Penning new ideas

SOMEONE ONCE asked. What is it about Chennai? Its feel and its spirit? It was a bit difficult to answer because there is much that is wrong with it — civic facilities, bad traffic and cows sauntering about amidst garbage. But there is an entirely different dimension to the city that is represented in its all-pervading culture — its association with the arts. So it was not surprising to hear the sounds of a tambura on way to the rehearsal of an English play. Along with that the pleasant smell of incense filled the air. And when the characters of the play took their place for the unfolding drama, everything seemed so much a part of the large picture, that is Chennai. "Closer Apart"? The title of the play suggests that there are many promising things about this venture to be presented on January 30 and 31 at the MCTM School, Smt Sivagami Pethachi Auditorium at 7 p.m.

It has a promising cast, a director who thinks out of the box and a playwright whose youth belies the depth of understanding of relationships — which is what the play is all about. Lila wants to do a biography of her dead mother. But this means interacting with the man she hates most, her father, Ravi. And Ravi wants to win back his estranged daughter at any cost. Then there is Raji — Ravi's present wife. The playwright and the director have created an interesting play out of mere words and a game of cards. What happens when Lila meets her father? Does he agree to give her the diaries left behind? What is in it for Lila when she finds that she has to agree to spend some time with Ravi in exchange for the diaries. Sometimes such situations in life lead to new areas of understanding — they may just not be to your liking. But don't relationships go thorough the process of evolution?

With Deesh Mariwala, Neela Subramanium, Anuradha Ananth, Srinath TT, Indrani Krishna Iyer, "Closer Apart", has been directed by V Balakrishnan. With a degree in Economics from the Delhi University and a Postgraduate Diploma from the National School Of Drama, Delhi, Balakrishnan was awarded the British Council Charles Wallace Fellowship to attend the International Residency Programme for Young Playwrights and Directors at the Royal Court Theatre, London in 2002. Having directed plays such as "Ashes to Ashes" by Harold Pinter and "Thicker than blood", a play by Sri Lankan playwright, Delon Weeresinghe, Balakrishnan is now ready for "Closer Apart," written by Anupama Chandrashekhar. She was also awarded a British Council Charles Wallace Fellowship to attend the International Residency Programme for Young Playwrights at the Royal Court Theatre, London in July 2000. A Postgraduate in literature, Anupama has done her journalism from the University of Illinois, U.S.

According to Balakrishnan, this play is an example of "new writing". "Anupama is one of the very few playwrights I know, whose writing is different," he says.

When you are given a script, do you do a lot of interpretation?

"I try my best not to do any interpretation. But if I do, I talk to the playwright about it. And only if he or she agrees, I go ahead," points out Balakrishnan.

What has appealed to you as a director in this play?

"The conflict between various characters. It is conflict, which makes drama".

Is that the only way drama happens?

"Not the only way". But according to the director, there is drama only when the intentions of two different characters are at a crossroads.

Is theatre your only passion or do you see a transition to films?

"I am already acting in films but theatre is my full time work".

Is this play very different from what you have done earlier?

"My last three plays, at least the last two have been `new writing' plays," says Balakrishnan.

Penning new ideas

As for Anupama, she wrote this play as relationships interest her. "In any relationship, there is some kind of a power struggle going on". At the time of writing "Closer Apart", Ted Hughes had died and had just published his birthday letters. So the "Sylvia Plath-Ted Hughes" issue was still fresh in her mind. Anupama was kind of inspired by that.

There are four characters in "Closer Apart". There is a card metaphor throughout and the climax takes place over a game of bridge. "There is something very dramatic about it," says Anupama.

Have you taken some real life incidents?

"Most of the incidents are imaginative except for the humorous incidents. Every writer has to take something from his/her experience or somebody else's. This play evolved at a workshop conducted by British Council, Madras Players and Mahesh Dattani. When you are writing a play for the first time, you end up with just a few characters. A big canvas is not really recommended".

Did it come easy? The development of scenes?

"Actually it did. So, I wouldn't have been a playwright but for that workshop. When I realised that I could write plays, I decided this is going to be my future," she says.

When you think of a play, what comes to your mind?

"The conflict — human conflict. Human struggle basically. Each one is trying to outdo the other. Everything starts with conflict. I focus basically on words. How much can we save, without using too many. I believe in subtlety, in silence. I like my plays to be a mix of many elements, including humour. And I am trying to explore my own idiom of ideas and expressions," says the confident, young playwright.

Passes are available at Landmark and at the venue.


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