Theatre - Fest

Battles with daydreams

The stars wander perilously close in Sneh Sapru’s Hello Farmaaish, sometimes twinkling with hope, sometimes caving into a dark hole of despair. “It is essentially a play for those who dream and the zeitgeist that works against such spirit,” says the screenwriter and playwright. But at its core, the dark, clever narrative set in rural Haryana which has been shortlisted for The Hindu Playwright Award 2018, is the story of “a bunch of seemingly common folk, who dream with reckless abandon, and quickly realise there are consequences,” says Sapru, whose 2017 Elephant in the Room won three META awards — Best Actor female, Lighting Design and Costumes — and was nominated for Best Original Script too.

The idea of the play first struck her at the Edinburgh Fringe festival last year, when she was with her team showcasing Elephant in the Room. “Our friend, who was scoring the music, Pruthu Parab, spoke of community radio, and the interesting story of their evolution,” she says. Then, there was the image conjured by the play’s director Yuki Ellias who took a bike trip through Scotland wearing a helmet that “felt like a space suit,” says Sapru.

It set her questioning, she says, on “how to connect the earth to the stars and the characters who could live in such a world. To create believable conflicts that day dreaming can set off. It offered me a chance to penetrate into ideas of us-versus-them, status quo, and dogma; to find dramatic tension,” she says. And she decided to travel to Haryana to get “the feel of earth for the same”.

Much of what she encountered ended up segueing into the final play. “The villages are rife with imaginations that people don’t think villagers have. They can imagine possibilities most can’t, but don’t have a medium where they can freely express the same,” says Sapru, pointing out that India is a country rife with “unspoken borders” that people are expected to live within. “Anyone who defies them instantly becomes a black sheep and society will try to rein them in”.

She spent months researching rural news; “both eccentric and cruel,” to cull out the “clever juxtapositions, which engage you, entertain you; but don’t shy away from asking tough questions,” which fed into the play that will début at the Aadhyam Festival at the Royal Opera House on August 18.

There are tough questions aplenty in the play: questions on patriarchy and corruption, on a society caged in by unwritten norms, on the death of dreams and the everyday cruelties of living, interleaved with dark humour, an unending sense of doom and yet also, a smidgeon of hope. Around all this all, orbits Kalpana Chawla, a constant, if often unseen presence, the first woman of Indian origin in space, who incidentally also hails from Karnal in Haryana. “This is a play about dreamers versus the status quo, and within that subset of the premise are its characters who are primarily women. She organically becomes the portal for its characters to dare to explore infinities of space and themselves,” says Sapru.

And though we don’t meet her personally — her presence is, fittingly enough, mostly confined to electromagnetic energy waves in space (aka the radio) — she is, “the greatest trigger point in the story. Acts of courage do that, they create ripples. This is a story of the smallest ripple in a sea of bigger ones.”

(This is the last of the three interviews with the playwrights shortlisted for the award. The winner will be announced on August 10 in the main edition of The Hindu)

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Printable version | Sep 14, 2021 10:16:34 PM |

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