At ease with professional theatre

Theatre Director Sunil Rawat in New Delhi. Photo: S. Subramanium  

Sunil Rawat likes to make people cry. “It is a greater stress buster than laughter. Many theatre goers say they like slapstick comedy as it beats stress. I say no. Serious plays stay with you. They make you think,” he says.

Rawat is among the younger generation of theatre directors, the generation that has grown up on the new wave, those who want to experiment with hallowed scripts and, those who insist on shades of grey. His group Saksham’s theatre fest starts this weekend at Akshara Theatre.

Most festivals in Delhi are a mix of satire and serious plays – satire for the masses and tragedies, political plays and historical dramas for the intelligentsia. Satire brings the crowds, serious plays build a director. Saksham however is throwing down the gauntlet by staging only issue-based plays at its month-long festival.

Rawat chimes the conventional maxim: “The audience likes good plays.” But his philosophy goes beyond that. He wants to create his audience. “Delhi doesn’t have a theatre culture like Mumbai. We have a lot of plays, but not an established theatre culture. A visitor may turn away if he doesn’t get a free pass. To create this culture, we need to stage new plays, new scripts. And, the old ones have to be radically reworked. Repetition kills theatre,” he says.

The Saksham Theatre Festival has two brand new scripts – the Hindi adaptation of Roman playwright Plautus’s Pot of Gold and Kusum Lunia’s Unchi Udan. “Even in Mrigtrishna Manto ke Natak, we have used those stories of Saadat Hasan Manto which are not commonly presented as plays. On September 29 and 30 we are presenting Hamidullah’s Mukhote, which was popular in Delhi in the sixties. Our opening play is Manto’s Toba Tek Singh which hasn’t been done in a big way in Delhi for the last five years,” he reveals.

On September 15 and 16, Saksham will perform an evergreen hit – Sharad Joshi’s Janaza, a satire on how rulers exploit common people for political gains. “We’ve replaced the nawab with a modern day neta. In today’s discourse of corruption it is the neta that figures. Even in the classics there is room for experimentation,” he says.

Such is the pressure of Toba Tek Singh and Unchi Udaan, that Rawat is not doing Friedrich Duerrenmatt’s The Physicists, the play that first brought him to limelight in 2008. While The Physicists was then criticised for shoddy set design, it won the hearts of the audience with its poignant message and powerful dialogue. Also, the script was fresh and the theme – impact of science on life and morality – was uncommon.

“The low revenue and expensive theatre spaces apart, the biggest problem is the lack of fresh good scripts. There is a severe shortage of playwrights for theatre. You can earn four-fold writing a single episode of a TV serial,” he explains.

Rawat quit his day job as a mechanical engineer to take up theatre as he was bored of the routine. “Very often we slip into a routine in theatre too,” he adds.

His solution: “Theatre needs to be professionalised- like an industry. That can only happen if we create an audience by improvising old scripts and tackling new themes. Theatre takes up time, money and energy. It is only love and satisfaction that keeps it going. The only way to maintain that thrill is to break the routine,” he says.

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Printable version | Oct 24, 2021 12:37:09 AM |

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