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‘Unity has nothing to do with uniformity’

I catch Vickram Kapadia in the nick of time. The playwright and actor is leaving for Ukraine “for an ad shoot” in a couple of hours. Vickram, who last appeared on the silver screen in Kapoor & Sons, and is “currently shooting for Bazaar,” does not distinguish between media. He comfortably straddling the worlds of theatre, television and cinema. The 55-year-old talks of his play, Black with Equal, which will be staged as part of The Hindu Theatre Fest, among other things. Excerpts from an interview.

When was your first contact with theatre?

I was hooked at the age of eight. I had wonderful drama teacher in Pearl Padamsee. That is how it all began. After college I started doing theatre because I just had to do it. I thought I would take a break, then the call from The Hindu Theatre Fest came. I cannot shy away from challenges. It is in my DNA. It is not just about theatre, I always knew I wanted to do something creative — television, film, theatre.

Which do you prefer—theatre, television and film?

I am uncomfortable with comparisons between media. Theatre scores with its immediacy. That moment you share with your audience can never be recreated. I know television in India is not highly creative.

Could you elaborate?

It is difficult to point fingers. The audience is taken for granted, there is a lack of integrity, the standards are atrocious. What sense does it make to have actors dressed for a wedding standing in a line doing nothing? When you compare this to television abroad with shows such as Orange is the new Black, if I was not here I would be looking for work in television!

Is an adaptation easier than an original writing?

I am working on an adaptation of Jerry Pinto’s Em and the Big Hoom. It is difficult because the book is so beautifully written. To get the poetry on stage is tough as is matching the narrative the writer’s and director’s vision. I remember watching an adaptation William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and it was nowhere near the novel. That is the thing about theatre where you have to deal with casting, logistics… Earlier there were amateur actors but now actors are all professional who will leave at the drop of a hat if they get a better offer in television or film.

Doesn’t Mumbai have a long, strong tradition of theatre?

Yes it does, I am talking mainly about English theatre. Gujarati theatre is thriving, they say no to television because they have enough work!

Coming to Black with Equal, you said the play was born out of three seconds of silence…

Yes it was during a building society meeting. It wasn’t an acrimonious meeting, but there was a quiet moment that sparked the idea for the play. We don’t choose our neighbours, family or country. People don’t realise you don’t have to be homogenous for harmony. Unity has nothing to do with uniformity. The civilised mask we were is thin and the last thing we want is any provocation to peel it off. The play opened in 2002, and we have done more than 150 shows. There is something about the play that resonates with audience across time and space. It has touched and moved people. The building society is a metaphor for what is happening around the world. No one wants to listen to the other. We accept that people are different but then forget about it when tested.

Have you updated the writing?

Yes, recently. I have added topical references including to ‘achche din’.

Could you comment on the title?

Well, I am very bad with titles and this play didn’t have one for the longest time. In the play different characters are asking for the beverage of their choice — tea, coffee without milk and sugar and black with equal, someone suggested that is a good title. It echoes what the play is about—people want the same thing but say it differently.

Have you performed in Bengaluru and Hyderabad?

I have performed in Ranga Shankara in Bangalore. I have performed in Hyderabad but I do not remember the name of the play.

Are audiences different in different cities?

Audiences are the same. The best response I had for Black with Equal was in Chandigarh which does not have a strong tradition of building societies. Don’t think the play is this very serious treatise on the state of the world. It is a laugh-a-minute experience. I cast people with an Indian accent so no one sounds affected. The play is primarily in English with a sprinkling of other Indian languages including Bengali, Punjabi and Gujarati. As the play progresses, the plot gets more and more bizarre. The simplicity is deceptive.

You are acting in the play as well. Is it difficult to switch between acting, writing and direction?

I started acting in Black with Equal from the 20th show onwards. I was filling in for another actor. So the clash between acting and direction didn’t happen. Otherwise I prefer to either act or direct. I believe the writer and director should be the same person so there is nothing lost in intent and execution.

Black with Equal will be staged on August 24 at Ravindra Bharati


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