Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Nalina Mittra catches up with Arvind Gaur to find out more about his journey


Arvind Gaur
He believes in marching to his own drumbeat and has been creating a buzz in theatre circle because of his novel and socially relevant theatre.After dabbling in journalism and electronic media,he set up ASMITA theatre group in 1993, and hasn’t looked back since then.With plays like ‘Bitter chocolate’,’Untitled Solo(by Lushin Dubey),Women in Black ( solo By Bubbles sabharwal), 'Hidden Fires '& 'Madhavi'( both solo by Rashi Bunny), He has earned a reputation not just in India but abroad as well.
Nalina Mittra catches up with Arvind Gaur to find out more about his journey.

How did your passion for theatre start?

I used to read about plays in newspapers in my school days, and that fascinated me. Later I joined the drama group of Delhi Public Library. I acted in and directed various plays and I enjoyed this whole process a lot. I was doing my PG Diploma in Engineering from Pusa but left it in between and started working with Navbharat Times as a journalist. So watching plays, reading about them and writing about them, that is how, in a way, my training in theatre started. Then I worked with kids for some time and conducted workshops for them.
My first street play was with Zakir Husain College,called ‘Videshi Aya’.It became very popular and we staged the play in around 500-600 schools, and it went on for 3-4 years.
Then I joined PTI TV.I was in the production team of the serial ‘Tana Bana’ and assisted in some documentaries. After leaving that I came into theatre full time. I think that search for theatre was probably there since the beginning, which is why I dabbled in so many things and finally came into theatre.

Theatre is such an uncertain career. Did your family accept your decision of taking theatre as a profession?

See, a middle class family always wants their kids to take up safe options. But I had this habit of leaving jobs since the beginning, so my family started accepting that I’ll do what my heart says. They never specifically said that you have to do this or that. I faced some problems but I kept working, and they accepted it. How you convince your family depends on you. Because families normally don’t accept such offbeat or should I say risky options. Even today I don’t earn much money, but my family has always supported me.

How and when did you think of forming the Asmita theatre group?

After leaving PTI TV in 1992, I worked in a few productions. Then I felt that I should form a group with which I’ll do regular work. So that is how Asmita was formed in January 1993. I gathered some friends and formed the group. The first play we staged was ‘Hanush’ by Bhishma Sahni.It was for a youth festival. It was appreciated a lot and we had many repeat shows. Then we prepared for the next play and then it kept happening.
I had thought that I will work in theatre for some time and then I’ll learn fiction, as I had learnt the documentary part while working with PTI TV. But my fiction was weak. So I had thought that after learning fiction I’d look for work outside. But I couldn’t leave theatre. Now I feel there is so much to learn and to do.

What problems did you face when you started the group?

The first problem we faced was that of gathering actors. In the beginning we called our friends, and called actors from here and there. We worked as a team; theatre is a platform for collective work. Everyone had his share of responsibilities in acting, music, set designing. I was working as a catalyst but it was basically a team effort.
Then there were other problems. The main actor (who was a professional actor) of our fist play ‘Hanush’ refused to act. Four hours before the play he told us that he wouldn’t act if we don’t pay him. We didn’t have money and we had to do the play. So the whole team sat down and it was decided that I’d do the role with the script, as there was no time to learn the dialogues. All of us went on stage before starting the play and told the audience about the problem.
The play started and there was so much tension that I was not even able to read the script properly. But the audience supported us and the play was a success .We received good reviews and this encouraged us a lot.
We learnt from this episode, that if you have announced the play then it should be staged, no matter what happens. Secondly, the whole cast should be ready to do anyone’s role. Thirdly, we learnt that we have to train our own actors. We trained the new people who came to us. After2-3 years, we had our own set of trained actors.
The biggest problem we faced, though, was in terms of money and that is something we face today as well. Earlier we used to practice on a flat’s terrace in Shankar market. Now we pay the rent and work in an open area under a peepal tree in Raja Ram Mohan Memorial Trust. Everyone keeps complaining about money, but I think one should not worry too much over this. We never had money for tea. We used to maintain a piggybank and everyone contributed money to it everyday. We didn’t have money to rent the hall for our first play. So we borrowed Rs.600 and staged the play. Our rehearsals were stopped for two days, as we hadn’t paid the rent for the rehearsal place since 3 months. Then we again borrowed some money and paid the rent. We worked with minimum possible things. We used to take the addresses of the audience and send them hand-made postcards. But we kept doing regular work.
Somehow things start falling in place When you are committed. The auditorium people lend you halls, the laundry man irons clothes for free. People trust your sincerity.

