The National School of Drama (NSD) has a new chairperson — Ratan Thiyam, a director of international acclaim. The appointment has sparked optimism even among those sceptical of NSD’s achievements because this man from the Northeast has, over the last four decades, earned global recognition for Indian theatre despite funds crunch — “bread but no butter”, as he puts it. A man of ideals, he had relinquished the Padma Shri to protest the Centre’s inability to curb ethnic violence in the Northeast.
Thiyam tells Metro “it is time for NSD to come up a bit more” and for the government to realise there cannot be “zero budget” for culture.
You are no stranger to Calcutta, your plays Urubhangam, Chakravyuh, Uttar Priyadarshi and, more recently, Ashibagee Eshei have been warmly received by the city and you have adapted Badal Sircar’s Hiroshima and Manoj Mitra’s Sajano Bagaan to Manipuri. What do you think of Bengali theatre today?
Bengali theatre has always been of very high quality. Given the scope, both Calcutta and Mumbai could have built their own Broadways long ago. There is still a lot of creativity, amazing plays and an amazing theatre audience but I feel there is a need to improve the technical aspect, which NSD will, I hope, give to theatre all over the country.
The promised regional theatre centres have been on the backburner for ages and many feel NSD’s contributions have been too limited for it to be seen as a truly national body. Your take?
Our nation is region-based, there is nothing called national theatre. If theatre is good and moving, even if it comes from a region, it is accepted as national. India doesn’t have a national music or a national dance ensemble either. Perhaps, the country is too big for anyone to say this is national and that is not.
NSD has come a long way but I feel it is time for it to come up a bit more with another kind of input to make it a national centre for advanced theatre studies. Reaching out to all regions and collaborating with local bodies in various projects is top priority. NSD could adopt existing centres of theatre training that have been doing well and improve them by providing technical support. This NSD can do, sharpen the body and mind, like one sharpens a pencil but then, of course, you have to be the pencil.
Creativity cannot be taught but professionals can guide actors, directors, musicians, designers and technicians to that level of excellence demanded in the international arena. This is the age of technology and computers so no play, however good it is, can afford to be technically unsound.
There should be more scope for interaction among the rural, the folk, the traditional and the contemporary theatre practitioners and research and documentation should be encouraged.
But theatre training is an expensive proposition. People don’t realise it but theatre is one of the most expensive media. Production costs can go up to many, many crores.
Shouldn’t the government be forthcoming?
All through human evolution the dream that the next generation will be better, more honest and intellectually advanced has propelled art, music, theatre literature, philosophy, sciences… everything. Yet this year India’s budget allocation for culture is next to nil. How can that be? Political will can make all the difference. I wish that like the IPS, IAS and IFS, we also had an Indian culture service or Indian theatre service to take up our causes in parliament.
Without the funds, Indian theatre can never hope to match the productions presented by other countries at international festivals. How many Indian productions can compete for the Beijing Theatre Olympics in 2014? Here every country presents its best works except India. At the last Olympics, one of my works was chosen but the ministry of culture refused to send us in spite of repeated requests.
The moment you quit the amateur level and try to do something better you need funds… more so now than before because few, if any, will do things for love alone. Even printing tickets costs money. So the entire production process becomes a balancing act in which much energy is lost. In small cities where the language is limited to a small section of the community, producing plays becomes almost impossible.
When I started the Chorus Repertoire Theatre with people willing to be trained and spend a few years working with me, I told them there will be bread but no butter. Luckily, for me, my initial productions went down well and we could use that money for the next production. But financial support, be it from sponsors or the government, allows one to concentrate more on one’s work.
Any new productions in the offing?
Yes, we are about to present Macbeth. It is Macbeth on a smaller scale. The entire storyline is there and the characters are recognisable, bearing the same names as in Shakespeare’s text. But I have invented a new community with its own traditions and costumes.
Macbeth, to me, represents a disease of uncontrollable greed for wealth and power, a product of the corrupt mind which affects not only the individual and family members but the entire society. This is the world we live in, all infected or about to be infected by this disease which warps our vision and makes us believe we know the world, when we never can. The Macbeth disease destroys our spiritual balance and leads to violence, as it does not only in Manipur and other parts of India but all over the world.
To communicate all my interpretations, I have broken the structure and introduced two scenes of directorial notes. Perhaps we will launch the first show in November.
Will NSD host its own theatre Olympics some day?
The existing NSD festival, Bharat Rang Mahotsav, will certainly be screened for quality and we will try our best to get the finest productions. With more funds who knows…