National Award,Inshallah Football,Ashvin Kumar,Film on Social CauseSkeletons in the King’s Cupboard

Deepan Sivaraman and final-year NSD students create a country where human rights have been suspended. Even the audience is captive inside this macabre land.

Written by Dipanita Nath | Published: May 8, 2012 2:38:34 am

Deepan Sivaraman and final-year NSD students create a country where human rights have been suspended. Even the audience is captive inside this macabre land.

Deepan Sivaraman strides through the corridors of the National School of Drama (NSD) in Mandi House,ignores the sunset,the breeze and the cuckoo songs from the mango trees,and stops only when he spots a row of skeletons hanging in the main lawn. “On the final day,we will set these on fire,” he says,smiling. The skeletons,created from tangled wire and faux bones,are among the protagonists of Sivaraman’s new play,an adaptation of Ubu Roi,which he is directing for the final-year students of NSD.

Ubu Roi is a 110-year-old anarchist text in which French playwright Alfred Jarry satirises political power,greed and exploitation. To this,Sivaraman has added his own dystopian touch by sprinkling references of dynastic politics,corruption and coups. “The central protagonist,President Ubu Roi,is very fat; he can eat as much as the rest of the society put together. It’s a way of linking corpulence with corruption,” says Sivaraman,a Charles Wallace Scholar who teaches at Wimbledon College of Arts in the UK.

Ubu Roi does what all tyrants do — he suspends human rights to retain power. This is where the audience also becomes a part of the action. The 1.30-hour-long play is not performed in a typical auditorium; instead,Sivaraman and his team have transformed the lawn into a “concentration camp” lined with electric wires,where rows of bulbs shine upon the audience seats. Fences demarcate the performance space and police on motorcycles roam among the audience. “Once the audience enters,the gates will be shut and,even if people are bored,they cannot leave,” says Sivaraman. “That’s how it feels when one’s movements are curtailed. I don’t want people to only understand a play,I want them to experience it in a way that the message goes right into them,” he adds.

On “stage”,all dissidents are hanged by Ubu Roi — the skeletons represent rebel poets,painters and journalists among others. Bones aren’t the only playthings in Sivaraman’s morbid toyhouse. In Spinal Cord (which won multiple honours at the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards in 2010),the director had the mother of a murdered man dragging a puppet through the night and,in Peer Gynt (staged at the Bharat Rang Mahotsav in 2012),he used beeping hearts,bandaged bodies and mechanised puppets of abandoned brides. In Ubu Roi,there are bicycles that represent raw power wielded by the rich and the ruthless. “I am interested in machines,especially cyborgs (a being with mechanical and organic parts). I believe that the distance between human and machine is beginning to narrow and ‘machine beings’ may already be in existence,” he says.

The play will be held at NSD from
May 14 to 21. Contact: 23382821

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