After Bangalore-based MD Pallavi finished her play, C Sharp C Blunt, in Delhi last week, a famous dancer met her backstage and said, “You were so good that, for a moment, it crossed my mind that I should give up performing.” Pallavi, 35, also won over the jury for the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards (META) and took home prizes for Best Actor (Female), Best Original Script (with co-writers Sophia Stepf, Swar Thounaojam and Irawati Karnik) and Best Innovative Sound-Music Design (with Stepf and Nikhil Nagaraj). Excerpts from an interview:
C Sharp C Blunt is an unusual play, especially because you play a mobile app.
This play centres around Shilpa, an attractive mobile phone app. She is created using the latest technology, and will sing for the audience. They decide the song, the voice she should sing in — from sugary and sexy — and she can also shake her hips. Best of all, she behaves the way men expect women to. Since it is a solo show, I play Shilpa as well as the three elements that make her up — mind, body and voice. The mind is the programmer, the body is the actor, and the voice is the singer. Each of them has a story — the programmer quits Shilpa to design a game, the singer is battling pressures to get married and the actor has to field questions about working out late.
In the second half, the app begins to malfunction.
Not only the app, each character begins to malfunction. Social conditioning happens just the way an app is created. When the audience “uses” Shilpa, there is a discomfort arising from “using” the female. Then, the app gets upgraded and something goes wrong — it will not obey all commands. We were sure we did not want an angry play, so we kept the mood humourous.
Was the production autobiographical in any way?
There is a scene in which a singer is being made to sing lewd songs. A few years ago, something like this had happened to me. A producer had, bit by bit, tweaked my voice to how he wanted it to be.
How did you construct the play?
It is a collaboration between me and Sophia Stepf, who is based in Germany. When she proposed the idea of a play that used looping software that are common in electronic music performances and explore the lives of women in showbiz, I decided to try it out. For almost a year, we were only putting ideas in a Dropbox. When Irawati Karnik and Swar Thounaojam came on board, we had a 20-day workshop and the final structure was created. Rehearsals began last year.
Tell us about your background in theatre and music.
I belong to a family of artistes, with painters, actors and musicians. I couldn’t have done anything else. I began to lean Hindustani music when I was five, I began acting before I can remember. I am married to a drummer so emotion and passion rule our lives. Like all artistes, I am not normal and, thankfully, my family is like that. Once, we performed a street play in the rain with only two people, both with umbrellas, watching. The street was empty except for us because my grandfather said, “The two people have watched half the play, so we must finish it.” The motto we live by is that the show must go on.