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He vs them

t2 caught up with Anjan Dutt in the midst of a costume rehearsal at Max Mueller Bhavan. Excerpts from the chat...

Do you think Bertolt Brecht’s Galileo will be relevant today?

I chose Galileo because it deals with the crisis of an individual and the powers that rule us. The individual and a collective will always fight. This is a part of the world’s history and Galileo to me is that.... An intellectually strong individual whose work is threatening the order and establishment and represents anarchy. He could be a teacher, rock musician, philosopher, artist or filmmaker. I’ve tried to look at the church as power, establishment and financial pressure... essentially political power and people who control the world. That is why they are dressed in shades of red.

I haven’t changed a single word of the text. Bertolt Brecht the playwright wasn’t really concerned about when Galileo was born or what he did. He just worked on a certain aspect of his life — the crisis of his discovery and his betrayal. I’m not trying to emphasise that Galileo is a scientist either. Of course, the telescope is there and we’re talking about science but I’m looking at Galileo and his gang as people who threaten and question power.

How will your Galileo be different from the other versions that the city has seen so far?

It’s not a period piece. I’ve tried to look at it in today’s perspective. We have tried to build a sense of certain anarchy and chaos. I haven’t looked at it as verbal, lyrical and poetic, but as a wild, anarchic and youthful play. The music is rock with distortion guitar and a lot of physicality. I think it’s working.

We’ve tried to give it a timeless look through even the costumes, which include regular shirts, ties, suits. The Pope is dressed in a three-piece suit like a banker or a moneyed businessman. We haven’t built classical sets. We’ve played around with wooden chairs and tables, newspapers and other flexible objects that add a lightness of touch. The telescope is a modern one and instead of drinking wine, they’re all drinking whisky and smoking cigars. So I’ve done all that to make it contemporary.

What was the most exciting part about playing Galileo?

I’m 58 and the play starts when Galileo is 50 and ends when he’s in his mid-60s. I think I’m the right age to play Galileo.... The difficult part was that he is a very gross person. In the sense, he eats a lot, drinks a lot, is self-contradictory, is neither a villain nor a hero and is someone you can pity. He’s brilliant at his job but grey in his sexual areas. There are many negative aspects about Galileo. To handle that is exciting as well as difficult. I didn’t like the earlier Galileos because in them he was always portrayed as a huge tragic hero. I don’t want anybody to feel sympathetic towards him. This kind of a character has never been offered to me in cinema, so I’m enjoying the difficulties of playing Galileo. I only hope I don’t become too sentimental.

What role does the live band play?

They’ll be a young, wacky, gypsy-like band who will be positioned on a raised podium on the stage. Apart from (son) Neel, who has designed the music for the play, and Deboprotim (Baksi), my band mate on drums, we’ve young musicians. The band brings a certain energy and the songs carry the message of the play. I’ve translated the small couplets in between the play but the tunes Neel has chosen are all Brecht’s tunes from his plays — Three Penny Opera, Man Equals Man, Happy End — very youthful tunes, arranged differently. It’s all very colloquial because Brecht was a populist playwright while being a revolutionary.

How have you designed the scenes?

Brecht allowed alienation. He built a particular scene and broke it with a scene change. So visually, you find everyone changing the scene here. When I’m playing Galileo, I’m Galileo, but the next moment you find me changing the scene because then I’m just another performer. I wanted to stage it like travelling players or a circus where a group of people have got together. Some play the guitar and some act. The costumes are crushed.... I wanted to give it a kinky, edgy flavour.

You were concerned about fighting a certain datedness in Bengali theatre. Do you think you’ve achieved that with Galileo?

Today at 58, when I’m doing this play, my whole target is for young people to come and see this, be excited about a play that is breaking rules and have fun with music. I want to inspire young people to do different kinds of theatre.

The educated young people of today do not come to theatre. They want to do films, be a part of rock bands, model but not do theatre in the city and that’s very sad. Our legacy of Bengali theatre has never encouraged young people. It’s never been looked upon as glamorous or fun, which has switched them off. A classic need not be very serious with heavy costumes and difficult Bangla. Here in Galileo, I have put in rock songs, a young band on stage, choreography and crazy, coloured wigs because Galileo can also be fun, enjoyable and at the same time intellectual.

We use posters with quotations by Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Brecht. I have written placards on Albert Einstein and the discovery of atom followed by nuclear weapons to show the use and misuse of discovery. Used newspapers scattered on stage signify the study, chaotic like an intellectual’s chamber. Because we’re dealing with a lot of facts, figures and writings, the newspapers also become letters, documents and Aristotle’s theories. When Galileo bends down to the powers of the church, I use face paint to show that he actually becomes a joker.

I think a play, essentially if it’s a classic, should be interpreted and I use newspapers, half-broken chairs, crushed costumes with a postmodern look (decor and costumes designed by his wife Chanda) and make-up to bring out the meaning in between the lines.

If you had the power to change one thing about the theatre scene in Calcutta, what would it be?

Make it glamorous and fashionable. By that I don’t mean cheap gloss but making it exciting, and then people won’t mind paying a higher ticket price, thereby making the craft more economically viable. Today Bengali as a language is equally as exciting as English. If we can have youngsters doing Bangla rock why not Bangla theatre?

Do you have plans of touring with the production?

We have been getting calls from abroad as Bengalis living outside the country have heard about it. We have got some local responses too. What is exciting is that a lot of directors like Suman (Mukhopadhyay), Koushik (Sen) and Bratya (Basu) have come forward to help me out with the production. I’m grateful to Martin Walde for offering me the space at Max Mueller for the premiere... it’s where I had started out with my theatre (Peter Weiss’s Marat/Sade in 1979).

Things to watch out for:

• Live band with music that promises to be edgy and wild

• New actors and known faces from film and television

• Unusual costumes, props and sets

• The entire auditorium becomes a stage

Anjan on the key players in Galileo

Monks in red coat

A farcical scene where the monks are making fun of Galileo after he presents his theory to the church. The monks wear dark glasses signifying that they are refusing to see the truth.

Neel as Ludovico and Olipriya as Galileo’s daughter Virginia

Virginia falls in love with one of Galileo’s students, a rich aristocrat called Ludovico. Kheya Chattopadhyay plays the older Virginia.

Daminee Basu as Mrs Sarti

Mrs Sarti is Galileo’s housekeeper. While Galileo is busy with his experiments and discoveries, Mrs Sarti tries to keep the family under control and make ends meet. Her son is Andrea, the most important character in the play after Galileo.

Riddhi Sen as young Andrea

Andrea is Galileo’s main student. He is a young lovable joker who wants to learn. Science to him comes naturally. Science to him is fun. He likes to fool around with Galileo and have a circus with science at home.

Shankar Chakraborty as Sagredo

Sagredo is Galileo’s friend who first discovers that the planets are moving and if the planets are moving, there can be no heaven. Therefore the Bible is questioned. Shankar later doubles as the Pope, Galileo’s enemy.

Kunal Padhy as the Inquisitor

He embodies and executes law, which explains the military look.

Galileo with face paint

After Galileo comes back from the court, recanting and renouncing his theory, I make him look like a clown. He remains a clown till the end of his life but a clown who has the ability to question himself and write the truth.

Shuvra Saurabh Das as older Andrea

Andrea comes to visit an old Galileo for the last time and smuggles out Galileo’s theory, triggering the scientific revolution.

Pictures by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya