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Theatre personality Kirti Jain   | Photo Credit: Photo: Anu Pushkarna



Theatre veteran Kirti Jain on the dynamics of drama and cuisines

Theatre could have been a foregone conclusion for her. But it wasn't. Director Kirti Jain unravelled theatre reluctantly and unhurriedly. The director of “Baghdad Burning,” “Subarnalata” and “Aur Kitne Tukde” was more lured by structures and shapes rather than scripts and scenes. When ill-health did not allow the study of architecture, she was cajoled towards theatre. Even after a stint at the National School of Drama, she meandered into television, only to be reclaimed by theatre.

Theatre was almost a member of the Jain family. “My mom was into classical and folk music, been with Indian People's Theatre Association and started Umang (a children's theatre group). My father was with the Sangeet Natak Akademi,” says Kirti, settling for lunch at 24/7 — an all-day dining at The Lalit.

“I was surrounded by music and dance,” she says, scanning the tapering menu. Kirti reveals her keen eye for cuisines, waves aside selections from Chinese and Pan-Asian. “I am hooked to Lebanese these days,” but, she settles for Mediterranean beauties here. Cooking, for Kirti, is the best stress buster and an exercise in creativity. “Food is related to how we work,” she says, adding how a change of spice gives a dish a new character.

She recalls fellow theatre director Neelam Mansingh's play “Kitchen Katha” which dwelt on women, food and cooking. Cooking, she says, is a matter of temperament.” Sipping fresh watermelon juice, Kirti digs deeper to retrieve links between food, fetishes and memories. Having abhorred bottle gourd for considerable part of her life, she now says, “I am missing it and actually craving for boiled bottle gourd.”

A mug of steaming mushroom cappuccino makes its way and Kirti returns to theatre — her years at NSD as a student under the tutelage of Ebrahim Alkazi. “It really opened me up as a person.” She knew she was not an actor — the stage, the background, interested her.

In a life peppered with “too many accidents”, Kirti veered to television from NSD. What triggered off as a casual interview at Doordarshan ended in a telegram from her father, when she was on a holiday, asking her to return immediately. “That was the last day for reporting for the job,” she recalls.

Before recounting her return to the NSD, Kirti places the order for the main course — feta cheese and spinach and roma tomato and mozzarella tart. Getting back to the theatre space, she says it posed challenges. “I was struggling to gain back my confidence. I was trained as a theatre person, but my experience was in Doordarshan. I had started responding much less as a theatre person.”

Feta cheese and spinach

The dishes arrive and admiring the well done feta and spinach, she says it was a last-minute project — “Lehron ke Rajhans — where she explored the text with others involved in the play that truly reclaimed her to theatre, brought back the excitement. The processes that precede a performance, of giving space to others, of working through consensus are all integral to Kirti's understanding of theatre.

Her alma mater has always been a constant presence in her theatre journey. A former director of NSD and still a professor of Modern Indian drama, Kirti is credited with NSD's Theatre In Education (TIE) programme — of making theatre a part of school education.

As someone linked with the NSD for a considerable part of her life, Kirti says, “It has to grapple with too many responsibilities. In a large country, it is the one institution.” Even the TIE Company, she says, is tugged at from diverse directions — for workshops, productions and festivals.

She also rues that theatre has not created enough opportunities. As actors migrate to Mumbai for television and cinema, Kirti says, “Fifty per cent of them do so unwillingly.”

Tasting the dessert platter of fruits, crème brule, chocolate mousse and orange praline, Kirti says, some day she wants to have a band which will perform theatre songs and an active weekend theatre culture in Delhi.

P. ANIMA