`Look for contemporary themes'

Director K. Balachandar saw every play of the MetroPlus Theatre Festival. Here's what he thought of them

Dressed in regulation white, he came quietly, always on time, and stayed till the end of every play he attended at The Hindu MetroPlus Theatre Festival. What made the busy filmmaker a regular at the fest? K. Balachandar explains:"I began my career as a playwright. I still watch all kinds of plays. Whenever I go to Mumbai or Kolkata on work, I try to watch Marathi, Gujarati and Bengali plays. I don't get to see too many English plays though. That's why when opportunity literally knocked on my door, I thought I should grab it, though I am engaged in recording for my new film Poi. I got a season ticket, and managed to see all the plays, except `The Shadow Box'. "When I see Tamil plays my reaction is different. If they do well I go backstage and congratulate the group. The passion for theatre is itself praiseworthy, it's not as if anyone makes money out of it. What a struggle. But mostly I feel sorry that Tamil theatre has not advanced beyond where it was when I did theatre long ago. Every now and then, I dream of staging a comeback in a serious way."Watching English theatre is a different experience. On the whole the MetroPlus theatre festival made me wonder why we still feel so alien in our own country. Does an English play have to be `Macbeth' and `Othello'? `Goa' was worse. To say something simple about loss of identity, they resorted to all kinds of things, including sex."And is this how people watch English theatre always? Silent spectators break into applause after every scene, as if everything worked out well on the stage, as if just a fade out is a cue for an ovation. This disturbed me. I too did applaud at times, but they seem to do it just to register their presence and say, okay, we have understood. "I thought `Macbeth' was glossy, and a little overdone. I don't want to say more; after all, I owe a responsibility towards the theatre. Dovetailing everything into a rehearsal made `Othello' interesting. The problem with both is that unless you know Shakespeare's text, you miss a lot. Fortunately, I'd studied both the plays at school. "I went to `Amadeus' because I'd loved the film and wanted to see how this stage version differed from that. I didn't like the greater emphasis on Salieri, there were too many monologues and soliloquies, but I liked the play. Yes, I sat through all the three hours. After all, I'm not just a spectator who can come and go at will. I'm a theatre man. I liked the Sri Lankan play (`Thicker Than Blood') because it was an honest and genuine attempt. We were able to fully identify with the content and the characters. "Though I couldn't follow the subject fully, I was touched by `Valley Song.' It didn't seem like a South African problem but our own. I was captivated by the two great artistes - the man (Jagdish Raja) was wonderful. But that young girl (Nandini Rao)! How she captured the mind of the audience with her singing and acting! "Did I see anything trend setting or extraordinary in direction or choreography? I'd like to avoid that question. I went to all the plays to get some inspiration. That didn't happen. But `Othello' was one of its kind. Different. Made me think about the way it was put together and want to attempt something like that. I'd say that The Hindu is doing something good for theatre in Chennai. I'd add... please look for contemporary themes and interesting forms. Not that we should confine ourselves to our own culture, or interfere with the freedom of the playwright or director. But I don't want to sit in the hall next year and feel I'm an alien."GOWRI RAMNARAYAN

Recommended for you