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Mind & mission
(From top) Dhruv Jagasia as Gandhi in Stay Yet A While; M.K. Raina and Avijit Dutt as Tagore. Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya

You have seen him in films like New Delhi Times and Tamas, but M.K. Raina has chosen to work on stage. With over a 100 theatre productions — the most famous are Kabira Khada Bazaar Mein, Karmawali and Andha Yug — Raina has straddled several languages, from Kashmiri to Ladakhi, Manipuri to Bengali, for theatre.

This September, he goes to Kashmir to conduct a two-month workshop with children and revive the Kashmiri folk tradition of Bhaand. Last week he was in town with his latest directorial offering, Stay Yet A While, at the Rabindra Utsav.

t2 caught up with him backstage at GD Birla Sabhagar.

What is the idea behind Stay Yet A While' Stay Yet A While introduces Tagore and Gandhi in a new light. Gandhi had come to Santiniketan in 1915 and a bond developed between him and Tagore. From the time he left right up to Tagore’s death, letters flew back and forth between them. The letters encapsulate the freedom movement and the reactions of these two great minds.

The play is based on historian Sabyasachi Bhattacharya’s book The Mahatma and The Poet. The title is borrowed from Gandhi’s telegram greeting to Tagore on his last birthday. My actors are not dressed to look like Tagore or Gandhi, though I use real footage from the freedom struggle. I want the audience to pay attention to the text and understand how conflicts can be resolved without malice and violence through political discourse.

What will be the focus of the workshop in Kashmir'

The workshop is an effort to reclaim the cultural space that Kashmir has lost to violence. For 12 years, Bhaand, the only folk theatre form of Kashmir, has been stubbed out as un-Islamic. Bhaand used to be performed almost anywhere — in temples where these performances were part of the ritual, as also in dargahs and at Muslim and Hindu weddings. With the lack of practice, these traditions are being forgotten. We will try to initiate the children of some traditional performers into the art of their forefathers.

How do you intend to go about it' That we can only decide when we meet these 60-70 children. Our approach is always developed on the spot. But we never work only with theatre. I have a multidisciplinary team of musicians, writers and painters. We plan to introduce the children of the Bhaand community to modern concepts of theatre.

Do you feel any change in Calcutta’s theatre scenario' The passion for theatre is still very alive in Calcutta. I feel at home here. I had directed Gorky’s Mother as Maa in Bengali with Rangakarmee, and I had acted in Mrinal Sen’s Genesis. Two years back, I was here with a Punjabi production, Buhe Barian.

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