based on Agatha Christie’s Murder Is Announced and Unexpected Guest. I also want to do Night Watch (by Lucille Fletcher) in Hindi. I think thrillers are becoming popular on the Marathi stage, because the audience has started watching web series, and is now interested in a genre they were not so keen on before. With A Perfect Murder, I found that younger people and non-Maharashtrians were coming to see it, because they had heard of, or seen, the Hitchcock film. At the same time, they are exposed to too much comedy on TV and the web, so they no longer want to see regular slapstick comedy plays. Even the mainstream audience wants something different.

“Right now,” he continues, “there is a French playwright Florian Zeller, whose style I find very interesting — and I want to do all five of his plays, Father, Mother, Son, Truth and Lie. These plays were suggested to me by Paresh Rawal. I know Naseerbhai (Shah) has done Father and Truth, but I want to do Truth and Lie together in Marathi.”

About his decision to do adaptations, he says that there is a shortage of playwrights in Marathi theatre. “They write, but more for television . On TV, an episode lasts for 20 minutes and the tracks keeps changing. To write for theatre you need substance; because of TV writing that is missing. The earlier generation of playwrights wrote such memorable characters that we still remember their names. There is talent, but over the years, there has been a major shift — the younger mainstream directors are more into visuals than excellent literature. Theatre may be about performance, but literature is also important. A reason why revivals of old classics do so well, but then, the audience is 50 plus. These days, I hear there are directors who start without even a complete script, they just have an idea, and improvise, so theatre, from being an actor’s medium, has become a director’s medium.”

Kenkre also believes that the lack of auditoriums in Mumbai has killed the experimental play. “I don’t mean content wise — that is still there — but in terms of sensibility. In experimental theatre, they should have a licence to fail. But they are forced to perform at proscenium theatres and get no concessions in rentals or newspaper ad rates. So they have to either hunt for new venues, or stage their plays at conventional venues, which hampers the content.”

Talking about opportunities, he feels that if an actor does one good role in an inter-collegiate play competition, he or she right away gets a lead role in a TV serial. “But careers on TV are short-lived; after the serial ends, the actor vanishes. When we were younger, there were hardly any training institutes, now there is awareness that this field also requires training. But most people come out of these institutes and get straight into television or film. Earlier, we used to do 60 shows a month of a play, now we can have shows only on weekends. It’s a vicious circle, because there are shows only on weekends, they needs stars. To become stars, the actors have to go to television, which means they can’t do theatre continuously or comfortably. I understand there are economic compulsions. But if you go to a producer with an idea, the first thing they ask is ‘who’s in it’?”

Kenkre did Othello and several other Shakespearean plays early on in his career, also plays by Tom Stoppard, Luigi Piradello, Vijay Tendulkar, and wanted to continue on that track. “ When I entered mainstream theatre I realised that somebody is putting in money with the intention of recovering it. There have to be compromises and the need to do popular plays. I did direct some offbeat plays like Dhol Tashe, Music System and Raaste by GP Deshpande, and acted in Satyadev Dubey’s Inshallah, but my focus was on mainstream theatre, which I didn’t really want to do. When I sit and think about it, I wish I could have done more experimental and parallel plays.”

He does get to do his kind of work when he directs productions with university students in Mumbai and Pune or with the Goa Repertory, where he does plays in his mother tongue, Konkani.

“With the students, I do plays like Medea, Viraasat (Hindi version of Marathi masterpiece Wada Chirebandi), Cherry Orchard, Hiroshima. A positive trend I see is the increase in the number of female playwrights. After Sai Paranjpye, there are now a few women like Irawati Karnik, Manaswini Lata Ravindra, Kalyani Pathare and Shweta Pendse. If they keep doing original work, they will make a difference.”

After directing 85 plays, that he admits he does not particularly like, “I regret not being trained and not getting to do a political play. I did Dhol Tashe (a satire about religious practices), which provoked people, but now GP Deshpande is no longer there to write one.”


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Printable version | Jun 16, 2021 4:34:36 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/what-ails-theatre/article29910352.ece

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