?Everyone is not going to sit silent...?

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By TT Bureau
  • Published 23.07.05
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Your early days in theatre were not happy?

I joined Sangeet Kala Mandir and my first play was Mrichchakatikam. I attended rehearsals regularly but didn?t get the satisfaction of doing theatre. I was a dancer and it needed a lot of discipline, but there was no such discipline in the group. Nobody took theatre seriously. They used to come late for the rehearsals and used to gossip a lot. They lacked the philosophy of working in theatre. So I was very disturbed but I knew this was the medium to communicate with people and send across a message. Then there was a clash between me and some other members.

There was the Mr Kejriwal incident?

Yes. I was made an executive member. I selected a play called Mr Abhimanyu but it was rejected by the committee because there was a character called Mr Kejriwal. Then there was a problem regarding another play too. By then, I had been introduced to some friends from Bengali theatre. So I thought I must have my own group and left Sangeet Kala Mandir. Thus, Rangakarmee was formed in January 1976.

You preferred Hindi over Bengali. What have been the merits and de-merits of working in Calcutta?

Hindi was my mother tongue, so I was more comfortable with it. Many people told me ?you will not be able to earn fame in Hindi, so shift to Bengali because it is so popular in Calcutta?. But I didn?t agree. In fact, the Calcutta audience is most inspiring. They have watched our plays. Our plays like Rudali, Holi, Sarhad Par Manto have done excellently. If the theatre language is correct and the message is well conveyed, the audience will come and love it, whatever be the language.

In the past three decades, has there been any change in the outlook of the audience?

(Pauses) Yes, there have been some changes. They have become very choosy. They know what they want to see. They will not waste time and money by watching anything else.

Between Mahabhoj (1984) and Rudali (1992) you acted only twice in the five plays staged. Any particular reason?

It helps every director to direct if he or she is not in the cast. But the actress in me was gradually getting lost and I was forced to cast myself in Rudali as there was no one suitable for this role.

What have been the five corner stones of your success story?

I will say it has been hard work, group feeling (which is very important if you want to be in group theatre), dedication, clear conception and clarity about what we are doing.

How much of Rangakarmee?s work has reflected politics through the years?

Governments might have changed but the plight of the common people has not changed much. Lack of education and child labour still exist, the youth are still not treated properly, women are still raped? Our productions reflect these things. We have no political bindings. We are the real political people, not those leaders who do politics, because we are politically conscious.

Has the intellectual class in Calcutta forgotten how to protest?

(Pauses, then bursts out) See, everyone is not going to sit silent. Someone will protest. It can?t go on like this. That?s why the women in Kanpur came out and took the law into their hands. It might not be right but they had no other way out. And why specify a single city and state? It happens in entire India?

Your thoughts on contemporary Bengali theatre?

In the past 10 years, Bengali theatre has improved immensely. The best thing is that many young directors who are really good have come up and they are drawing from their own roots. The trend to adapt Shakespeare, Brecht? has been overcome.

There has not been much adaptation of Tagore in Hindi. Do you have any plans?

There are very poor translations of Tagore in Hindi. But I?m reading Golpoguchcha regularly and I might adapt any of those short stories.

How was Theatre der Welt?

It was a great experience. We have performed in Bangladesh, Pakistan, New Jersey and Los Angles. But this was a completely different experience. The audience was very interactive. We had three shows of Kashinama and after each show they asked questions. We also rendered theatre songs. There is a ritual in Germany that until the audience stops clapping you will have to go on. So, with a cast of 40, we had to go around the entire house twice or thrice. It was really funny.

What is the difference between their theatre and ours?

They are moving towards form and we are moving towards text. And also, the government does more for theatre in Germany.

On a personal note, what are the three best plays you have seen?

(A long pause) Manusher Adhikar by Utpal Babu, Charandas Chor by Habib Tanvir, Char Adhyay and Raktakarabi by Sombhu Babu and Badal Sircar, respectively.

And Rangakarmee?s best three?

Court Martial, Lok-Katha and Rudali.

Finally, your favourite theatre director?

Habib Tanvir.