On what basis do you select people for your group?

Selecting actors for the group and for the play are two different things. I give a chance to anyone who comes to me, but the person should be committed and disciplined. The training is very difficult. You have to do a lot of work; one needs patience. New people practice in the group and receive training. We select actors for plays from the group only. We don’t do auditions outside. After working with the person we get to know his strengths and weaknesses and that helps to do the casting. If I am working with some other group then I work with their actors.

Tell us something about your rehearsal sessions.

An actor needs a warm-up. When he comes for the rehearsal he carries all sorts of tensions in his head – career, family, finance and other things. He needs an environment where he is free of all these things to be able to work with concentration. I start with exercises—physical, relaxation and speech. This, in a way, detaches the actor from outside world and he becomes a part of this environment and gives his best.
Acting needs understanding. For an actor mental growth is very necessary. We have discussions on explanations of characters and we discuss interpretations of the play with the actors. This is our internal working process.

You have done a lot of work,not just in India but abroad as well.Which countries did you take your plays to?

I have conducted various workshops for actors and directors in Delhi, Chennai,Jabalpur(M.P.), Houston, USA and at many other places.Other ventures include ‘Women in Black’by Bubbles Sabharwal ,in collaboration with Theatre World which was staged in UAE.I also directed “Untitled Solo” by Lushin Dubey,which was staged in 12 cities in USA and at the Edinburgh theatre festival.
Then the play based on Shri Bhishma Sahni’s “Madhavi”,a solo performance by Rashi Bunny,has travelled widely for various theatre festivals and has received great appreciation and received the Best Performance award at the International Solo Festival at Armenia in 2004.

Have you noticed any changes in theatre scene of Delhi in the last 10 years?

In our times, all the classes of the societies used to watch theatre—clerks, rickshaw pullers, shopkeepers, workers and a lot of students. But now the audience is primarily that of upper-middle and upper class people. There has been a change in the subjects accordingly. Entertainment has become the dominant factor. The play should be entertaining, but that shouldn’t be the sole criterion. Moreover, theare has become a bit difficult in the last few years. The cost of auditoriums has increased, there are less rehearsal places and plays need too much marketing. But I feel there is no difference in the commitment levels of new actors. But they need to be channelised.
I believe the biggest hurdle for the theatre movement is the fact that, the elder people of theatre are not doing anything for theatre. There are 7 IIT s in the country and Delhi itself has more than 50 colleges. But there is just 1 NSD, which produces 20 students. We spend crores of rupees on their training, but when they come out they have very few opportunities so most of them leave for Mumbai.We should have more drama schools.

What message would you like to give to the college students?

College is a golden period. If you have an inclination towards theatre then take part in plays during this time. If you get interested, you can join a theatre group later. But keep doing regular work.
An advice for theatre groups is , that if you want to develop campus theatre, then think beyond competitions and annual productions.Do regular work even if that means working with minmum resources.Struggle is a part of work to increase your experiences.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005




Where :
Nehru Centre
Dr. Annie Besant Road, Worli
Mumbai,Maharashtra 400018

When :
Monday, Aug 29, 2005 @ 07:00 PM
Admission : by invitation , available at Nehru Centre

Translation by Shahid Anwar
Music By Dr.Sangeeta Gaur


On Stage

Hridika: Anupam Pachauri

Daksha(young Hridika):Sangeeta Das

Smita: Manisha

Ramnik: Girish Pal

Aruna: Amita Walia

Babban: Naresh Kabir

Javed: Susan Brar


Ajit Kr Mahato, Akhilesh Kr (Praveen),
Vipin Arora, Shailender Bisht, Sanjay, Siddharth Dubey,
Rohan Madhesia, Shamim Gandhi, Amit Rana, Pushpraj Rawat,
Prageet Pandit, Rakesh Kumar, Rajesh Kr Sangwan, Tanmay,
Rajesh Mishra, Sandeep Srivastava.Kranti Pratap Singh

Off Stage

Set Execution: Ajit Kr Mahato,Akhilesh Kr(Praveen),Sandeep Srivastava,Girish Pal

Property: Prageet Pandit, Pushpraj Rawat

Production Controller: Sandeep Srivastava

Brochure: Anupam Pachauri

Music: Dr. Sangeeta Gaur

Translation :Shahid Anwar

Direction: Arvind Gaur


"Final Solutions" has a powerful contemporary resonance as it addresses as issue of utmost concern to our society, i.e. the issue of communalism. The play presents different shades of the communalist attitude prevalent among Hindus and Muslims in its attempt to underline the stereotypes and clichés influencing the collective sensibility of one community against another. What distinguishes this work from other plays written on the subject is that it is neither sentimental in its appeal nor simplified in its approach. It advances the objective candour or a social scientist while presenting a mosaic of diverse attitudes towards religious identity that often plunges the country into inhuman strife. Yet the issue is not moralised, as the demons of communal hatred are located not out on the street but deep within us.

