From the time city-based theatre artiste Abhishek Deshmukh opened his solo play O! Frida in December 2014 till now, he says he has come to know the lead character Frida better. The character is based on Mexican revolutionary painter Mee Magdalena Carmen Frieda, also known as Frida Kahlo, who was known for her self-portraits. The play has been selected for the Alexandria International Theatre Festival of Egypt 2016, to be held from April 5 to 10, wherein O! Frida will be performed on April 7 at 8 pm at Jesuit Cultural Centre. Other countries which will be participating in this festival are Cameroon, Egypt, Georgia, Poland, Italy, Columbia, Sweden and Germany, among others.
The play, written and directed by Deshmukh, is performed by Krutika Deo and is produced by AAIBA Formless, a design studio based in Mumbai. The play shows the journey of Kahlo, who painted her painful emotions through her self-portraits, which went on to became her identity later.
“It is as if Kahlo’s spirit takes the stage and communicates with the audience – leading them through an internalised act of her life, like a kaleidoscope. With each show of the play, my understanding of this great painter is growing. Not just me but the entire team keeps reading and exploring about her and trying to add more facets of her personality to the play,” says Deshmukh.
Deshmukh discovered Kahlo and her journey in mid-2014 during a conversation with a friend who was also a painter. As the friend talked about Frida’s life and times, Deshmukh could see a play unfolding before his eyes.
When he visited libraries and bookstores in search of books on Kahlo’s life, he discovered that the material had been out of stock since 2009. While searching on the internet, he happened to find a weblink that talked about ‘The Diary of Frida’, which was written by Kahlo in the last 10 years of her life. He immediately placed an order for the book, which was not only written in her own handwriting but also had pictures, letters written by her and also paintings made by her.
“She had described important events of her life in great detail – from being diagnosed with polio at the age of three to being a tomboy, and from being bedridden for three years due to a near-fatal accident to the multiple affairs of her muralist husband Diego Rivera. In the book, she describes how and when she began making self-portraits,” he says, adding that what he thinks makes Kahlo great is that she fought all the odds of her life and simultaneously kept honing her skill, eventually excelling in the field.
“Kahlo’s art and her self -portraits excited me and triggered me to write a play and I was thrilled by her paintings and her personal life when I looked at it. There were her paintings, which gave me exuberance to craft a drama about her,” says Deshmukh, who has studied architecture but is now a full-time theatre artiste.
In June last year, O! Frida was staged at the 16th International Youth Theatre Festival Vreme-Vratza, Bulgaria that saw participation from 16 countries.
Deshmukh shares that when the play was originally showcased at the theatre festival titled Going Solo, it was in Marathi, English and Spanish.
However, now, when the group will take the play to Egypt, the content will be English and Spanish, with a bit of Marathi.
“I brought in this change because we will be presenting it for the international audience,” explains Deshmukh, whose directorial theatre works include ‘Doan Goshtee’ and ‘Karve…by the way’. Besides, some of the Marathi plays in which he has acted include ‘Ek Rikami Baju’, ‘Wedding Album’ and ‘The Last Color’, among others.