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Beyond the looking glass

Personal journeys: Anish Victor on stage. Photo: special arrangement  

Koogu, the play, was born almost a decade ago, in conversations between Bangalore-based theatre person Anish Victor and French ballet dancer Michel Casanovas. In the years that they’ve known each other, Anish found that their discussions eventually wandered into questioning their calling as performing artistes. “‘How does one respond to such a call?’ ‘Should one even respond at all?’ we often wondered,” says Anish. He attempts to answer these queries in the 70-minute, solo performance that is Koogu.

The word ‘Koogu’ itself means ‘call’ or ‘shout’ in Kannada and the play looks at the struggles and challenges of being a performing artiste. “Why are we constantly fighting for survival? Who or what are we fighting against/with? How does one fight? Are we fighters or warriors in any sense, or just kidding ourselves?” asks Anish. The play thus unfolds in a series of vignettes drawn largely from Anish’s 20 years in theatre, for as he puts it, “the personal is political”. At first a stage hand, who then became a lighting engineer, and finally co-founded theatre group Rafiki, Anish’s experiences with theatre are enriched both from life in front of and behind the curtains. “Because I didn’t enter theatre as an actor, my motivations are very different,” he says, “As a performer, there’s the assumption that one is meant to ‘own the space’, project to the audience or enthral them. I don’t see it that way at all. I don’t want to tell complete stories; I’d like to leave them as they are.” In its telling, Koogu interacts with audiences, uses sounds, both pre-recorded and created live, for Anish sings and drums, and incorporates dance, influenced largely by Michel. “Michel is the one who helped me break away from my fear of dancing onstage. He taught me the finer nuances of dancing freely, of returning to the body’s organic ways of moving. So the dances here aren’t choreographed,” says Anish. Moreover, Anish also weaves in his training in Silambam, Tai Chi and Devarattam, all of which help him power through the physically draining routine that the play can be. “All of these are just different points of access for the audience to enter the play; as a theatre person, it’s also interesting for me to observe their different responses.” Koogu’s Chennai performance will be its fiftieth, and with each retelling of the non-linear narrative, it evolves just a little bit more each time, says Anish. “I see the play as a Lego set. I can shift the pieces around as I please, within the broad framework.”

Besides the deeper questions about theatre that Koogu addresses, the play also marks an epoch in Anish’s personal journey, as this is his first major project after breaking away from his 10-year association with Rafiki. As the first of four pieces in a larger project called ‘Points of Departure’, tentatively set to complete by 2017, Koogu is Anish’s attempt to move beyond the experiences of the last decade. He hopes to someday physically move from Bangalore and the idea of cities as well, in this strive to “leave all I know” as a theatre practitioner. “I don’t believe theatre holds up a mirror to society,” he says, “Maybe there is no mirror; maybe it’s a prism instead. What we need to do then, is rather than reflect on the truth, break it down to its various hues and colours, and merely present that.”

Koogu will be staged today and tomorrow at Spaces, Besant Nagar, at 6.30 p.m.


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Printable version | Jan 28, 2022 2:08:02 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/bangalorebased-theatre-person-anish-victor-examines-the-struggle-of-being-a-performing-artiste-in-his-play-koogu/article6839150.ece

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