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Saturday, January 18, 2020

Is anybody home?

Theatre director Atul Kumar, a curator of the Serendipity Arts Festival, on its central idea and why less is more

Written by Dipanita Nath | Published: December 13, 2019 12:44:24 am
Is anybody home? Titled Shelter, the installation concept provides participants with an excuse to reflect on how people inhabit the world. It will be showcased in Goa as part of the Serendipity Arts Festival from December 16-22.

Come to Goa, and build yourself a city. For tools, you will have cardboard modules of identical shape and size which, without the need for tape or glue, interlock to create the habitats you want. In Germany, France, Romania and Iran, the constructions have revealed local perspectives and contexts. Titled Shelter, the installation concept provides participants with an excuse to reflect on how people inhabit the world. It will be showcased in Goa as part of the Serendipity Arts Festival from December 16-22.

Shelter also fits into the theme of “home”, which is the leitmotif of the performances and plays that have been curated by veteran theatre practitioners Arundhati Nag and Atul Kumar for the festival this year. Among the other plays are Boy with a Suitcase, an Indo-German production about migration and home, and Bhaagi Hui Ladkiyan, narrated and enacted by young residents of Nizamuddin Basti in Delhi, about their families, issues of trust and consent as well as personal space and gender dynamics. Kumar tells more about the curatorial ideas:

How did you define “home” as you curated the shows for Serendipity?

Home could be a physical or a psychological space that you would like to re-visit or look back at; something you might have lost or reconstructed or you might want to redefine for yourself today. Some of the performances that we have this year are either selected or commissioned around the idea of “Home”. This helped us during discussions of great interest and value with some theatre directors.

Is anybody home? Atul Kumar

What drew you to plays such as Bhaagi Hui Ladkiyan, Photo Copy, Sounding Vanya and Table Radica, which are widely different in aesthetics and storytelling?

It is, firstly, the directors of these plays and their past productions, their overall larger vision as well as these specific productions that I admire deeply. Bhaagi Hui Ladkiyaan, which developed from a smaller piece that I saw during the Gender Bender festival in Bangalore a few years back, morphed into a very emotional and simply performed skilled production enacted by young girls from Nizamuddin Basti in Delhi. Photocopy is a commissioned script about a family and their home in Delhi. It is directed by a very talented actor-writer-director Niketan Sharma, who is an alumni of Drama School Mumbai. The script is an extremely comic yet gritty look at mundane aspects of familial life in a lower middle class family around the death of the patriarch. I found the script to be very well written and have full faith in the mis-en-scene of Niketan, who showed much promise in his previous production Adrak as well. I have enjoyed and admired the work of Amitesh Grover, director of Table Radica, for a very long time. His bending of the idiom of performance in so many new forms is challenging and inspiring to all audiences and practitioners. His works are political as well as inclusive and most times interactive, as they push the established formats in new directions.

This immersive piece has been enjoyed by people whenever it has been performed in Delhi and it is an honour to introduce this kind of work into our festival.

Then, there are some directors whose works we could not include in the last festival and we really wanted to showcase in Goa. Rehaan Engineer (director of Sounding Vanya) is one of them. He was meant to direct a show last year, which was site-specific but we couldn’t give him the space he desired. I have great respect for the fine aesthetics of Rehaan’s theatrical works since the last five or six productions of his. I am really excited to see how he re-interprets a Russian classic with an all-women cast. There aren’t many festivals in India that support such experiments.

One of the plays at the festival is Eidgah ke Jinnat, that unfolds amid the conflict of Kashmir where children get radicalised. Last year, Serendipity showcased a play, A Doubtful Gaze at Uber at Midnight, which satirised the Sardar Patel statue, among other nationalist icons. What drives you to include stories that comment on political powers?

I presume the time has come when we cannot anymore run away or turn our faces from the pressures of the state policy on our lives in all aspects — especially our freedom of speech, expression and control of our creative and critical thought. If all of us artists do not support and promote dissent through art practices, who else will? How many organised festivals around India can boast of taking that stand? Or at least allowing the voice of artists to reach audiences in spite of controversies attached.

Scenes from Bhaagi Hui Ladkiyaan The Serendipity Arts Festival

How different is it to curate plays at an arts festival as opposed to an exclusively theatre event?

An arts festival is a huger entity and although Serendipity is really an open-minded and entirely curator-based festival, its concerns and resources do get distributed over many different disciplines. But I see this more as an advantage since the same audiences get a taste of classical and contemporary art forms over various disciplines in the same festival over a week in hundreds of venues.

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