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Thursday, March 04, 2021

‘Art cannot exist in a vacuum’: Actor Nakuul Mehta on the poetry special Too Much Democracy

Too Much Democracy, a poetry special written by writer-director Ajay Singh and presented by actor Nakuul Mehta, turns the gaze towards Indian politics and society

Written by Surbhi Gupta |
February 11, 2021 5:30:25 pm
too much democracyNakuul Mehta posted a video reading Love Jahaaz on Instagram, he woke up the next day to over 24,000 comments.

In Too Much Democracy, a poetry special penned by writer-director Ajay Singh and presented by actor Nakuul Mehta, Mare Tum is the last of the 12 poems. “By then we had almost covered everything — from the four pillars of democracy to draconian laws like Love Jihad, and politics of drug addiction in the film industry. If we took on the right-wing in Nafrat ki Vaccine, we also took on the Left and the politics of dynasty in Kaikeyi. All that was left was to speak about people themselves. Mare Tum is a post-apocalyptic poem that considers the scenario of humanity dying and why the planet may be better for it. It’s about the mistakes — social, cultural, environmental — which we made while we were here,” says Singh.

As for Jamhuriyat Begam, where Singh traces the journey of democracy from the French Revolution to the World Wars and its current state, it is the one he enjoyed writing the most. “As a writer, I felt I managed to bring all my interests into one poem,” says Singh, who adds that the most challenging piece to put together was Teesra Khambha, which is based on the “crumbling of the four pillars of democracy”. Singh, in the recent past, has written and directed Amazon Prime’s Shaitaan Haveli and I Don’t Watch TV on Disney Hotstar.

Meanwhile, when Mehta posted a video reading Love Jahaaz on Instagram, he woke up the next day to over 24,000 comments. He had been trolled. “Poetry is about dialogue through art and one looks forward to contrarian points of view but sheer incoherent abuses to the poem gave us even further impetus to respond to them with another poem, Jhund (Herd),” says the actor, known for playing the lead in TV shows Ishaqbaaz, Dil Bole Oberoi, among others.

too much democracy The first poem that Ajay Singh wrote — Giddh — was triggered by “the mass media madness” that followed actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death

“The year 2020 was a ‘too much’ year in every sense,” says Singh. “Everything bizarre that could happen in a single year — politically, culturally, globally — happened last year. With Too Much Democracy, the idea was to document the past year in a half an hour special show, not through stand up comedy or a documentary, but poetry,” he says. The poems were released on YouTube recently by Kommune, a performance art forum.

The first poem that Singh wrote — Giddh — was triggered by “the mass media madness” that followed actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death. “It is about the death of an artist being used by all kinds of vested interests to serve their own agendas, be it the media, politicians, colleagues or even some misguided fans. A toxic environment was created where all rules of law were ignored,” said Singh.

Mehta echoes similar thoughts. “Given how incredulous the past year has been in every which way, one almost felt powerless in so many ways. In some ways, Sushant’s death and the aftermath of that really made us angry,” he said.

When Singh sent Giddh to Mehta, the actor shot it on his phone in the middle of the night, and “without much thought or a strategy”, posted it on Twitter and Instagram. The response that it received, made Mehta ask Singh to write some more.

The 12 poems in Too Much Democracy, says Singh, while standalone pieces themselves, are also part of a whole story. “A lot of people feel we have echoed their thoughts and sentiments. Some have congratulated us for being courageous. But I feel it’s our responsibility as citizens and artists to even dissent with art, with facts, logic and truth,” says Mehta, adding that Viveick Rajagopalan’s sound design and Bharathwaaj Subbu’s cinematic texture made the production “stand out”.

Singh also believes that artistes need to be extra careful these days. “Here is where poetry comes to the rescue. You can talk in symbols and just need to rhyme a little, the rest of the job is done by the listener and the poem itself. In that sense, poetry is quite a legal-proof art,” he says. Mehta adds that he has never felt the need to conform to what is safe, and what a celebrity must or should do. “Art cannot exist in a vacuum. Just like that, we can’t exist without acknowledging everything that’s going on around us,” he says. “As democracy evolves along with the medium of protest, poems also evolve and continue to speak for the times we live in. Poets like Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg have always been at the forefront of political movements. Adam Gondvi and Rahat Indori are as relevant today as they were yesterday,” says Singh.

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