Tuesday, May 17, 2005
THE FIRES WITHIN
By Shaheen Parkar,
Hidden Fires, which consists of three monologues in English and Hindi, will be enacted by Rashi Bunny theatre actress and designer. Arvind Gaur , who heads the Delhi-based theatre group Asmita, is in the city with his new production, Hidden Fires solo by Rashi Bunny.
Considered to be the capital’s most prolific directors with back-to-back shows and theatre workshops throughout the year, he has selected Mumbai to premiere the play because “a true theatre person is constantly looking for new spaces.” Written by Manjula Padmanabhan, Hidden Fires takes on violence, intolerance and the narrow thinking of communities and the nation.
“In her attempt to come to grips with the violence of our times, especially communal strife, Manjula has penned a collection of monologues not only to stir the audience but to get them thinking,” says Gaur.
Incidentally, Hidden Fires is one of the recent writings of Delhi-based Padmanabhan, who is also an illustrator, cartoonist and novelist. Her play, Harvest, which bagged the Onassis Prize in 1997, took on the sale of body parts between the developed and developing countries. Govind Nihalani’s film Deham was based on this play.
“Hidden Fires is characterised by Manjula’s acerbic pen and dry sense of humour. A man confesses that he has stamped out numerous lives that are mere faces to him. He thinks they pose a threat to him only to discover that he is soon receiving the same treatment,” adds Gaur.
Hidden Fires, which consists of three monologues in English and Hindi, will be enacted by Rashi Bunny who is a Kharagpur-based actress and theatre designer. “It is one of those emotionally exhausting plays for an actor.
Initially the play’s protagonist has a ‘why not?’ attitude which changes to ‘why me? as the plot unfolds,” says Rashi Bunny. She runs the Banjara Theatre group with the IIT Kharagpur students “who look to theatre as a welcome deviation from their world of academics,” she says.
Gaur, an engineer-turned-journalist-turned director, describes Hidden Fires, in theatrical jargon, “as an experimental play that unfolds in psycho spaces.”
“These are spaces created in the minds of audience. They are psychologically attuned during the course of the play to see things which are not physically present,” explains Gaur who has been doing theatre for over a decade in Delhi. His productions include Girish Karnad’s Tughlaq and Rakt Kalyan, Dharamveer Bharti’s Andha Yug and Mahesh Dattani’s Final Solutions.
Of late, he has been exploring the concept of solo performances through plays like Women In Black by Bubbles Sabharwal and Untitled Solo by Lushin Dubey.
Gaur will be staging Vijay Mishra’s Tatt Niranjana, which provides a slice of life of Gautam Buddha, along with Bunny as part of the Nehru Centre Festival in Mumbai in September.
Hidden Fires will be staged on Sunday at 7 pm at the NGMA auditorium, Kala Ghoda
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Setting the stage on ‘Hidden fires’
Generally, theatre mirrors popular trends of its time in society. Over the years, mass theatre did appear to drift away from its core philosophy of entertainment and education. With a new wave of blending now sweeping the Indian stage, courtesy enthusiastic appearance of a new breed of celebrities such as Mandira Bedi and other cine stars, intense social commitment and revolutionary optimism is turning out to be a thing of the past. However, like any other mass medium, this potent medium of community engagement is not without its picture of hope. Amidst hope and fear of theatre aficionados, Arvind Gaur of Asmita theatre group in the Capital confronts theatre-goers with a good mix of both liberal and conservative sensibilities. Having directed nearly 50 plays over the past decade, Arvind’s selection of script has brought old world charm of bourgeois democracy back in theatrical contention. Of late, he is in the news for pioneering new languages for solo performances. His latest presentation, Hidden Fires, is also a bilingual solo performance by his favourite muse, Rashi Bunny. Excerpts from his interview with Manoj Kumar:
Q. What prompted you to pick up Manjula Padmanabhan’s Hidden Fires for your latest solo production
A. I have joined hands with Banjara Theatre Group, IIT Kharagpur and SAC, IIT Mumbai under the cultural intervention project against communal violence. At a time when our society, by and large, is in flux - with a spate of sectarian violence hitting hard at its heart-strings, I couldn’t stop believing in the hard hitting monologues of Manjula Padmanabhan’s Hidden Fires. I started off with street-children theatre, and anything associated with class consciousness endears me.
Q. Over the past few years, you have collaborated with a section of cultural organisations and groups with the sole purpose of directing solo performances. Some of your presentations - Women in Black, Tatt Niranjana, Untitled Solo, Madhavi exhibit your obsession. Don’t you think it is clear departure from expressionism in theatre
A. I am exploring various streams of unique design experiment. Rashy Bunny is a trained actress in theatre design at University of Rutgers, the USA. Her poignant portrayal of a woman in myriad conflicts provokes the audience to take action. Moreover, solo production with its single cast and minimalist design curtails all kinds of expenditure required in large productions and makes it very handy to travel and perform in all kind of spaces.
Q. Swadesh Deepak’s Court Martial remains the high point of your theatre career. With more than a hundred shows in your kitty, do you still believe in the appeal of proletarian theatre
A. Court Martial provided me with a great weapon in courting audience sensibilities. I am deeply indebted to the playwright, for having enjoyed unprecedented freedom in handling this socially relevant script. Even though I achieved international recognition through other presentations such as Women in Black and Untitled Solo, as these plays had successful run at Edinburgh Theatre Festival and Chicago, I still believe in universal appeal of Court Martial.
Q. You are the only Hindi theatre director to perform two of the most famous works of noted playwright and director, Mahesh Dattani. In fact, Dattani has also expressed willingness to reach the heartland’s audience through you. How do you view this development in the light of English theatre by and large entertaining an exclusive section of upper reaches in Indian society
A. I am grateful to Mahesh for entrusting me with direction of Tara and Final Solutions. In a society ruled by various hues of social fascists, Dattani’s script gives us a breather. Besides, it gives me immense satisfaction to collaborate with someone who is not a believer in the irrelevance of State, and that societal ills can only be cured through drama on anti-capitalism and antagonistic vilification and conflicts between loosely vague and determinedly strict doctrine.