The play moves from the partition to the present day communal riots. It probes into the religious bigotry by examining the attitudes of three generations of a middle-class Gujrati business family, Hardika, the grandmother, is obsessed with her father's murder during the partition turmoil and the betrayal by a Muslim friend, Zarine. Her son, Ramnik Gandhi, is haunted by the knowledge his fortunes were founded on a shop of Zarine's father, which was burnt down by his kinsmen.

Hardika's daughter-in-law, Aruna, lives by the strict code of the Hindu Samskar and the granddaughter, Smita, cannot allow herself a relationship with a Muslim boy. The pulls and counter-pulls of the family are exposed when two Muslim boys, Babban and Javed, seek shelter in their house on being chased by a baying Hindu mob. Babban is a moderate while Javed is an aggressive youth. After a nightlong exchange of judgements and retorts between the characters, tolerance and forgetfulness emerge as the only possible solution of the crisis. Thus, the play becomes a timely reminder of the conflicts raging not only in India but in other parts of the world.


With the screaming, stomping, sinister mob in the background of this high charged interplay, we have a dramatically explosive play on boards….Arvind Gaur pitched and kept the action at a level on high tension. .....Kavita Nagpal (Hindustan Times)

A show not to be missed… What a beautiful play beautifully translated and beautifully directed….The play holds a mirror to the society we live in. ..... ...........Romesh Chander (Hindu)

Something to reflect upon… Asmita production is simple and intense. The play is powerful, the production is intense, the subject difficult, the response good, something you can take home and think about. .............Smita Narula (Pioneer)

Mahesh Dattani's 'Final Solutions' is that rare look at a socio-political problem that defies all final solutions…. Arvind Gaur's competent direction… intense, topical and artistically mounted, Asmita's 'Final Solutions' brought back memories of Habib Tanvir's rendition of 'Jis Lahore nahi Dekhya' and Saeed Mirza's 'Naseem.......................Nikhat Kazmi (Times of India)

Director's Note

'Final Solutions' touches us, and the bitter realities of our lives so closely that it becomes a difficult play to handle for the Indian Director. The past begins top determine the outlook of the present and thus the earlier contradictions re-emerge. No concrete solutions are provided in the play to the problem of communalism but it raises questions on secularism and pseudo secularism. It forces us to look at ourselves in relation to the attitudes that persist in the society.

Since it is an experiment in time and space and relates to memory, it is a play, which involves a lot of introspection on the part of the characters in the play and thus induces similar introspection in the viewers. I have attempted to experiment with the chorus. It has been used in a style, which I would like to call 'realistic stylisation'. The chorus represents the conflicts of the characters. Thus the chorus is a sense is the psycho-physical representation of the characters and also provides the audience with the visual images of the characters' conflicts. There is no stereotyped use of the characterisation of the chorus because communalism has no face, it is an attitude and thus it becomes an image of the characters.

The sets and properties used in the play are simple. This has been done to accentuate the internal conflicts and the subtext of the play. Theatre for 'Asmita' and me is a method of reflection, understanding and debating the contemporary socio-political issues through the process of the play. We hope the play will also have a lasting impact on the audience.


Arvind Gaur who heads the Delhi ,India based Theatre group ASMITA is committed to innovative and socially relevant theatre. Starting off as a journalist and working for sometime for the electronic media, he set up ASMITA and earned a reputation in theatre circle in
Delhi and abroad.

