Obituary

Man of many experiments

Arun Kuckreja

Arun Kuckreja  

In the untimely demise of Arun Kuckreja, Delhi has lost a dedicated theatre practitioner

Passionately involved in the theatrical art and endowed with an indefatigable spirit for experimentation, Arun Kuckreja, who died on September 8, endeavoured in his own way to evolve a new theatre idiom to express his vision. In his creative career spanning more than four decades, he had designed and directed about 60 plays belonging to a variety of genres including western classics, Indian dramatic works and his own plays.

Born in 1954, he has featured in his productions Delhi’s leading as well as young enthusiastic actors like V.M. Badola, Sohaila Kapur, Mona Chawla, Alok Nath, Uma Sharma, Alka Amin and J.P. Singh. Some of them became popular on the stage as well as in Bollywood. As a prolific director combining human warmth and amicability, he was a respected face in the theatre landscape of Delhi’s theatre for a long time.

Playing Hitchcock

Known for his unique style of experimentation, once he staged a play about Alfred Hitchcock, he himself appeared as Hitchcock, wearing a long coat and a hat, appearing down stage in semi-dark light with face upstage which created a sense of suspense and horror. He continued this mode of appearing before the opening of his plays for a considerable time.

A co-founder of Ruchika Theatre Group, his significant productions were playwrights including Camus, Beckett, Girish Karnad and Sophocles, Jaishankar Prasad, Mohan Rakesh and epic poetic work by Maithilisharan Gupt titled “Panchwati”. Once he organized a festival of plays by Camus and Beckett. Camus’ classic “Caligula” in which the central character was played by V.M. Badola with voice-over by Bollywood legend Rajesh Khanna evoked tremendous response. Badola, one time Delhi’s leading actor, got standing ovation for his excellent performance.

Departing from realistic mode of direction and play production, he placed huge paintings on stage treating them as characters. He went further. In a Hindi drama, he used a Russian dancer as a statue to be used as an allegory. Old timers still remember the magic created by the lighting design by Sangeet Natak Award recipient R.K. Dhingra, Kuckreja’s lifelong friend and creative collaborator. Exploring new frontiers, he projected on the screen sequences from films, dancing and singing heroines with live performer either standing or laying down on the stage. In such experiments again, Dhingra could create magic, harmonising main expressive elements.

Not satisfied with staging plays by other writers, Kuckreja started writing his own plays in the form of monologue including “Gita” (English) in the form of a verse play. In this verse play, he gives enough space to the character of Eklavya. Holding Krishna responsible for perpetrating injustice on him, the playwright says that Krishna is a doctrinaire God. Another piece is a soliloquy on the Goddess of Love titled as “Rati”. It is an exploration of female sexuality against the backdrop of mythological treatment of liberated gender sexuality. In the words of Uma Vasudev, “ ‘Rati’ is yet another experiment in monologue theatre that Kuckreja seems to have made his own for theatrical presentation.” There is another play of this kind called “Lankesh” which attempts to look at Ravana from a different perspective.

His creative journey took a new turn. Fascinated by great masters of world cinema like Fellini and Satyajit Ray, he ventured into the realm of cinematic experiment. He founded Cinema Ghar and directed and produced about 20 art films bearing the stamp of his distinct style. These experimental pieces include “Sangeet Yachana”, “Asht Nayika”, “Ode To Love”, “Mother Teresa” and “Theatre Zindabad”. Asht Nayika’s appeal was enhanced with Sharmila Tagore who played the central role. He greatly valued his “Robot” on celluloid and “Bonsai” in literature. He paid his tribute to the theatre by producing short film titled Theatre Zindabad. This is a meaningful short film which he produced with love. In fact, he wanted it to be shown at the time of Bharat Rang Mahotsav 2008. But the National School of Drama authorities rejected it for the reasons best known to them.

Kuckreja was not influenced by any ideology. His aesthetic vision vacillates between erotic and sensuousness to detachment and to attachment of a passionate romantic.

Dhingra says, “I have been associated with Kuckreja since his days at Modern School where he started doing theatre. What was rare in him was his passion for theatre. Considering his commitment, I never demanded my fees because money was always in short supply.” He continues, “His involvement in the theatre as a young man was intense, ignoring his hotel management and family business. It all resulted in financial problems.” A pained Dhingra says that Delhi's theatre fraternity failed to recognise the contribution of Kuckreja. Only Natsamarat honoured him with Lifetime Achievement Award.

Though he was busy with his cinematic productions, theatre was in his thought always. Just a few days before his death, Dhingra visited his critically ailing friend. “Kuckreja told me that he was planning to construct an auditorium on his terrace in his bungalow in Civil Lines and wanted my advice.”

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Printable version | Feb 22, 2020 7:19:03 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/obituary/man-of-many-experiments/article19691995.ece

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