Mandi House irregulars

Mandi House irregulars

It looks so mundane that it’s hard to believe that Mandi House is all about fire. If you don’t burn,you don’t belong. You go out with the spark.

For five fresh graduates of the National School of Drama,the wait in the wings is over. These newcomers are staging their plays alongside the big names at the Bharat Rang Mahotsav

It looks so mundane that it’s hard to believe that Mandi House is all about fire. If you don’t burn,you don’t belong. You go out with the spark. This intense world now has five new members,all graduates of the 2009 batch of the National School of Drama,who are making their first major public appearance at the ongoing Bharat Rang Mahotsav.

Among them,they represent different parts of India—Kumaradad TN is from Kerala,Pravin Kumar Gunjan from Patna,Gaurav Sharma is a Delhi boy,Rajendra Panchal is from Kota,and the only girl in the group,Gagandeep is from Patiala. They say the tired cliché “love for the stage” best describes what they’re doing.

Except Kumaradad who flatly calls theatre “a very big accident”,but now that he’s here,he’ll stay. His life reads like a script — in his 26 years,he’s worked as a construction-site labourer,head loader,painter,caterer,assistant to a film producer,librarian… “I come from a poor family,I had to work if I wanted to study,” he says. He wasn’t planning to use vignettes from his own life but while reading Euripedes’ The Trojan Women,images from his past kept flitting through the pages. “Be it the Illiad to the Mahabharata,every war is always blamed on a woman. Yet,it is always the woman who bears the brunt of war. I’ve worked as a stonebreaker,and even there,women are marginalised. I decided to tell their story,” he says. His play transcribes the whole arc from Manusmriti to Bollywood,with the ideal woman,ideal beauty and ideal goddess standing up to get dissected. “This play is my first child,it might not be the best but I love it,” he adds.


His classmate Gunjan perfectly fits the theatre stereotype—unshaven,brooding and in coordinated dull clothes. “I wasn’t always like this,” he protests. “I was a disciplined guy. But as theatre sucked me in,all those bonds began to break. So,if I look unkempt,it’s because I am too busy with my work.” Work,right now,is the play Andha Yug,a classic that has previously been staged by senior theatre personalities such as Ebrahim Alkazi,M.K. Raina,Ratan Thiyam and Mohan Maharishi. “It is about the last day of the Mahabharata war and is a powerful metaphor about power. There’s a scene where Gandhari asks Krishna that if he’s a superpower,why did he allow the war to happen?” says Gunjan,and gives the answer,“Because if there was no Mahabharata,would there have been a Krishna? If there was no Afghanistan or Iraq,would there have been an America?” Don’t link his dislike for superpowers,he insists,with his growing up in Begusarai,the “Leningrad of Bihar”,a Naxal hub. “I am not a Leftist,I’m progressive because theatre must be progressive,” he adds.

Unlike him,Gagandeep has a soft,dreamy look of a poet. But for poetry,she would have been working in a software firm. “I write poems,I read poems and that’s why I couldn’t fit into the corporate world where I worked after my post-graduation in information technology. All day long,my colleagues would talk about gadgets and focus groups,” she says. Till then,she had never watched a professional play and had no idea that theatre could be a career option. One day,a friend took her to see Nadira Babbar in Begum Jaan in Patiala. “Six months later,I enrolled for post-graduation in theatre in Patiala. The stalwart Balraj Pandit became my mentor. It was totally different world. Every evening,his house would be packed with literateurs,theatre-people and students talking about poetry,drama,philosophies¿” Her parents put their foot down,even hiding her acceptance letter from NSD. “Now,they’ve resigned to it,” she says. Gagandeep’s play The Landweaver is about “something that each one of us must think more seriously about. In the last 10 years,more than two lakh farmers have committed suicide,” she says.

Panchal,too,had never been to a play until he was in his early twenties. Then,in 2002,an arts organisation in Kota organised a theatre workshop and Panchal never returned to his studies. “I began to train with Habib Tanvir. In Kota,I did plays with beggars,juveniles and prisoners,” he says. “I would not rest until I brought theatre to Kota,which has several classical music festivals but almost nothing of theatre.” Last year,he organised the first Parafin Theatre Festival,named after his group. “The first step has been taken,” he says with satisfaction. In his two years in Delhi for the NSD course,Panchal has picked up Hindi but even now,he says that he cannot do Hindi dialogues on stage. As a result was born Panchal’s signature in theatre — in which actors are silent or talk in gibberish and all communication is through objects. In his play When I was a Child,one scene shows a child playing with his friends. His mother walks up to him and hands him his schoolbag; silently,the boy unzips the bag and out falls hundreds of locks. The child leaves the playground and sits at his study-table,engrossed in the locks strewn around.

Sharma,29,says he’s caught in a cycle that makes no sense. “I know that it is very difficult to change society through theatre,but we keep trying to do it anyway.” A badminton player who entered the Zakir Hussain College on a sports quota,he was in the canteen when a friend asked if he’d be interested in acting in a campus production. “I said yes immediately,” says Sharma. “I had a Bollywood concept of acting. Never had I imagined that I’d stay awake reading and researching my characters.” He refers to himself as a freak who creates languages in terms of visual and aural performances. His play Rang Abhang switches between the scenic to the sonic as it talks of backstage politics and caste hierarchy in theatre through the story of a Dalit tamasha artist who becomes a prompter.

The stage,too,changes swiftly from overstuffed to completely bare. “I’m still a child in many ways. I draw like a child. I don’t want to be a codified man because children can say things much better than professionals,” he says. Take a bow.

Download the Indian Express apps for iPhone, iPad or Android