In the past 12 years, he has directed 48 major plays which include Girish Karnad's Tuglaq and Rakt Kalyan, Dharamveer Bharti's Andha Yug, Swadesh deepak's Court
Martial, G P Deshpande's Antim Divas, Albert Camus' Caligula, Mahesh Dattani's Final Solutions and Tara, Eugene O'neill 's Desire Under the Elms, Dario Fo's An
Accidental death of an Anarchist, Dr.Narenda Mohan's Kalandar, Bertolt Brecht's Good Woman of Setzuan and Caucasian chalk circle, Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot, John Octanasek's Romeo Juliet and the darkness, Neil Simon's The Good
Doctor, Vijay tendulakr's Ghairam Kotwal, Munshi Premchand's Moteram ka Satyagrah, Ashok Lal's Ek Mamooli aadmi, Rajesh Kumar's Me Gandhi Bolto ,Vijay Mishra 'sTatt Niranjana, Doodnath Singh's Yama Gatha,
Women in Black ( written & acted by Bubbles Sabharwal) ,Untitled Solo by Lushin dubey, Uday Prakash's Warren Hastings ka Saand, Pinki Virani's Bitter Chocolate,(solo by lushin Dubey) ,

Bhishma Sahani's Madhavi & Manjula Padmanbhan' Hidden Fires ( both solo by actress Rashi Bunny),Walking Through the Rainbow ( joint production with PCVC, solo by Rashi Bunny) & Gandhari ( solo by Aishveryaa Nidhi).

Arvind Gaur has been invited to perform in theatre festivals organized by National School of Drama, (Bharat Rang Mahotsava), Sangeet Natak Akademi, Sahitya Kala Parisad,Nandikar and Vivachana Theatre Festival, Old World Theatre Festival,National School of Drama weekend theatre, Muktibodh Natya Samaroh,World Social Forum and Nehru Centre Festival Mumbai.

Arvind Gaur has conducted many theatre workshops and directed productions in different colleges & schools in Delhi. Such as L.S.R., I.P., Gargi, Jawahar Lal Nehru University, Hindu college,I.I.T.(Delhi), Aditi college, School of Planning and Arhitecture (SPA),Mother International & Sahyadri school Pune, J.Krishnamurti Foundation India. Workshops for children in schools and slums as well as Street
Theatre performances on different socio-political issues organized and conducted by Arvind Gaur are many in number.

He has also conducted theatre workshops for Actors and Directors at Houston, USA and India Habitat centre, New Delhi. He also performed various plays in collobration with culture organizations like Theatre World, British Council ( channai) ,Paridhi, bahroop, Banjara Theatre group (IIT , Khargpur ),Rainbow Cavaliers ,3M Dot Band (Jaipur) , Vivchana (Jabalpur),Prithvi Theatre Festival ( platform theatre IHC ,2004) and NGOs like Mobile Crèches, Action Aid , Haq, PCVC, Deepalaya , Heinrich Boll Foundation ,Asian Social Forum and world social forum.He also design lights for NAYA theatre under the Direction of Shri Habib Tanvir.

Director Arvind Gaur has also collaborated with various Theatre artists and Groups specially in exploring a new language for Solo performances which includes Dario fO's Story of the Tiger ,solo by Jaimini Kumar Srivastava ,'Women in Black' by Bubbles Sabharwal and "Untitled Solo" by Lushin Dubey in collaboration with THEATRE WORLD. Not only have these plays received great audience response from important metropolis of India, "Women in black" was invited to perform in Dubai and "Untitled Solo" was performed in Chicago, Dallas, Washington DC, Boston, Rochester , San francisco, Ohio, stanford, Harvard & Stony Brook Uni. in USA and at the Edinburgh Theatre Festival last year .

"Bitter Chocolate " a new solo by Lushin was also performed at Harvard (USA) & at Nehru Centre, London and Gandhari solo by Aishveryaa Nidhi was recently performed at NIDA theatre , Sydney.

With Rashi Bunny, young actress trained in Theatre design at University of Alabama at Birmingham and Rutgers University, New Jersey, USA. Arvind Gaur Has
directed three solos .Bhishma sahani's" Madhavi ", Manjula Padmanabhan's "Hidden fires " & Walking through the rainbow

Madhavi & Hidden fires has received rave reviews all over and have been invited to perform for Mahindra's OLD WORLD THEATRE FESTIVAL, Vivachana National Theatre
Festival Jabalpur, Muktibodh Natyaotsav raipur, 5th National Theatre Festival Balaghat ,World Social forum Mumbai and National School Of Drama (N.S.D.),
Satta Festival Jaipur, Theatre Club J.N.U., PCVC, and Queen's Award Project
(UK) for Communal Harmony.

Bishma Sahani's MADHAVI ,Solo by Rashi Bunny & directed by Arvind Gaur,received special award for best play in experimentaion with tradition at International Solo Theatre Festival Armenia.

VISIT... www.indiantheatre.blogspot.com

contact: arvindgaur@hotmail.com