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Mr & Mrs on stage

Nandita, what brings you back on stage after eight years?

Many feel that I have come from a theatre background, but actually my training was in social work. I did do street theatre and amateur plays during my college days, but that cannot count for any great foundation in theatre. I have only done two professional plays — The Spirit of Anne Frank and Heads ya Tails. I have always wanted to do theatre but whenever I was offered the chance to be a part of the play, life was too cluttered to devote the big chunk of time that theatre requires. But exploring the subject of gender inequality and through a new medium was reason enough to take the plunge. I am really happy that I am able to be on stage, that too after eight years.

Tell us about writing, directing and acting in Between The Lines…

It has been a very interesting experience with many challenges. I am both excited and nervous! I have embarked on a journey that has so many firsts. For the first time, I am writing and directing a play and Subodh is acting and producing it. While I have always tried not to have the fear of failure, I have to say, this project did make me a bit nervous. But it is also exciting to explore a new medium and have the opportunity to play with it. I have drawn much from my own life experiences and I feel it will resonate with a lot of people. The toughest part has been to switch off the third eye of the director and focus on my own performance. But overall I am enjoying the experience!

The play is about a married couple being played out by a real-life married couple. How much of your real life do you bring to the play?

Between the Lines is set in contemporary India and explores the relationship between a lawyer couple, who have been married for 10 years. As they fight a case in court, their personal lives are impacted and their own inequalities begin to surface. Many of my personal experiences and that of those that I have been privy to, have found their way into the script. As a real-life couple it has been easy and difficult to work together on such a subject. Many of our own conversations, discussions are part of the script and all that made it interesting to work on. At the same time we are both very strong-minded and are also relating to each other in many different ways, during this process. The husband-wife, actor-actor and then actor-director equations all overlap at times. The play does deal with marriage, a working woman’s dilemma, our respective conditioning, but also with the larger issues of the personal journey.

What made you want to cast your entrepreneur husband?

As it is a two-person play and I am the director and Subodh is the producer, the casting of the play was the easy part! Jokes aside, Subodh has always been good with narrating stories and has a natural flair for acting. People don’t inhibit him and I knew he would be confident even in his new role. I knew once he would take up this challenge, he would work hard and be at ease on stage. I have seen him growing through the rehearsals and now as we perform in different parts of the country. He has been an inherent part of our writing journey as well, and therefore feels close to the script and his character.

Was it tough to convince him?

Not at all! He always wanted to act, so for him in fact it was a great opportunity. But it also requires courage to make the plunge at this stage of his life and enter a completely new field.

What would you say is the good side of acting with and directing your husband. And the flip side?

While we are aware of the challenges of working together, we know that our first priority is to be happy. So, whenever we get into a ‘conflict zone’, we quickly recalibrate and move on. As this is the first time we would be doing a professional assignment together, it is new for both of us and sometimes the lines blur. But finally we believe that this experience is helping us understand each other better and that means both the good and the bad! But it is really up to us to make this unique opportunity more meaningful, both creatively and personally.

What has been little Vihaan’s reaction seeing his parents together on stage?

Sadly he has never been in the auditorium during the show. We wouldn’t want to distract the audience with his exclamations on seeing us on stage! But he has been in and out of rehearsals throughout. He even knows the word ‘rehearsal’ at age 2! He has been travelling with us to all the places, including Dhaka, where we are performing on the 13th of November.

Between The Lines dwells on an arguing couple and a criminal trial. Will it make for a very serious watch?

Our endeavour was to make the play soul-stirring without being preachy, and witty without being frivolous. In all our shows the response has been so encouraging, as the audience laughs its way through all its wit, irony and humour and at the same time feels uncomfortable with all that resonates with them and ends up raising many questions about their own lives and relationships. So it is not a heavy, depressing play and at the same time you will come out with lingering thoughts that will stay with you, hopefully much beyond the show.

If you could touch upon some technical aspects like the sets, music...

This is the first venture of our company that Subodh and I have formed, called the Chhoti Productions. The set was done by my brother Siddhartha Das, music by Claudio Clavija, a Chilean musician, and the lights were designed by Arghya Lahiri and Bijon Mondal. Our stage managers Naireet Basak and Paresh Gosar complete our chhoti team!

Tell us about Chhoti Productions and what you hope to achieve with it...

Chhoti Productions was conceived by Subodh and me two years ago. The idea is to create a platform for quality performing arts that can be taken to audiences in the country and beyond. We hope to do work that is creatively challenging, as well as financially viable. We hope to bring many compelling and interesting stories to people be it films, theatre, music… and other forms of art.

Is this play linked to any specific social cause?

In telling the story of gender inequalities, in an engaging way, we are hoping to combine art with social consciousness. This play intends to raise many questions, answering a few, and hopes to leave the audience with many lingering thoughts around this. A part of the sale proceeds from our Calcutta shows will go to the cause of the girl child. But all the different things I do, stem from a basic social concern and it is the content that follows the form.

What are your expectations from the Calcutta audience?

Calcutta is a special place for me. I have always enjoyed sharing my work here, as the audience is truly discerning and very supportive of the arts. Also, the awareness and engagement with social concerns is much higher than in many other parts of the country. I have performed Spirit of Anne Frank here, a play I did a while ago, and then my directorial debut feature film Firaaq had its national premiere at the Calcutta Film Festival. So I am both nervous and excited about bringing our play to the city. I have received a lot of love and warmth here, and I hope to live up to their expectations.

Nandita’s 5 reasons why you must watch Between The Lines!

1 It is an engaging experience full of wit and thought-provoking moments
2 It is your and my story— it will resonate with you
3 You get to see a real-life couple in a couple’s story (50% is our story…but am not telling which 50%!)
4 Going by the response thus far, you will be happy being there
5 You will see how a first-time actor will charm you and a first-time director will not disappoint you!

Between The Lines starring Nandita Das and Subodh Maskara and directed by Nandita is a play in english presented by spandan and t2