By Sukant Deepak
New Delhi, Oct 25 (IANSlife) Youngsters across age groups are saying their lines in the adjoining room. Marking their corners, their pitch varies. The words bombard with each other to form a peculiar collage. There is a certain method in madness on the second floor of Friends Public School situated in the serpentine labyrinths of Shakarpur.
Home to theatre director Arvind Gaur’s rehearsal space for the 250 member strong Asmita theatre group, which he founded in the year 1993, the atmosphere is tense as actors get set to prepare for the group’s upcoming play, ‘Godse@Gandhi.com’, written by Asghar Wajahat, which will be staged in the capital in the first week of November and then travel to other parts of the country. Bringing Gandhi and Godse’s ideologies face to face and staging a ‘dialogue’ between the two figures with opposite ideologies, leaving the audience to decide the side with which the way forward stands.
“Gandhi is a very contemporary topic, everybody is talking about him – from politicians to film stars. But what do we actually know about him except for common knowledge. How many of us have actually read him. And what about Godse? The play aims to start a ‘dialogue’, something which assumes significant importance today,” said Gaur.
Insisting that he always chooses scripts, which disturb him at a certain level, the director, who has been active in Delhi’s theatre scene for more than 35 years now says that he believes in socio-political theatre which tries to take up issues around, that appeal and effect him in some way. “Right from ‘Hanush’, ‘Tuglaq’, ‘Jis Lahore Nai Dekhya’, ‘Final Solutions’ to plays by Albert Camus and Dario Fo, I pick up works that emerge from life and are close to the times we live in,” he added.
Insisting that in order to give an impetus to theatre, it was important to form a National Cultural Policy, something several theatre groups have been demanding for years, he elaborates,
“Post-independence, all governments have interpreted culture as per their convenience and used it to their benefit. Considering the fact that India is a multi-cultural society, it is paramount to develop all local cultures and traditions. And not ignore local languages, folk and traditions or make. Leaving alone its regional centres, even after so many years, we have one major theatre centre, the NSD in Delhi as opposed to several IITs and IIMs. Why not develop theatre institutions in regions that do work in their own native language? Why does a student from Kerala, Assam or Punjab needs to come to Delhi, do theatre in Hindi despite the fact that he has a rich tradition in his own language. Wouldn’t this move also lead to decentralisation, less red-tapism and encourage employment. Even in Delhi, for the past five years, the state government despite their tall claims has done little. Accountability, responsibility and transparency are an important part of the policy.”
Opposing the 18 per cent GST on theatre tickets, akin to that on film tickets, Gaur finds the same ridiculous.
“I have appealed to the Delhi state government to at least forgo its own share of nine per cent, but nothing has happened. Asmita and many other groups do not get celebrities and price tickets exorbitantly. We ensure that the lower middle-class and middle class has access to meaningful theatre our tickets go from Re 1 to Rs. 200.”
Talk about the skyrocketing rent of auditoriums in Delhi, which prove to be more expensive than those in Mumbai, and Gaur, who has been concentrating more on street plays in the last one year laments that despite the fact that they got land at throwaway institutional rates, such auditoriums have been increasing rentals at a break-neck speed.
“It has become so difficult to stage plays at places like Kamani and Shri Ram Centre for Performing Arts in Mandi House. Despite appealing to the Delhi government, nothing has happened.”
In times when acting schools have sprung up even in one-room set-ups, Gaur, who has also trained actors like Kangana Ranaut and Sonam Kapoor in his workshops (“Kangana always strived for excellence. I was bowled over by Sonam’s humility.”) dismisses the trend as a “money making enterprise” which seldom provide any insight or adequate training to actors. “People tend to spend two-three lakhs for such courses in the hope that they will land a role in a web-series or film the moment they pass-out. We also train actors, but offer theatre workshops with the aim of absorbing actors in our group. Asmita doesn’t just take their money and give them a certificate.”
The group, which also set up a base in Mumbai with 50 regular actors last year, has also become a place for strugglers there to hone their skills. “Many of them do six-seven hours of regular theatre with us, something they are benefitting from immensely.”
Meanwhile, the actors in the next room are still saying their lines. The debate between Gandhi and Godse rages on.
(Sukant Deepak can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)