[Subodh leans forward and helps himself to a piece of chocolate brownie kept on the table during the chat conducted by Renu Roy of Spandan at Hotel Hindusthan International on Thursday evening]
Nandita: Notice how he always takes the bigger piece?
Nandita: Like now! Well, it’s not a big deal but you’ll invariably take the bigger piece.
Subodh: Now, if you were left with two pieces what would you do?
Nandita: I would always and instinctively take the smaller piece!
Subodh: There you go. Then if I take the bigger one, how am I at fault?
Nandita: You see, these are the little problems that we face. (Smiles at the audience) Normally, this is a part of the script and yes these are little things that we’re dealing with in the play! [The audience bursts into applause]
Renu Roy (of Spandan, who steered the chat): How does it feel to come back to theatre?
Nandita Das: I’ve been doing theatre off and on. For me the genesis of this play was when I had had a baby (Vihaan), I was chairperson of the Children’s Film Society and I was itching to do something.... I chanced upon a script that was offered to me as an actor six or seven years ago. The seed of the idea was the same but it was a completely different script. I was cleaning up my stuff in Delhi when I chanced upon the script and thought it was an interesting idea that I would like to develop. So I acquired the rights of that script and started developing it. I thought this was going to be easy. I can write and direct, Subodh (Maskara, her husband) can rehearse at home and it will all be small and simple. But it turned out anything but small and simple! Wearing multiple hats of writer, director and actor is something that I don’t think I should be doing again! (Laughs)
Renu: We’d like you to elaborate on the title of the play…
Nandita: Initially it was called Black and White. Firstly, they’re (Maya and Shekhar, the couple in the play played by Nandita and Subodh) lawyers so there is the reference of black and white but it’s also about exploring the greys. Somewhere that title seemed too neutral. There are things that are said and unsaid in a relationship and that’s what the play deals with, therefore the name Between The Lines.... The play is not just about a man and woman. It’s about human relationships. We’re doing things that we want yet there are subtler differences we really don’t talk about. Because either it’s too trivial or we feel we’re nagging all the time or it doesn’t need to be talked about.
Renu: Subodh, tell us a little bit about the play…
Subodh Maskara: It’s about a lawyer couple that end up fighting a case against each other for the first time in their marriage of 10 years. It affects the relationship, what the woman and man discover about each other through the case and how they find resolution in both their relationship and the case.
Nandita: There’s no resolution really!
Subodh: Whatever resolution means in the context of resolution. (Laughs)
Renu: I believe a lot of women in India have sore elbows because the women identify with situations on stage and keep nudging their husbands all the way through the play...
Nandita: See, we’re dealing with dilemma, conditioning, how men and women respond and it resonates in the play. Everything that we’ve seen and felt in our lives and our friends’ lives. If you ask Maya and Shekhar before they take up the case, they’re not an unhappy couple. That doesn’t mean they don’t have arguments. They’re like any other regular couple and sometimes when a situation occurs, it throws up a lot of things.
We’ve been married for three years and this is the first time we’re working together, wearing multiple hats. We have very strong personalities but you get to discover and know each other more truthfully.
Renu: After you wrapped up the play, did you feel you had a better understanding of each other? Was there a process of maturity?
Subodh: Of course, any journey makes you a little wiser, personally and professionally. It was a wonderful experience with many challenges. I was so nervous when she’d tell me ‘walk from here, go there, pick up the glass and say this dialogue’. It was a simple exercise, which I didn’t think I could do but it’s been a journey and I’m glad I took it up.
Renu: Nandita, when you wrote the play, did you have Subodh in mind or could you have thought of another actor?
Nandita: When I started writing, I did have him in mind because the idea was to do something together. And then he started rehearsing and I said I wish I had a good actor! But he’s always been a very confident person and also a very good storyteller so I knew he could act and through the rehearsals he started growing. I think it takes a lot of courage to do something in a completely different field.
Renu: Did you have any serious anxieties about Subodh partnering you in the play?
Nandita: Not really. I was more worried about myself because I felt I wasn’t focusing on my performance at all. As a writer, what happens is you keep changing the lines every day as you’re rehearsing. With every show you grow and change. Already there’s so much I want to change about the show! So the moment we take our break from the first runs, that’s what I think I’ll do. For me the most exciting and challenging thing has also been to work with a medium that can change everyday.
Renu: Did you feel any difference between directing a film and directing a play?
Nandita: I didn’t act in Firaaq, consciously, because it was my first film and I wanted to step back. Maybe I should have done the same with the play but because theatre is an actor’s medium I also wanted to act in it. When you’re shooting a film as an actor, you just come in, do your bit and go away. You don’t have much of anything else to worry about. But when I directed Firaaq I used to really wonder why people have something called a ‘director’s chair’. I was totally on my toes throughout! And Firaaq was a different experience where all my skills were coming together although I wasn’t acting in it.... With the play, the journey is much more actor-driven and therefore I have to tell myself that I must remove my director’s hat and just be the performer on stage. That’s a learning for me as well, to be able to focus and live in the moment and not worry about too many other things.
Renu: Subodh, when you took a sabbatical from corporate life, what kind of corporate skills did you bring to the table that theatre can use to sustain itself?
Subodh: I’ve seen that there’s always been a divide between the corporate world and the arts. There are lots of people who have the funding and love the arts but don’t know how to go about it and yet there are people in the arts who need the funds but they don’t know anybody on the corporate side. They don’t understand costs, revenue and marketing. I’m trying to put a system in place and ensure that the arts are viable and people don’t do theatre just for passion but can actually make a living out of it. That is what my ultimate goal is.
Renu: I’m very intrigued by the name Chhoti Productions. Why did you call your company that?
Subodh: When Nandita was expecting Vihaan and he was five or six months in her tummy, we both thought it was going to be a girl so we decided to call her Chhoti. Of course what came out was a Chhotu! We called our company Chhoti Productions because of course we couldn’t call it Chhotu Productions! (Laughs)
Nandita: And as a friend put it, ‘So now you have a boy and a girl… a Chhotu and a Chhoti!’ (Smiles)
Between The Lines starring Nandita Das and Subodh Maskara and directed by Nandita is a play in english presented by spandan and t2. the 105-minute play will be staged at GD Birla Sabhagar on October 27 & 28, 6.30pm. Tickets at www.indianstage.in, spandan office, kookie jar outlets & the venue