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Memories of theatre

Ever since the Hindi adaptation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night,Piya Behrupiya,was staged at the Globe Theatre last year,its director Atul Kumar has been unstoppable. Taking a break from his hectic calender,he talks about completing 20 years in theatre,his vision for the Kamshet residency and why this is an interesting time for Indian theatre

Written by Alaka Sahani | Published: September 8, 2013 1:22:00 am

What drew you to theatre and made you take it up as a career?,/b>

It all started at St Xavier’s,Delhi. I took part in inter-house play competitions and after winning many medals for acting and direction,I knew this is what I enjoyed more than playing cricket or hockey or even studies. Then,I saw a play at St Stephen’s College — it was the Hindi version of Twelve Angry Men. KK Raina,MK Raina,Anupam Kher,Anu Kapoor,Pankaj Kapur and SM Zaheer were performing. I remember watching Kapur on stage talking about how his son slapped him that morning and how helpless he felt. I cried sitting in the auditorium. Such and many other experiences decided for me that theatre was it.

When did you direct your first play?

Officially,you can say it was The Chairs by Eugene Ionesco. Rajat Kapoor translated the play for me in 1989 and I directed it with young actors from Delhi University and Jawaharlal Nehru University. The most important memory I have of the play is when we used to rehearse in the squash courts of JNU and how every sound echoed well. After I fell in love with my female actor,I realised that’s the tryst I am signing up for. From then on,I fell in love with my female actors.

You have mostly been a director. Acting is something you do only for Rajat Kapoor’s plays.

Although I have worked with other directors,I give my best as an actor with Rajat directing me. The other major director I have worked with is K Madavane in Delhi. I am open to working with any new directors who challenge themselves and my way of working. I would love to work with directors such as Rajiv Krishnan from Chennai,Neel Chaudhary from Delhi,Sankar Venkateshwaran from Kerala,Manish Gandhi from Mumbai,Mohit Takalkar from Pune and Rehaan Engineer.

What about Piya Behrupiya that has worked with the audience?

I had no idea it would work so well with the audience. Yet,they love the dialogues and the translation,and the songs and the music,and its simplicity and fun. It really is the work of Amitosh Nagpal,who translated the play so brilliantly,and Gagan Singh Riar,who gave it music,that is such a hit. It’s all very unbelievable for me. I am more used to doing plays,which a very few select discerning theatre friends like and mostly we have empty seats.

A theatre residency was your long cherished dream. Now that it’s ready in Kamshet,how are you planning to utilise

the space?

I live there to start with and not in Mumbai anymore. Piya Behrupiya and Noises Off were created there. So was Unselfed directed by Sujay Saple. Nearly five other groups have used the space for rehearsals since last March when it opened. We are still hoping to raise more money to make artist cottages so we can give out space to collaborations and other theatre creations.

How do you view the theatre scene in India in general and Mumbai in particular?

Theatre has survived and always will. It has only flourished since the last two-three decades. If you just look at the number of theatre companies in India,they have doubled and tripled in the last 30 years. My plays did three-four shows when I was in Delhi. Now,in Mumbai,my plays run into 150-200 shows.

In the last 20 years,have you yearned to do a certain play?

I want to visit the Mahabharata in some way or the other. It has not happened yet. I will attempt it once I am better equipped in all senses. But then again there are another 15-20 plays,projects and creations that I want to work on right now but have been unable to. One needs more than a lifetime to satisfy a theatrewallah’s appetite.

Atul Kumar’s theatre group,The Company

Theatre,will stage Piya Behrupiya from September 17-22 and Noises Off from September 24-29

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