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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Stitching Together Drama

Puja Sarup and Sheena Khalid, founders of Patchwork Ensemble, are opening their new play It’s About Time in Mumbai today.

Written by Alaka Sahani |
Updated: December 3, 2016 5:57:34 am
theatre, Bunraku puppet workshop, Mumbai-based theatre artistes, Puja Sarup, Sheena Khalid, puppet artistes, art and culture, indian express news Puja Sarup and Sheena Khalid in Mumbai. (Source: Express Photo by Pradip Das.)

IT was during a Bunraku puppet workshop in 2011 that Mumbai-based theatre artistes Puja Sarup and Sheena Khalid worked together, on an improv, for the first time. Realising that they had perfect coordination between them to manipulate the puppets’ movements, they discovered the possibility of collaborating for future projects. This, however, had to wait till Sarup and Khalid completed their studies at Helikos International School of Theatre, Italy, and London International School of Performing Arts, respectively.

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Three years later, back in their hometown Mumbai, it took them one brief meeting to work out their vision and plan their outfit Patchwork Ensemble. “We were at the same wavelength and thought of creating theatre pieces together. Our vision further strengthened when we joined the first batch of SMART course (a theatre management programme),” recalls Khalid. In December 2014, Patchwork Ensemble made its debut with Ila at the annual Centrestage theatre festival of the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA), Mumbai. This year, they return to Centrestage with It’s About Time, which premieres today.

The production features both the artistes along with actor Neil Bhoopalam. “The play explores the life cycles and the concept of time. We are fascinated with how the perception of ‘time’ changes for different creatures. A housefly would look at time differently compared to a tree. We three are developing the play together, directing it as well as acting in it,” says Sarup, who confesses that such a method of doing theatre can be quite gruelling.

So far, Patchwork Ensemble has not worked with a “regular” script. While Ila borrows the essence of gender fluidity from Devdutt Patnaik’s The Pregnant King, their second, The Gentlemen’s Club aka Tape, showcases vignettes of the fascinating world of drag kings.

In Ila, the narrative revolves around a king who alternates between being a woman and man with each lunar cycle, even as it brings in the quirkiness of one of the ladies’ compartments in Mumbai trains that allows men to travel late at night. “When we asked theatre actors to work with us, we were convinced that only two-three people will turn up. We were overwhelmed with the number of theatre people who showed up,” says Khalid.

What made Ila exciting, apart from its content, is that Sarup and Khalid decided to act more as “facilitators”, nudging actors to develop the scenes. “It was a very collaborative and rewarding process,” says Sarup. For the first-time directors, the theatre fraternity extended its support when it came to dealing with the nitty-gritties of production, such as getting a censor certificate and setting up the venue. The show, which features well-known theatre artistes, including Mukul Chadda, Rachel D’Souza, Mukti Mohan and Shruti Vyas, was a success and continues to be a crowd-puller.

With their second play, they pushed the boundaries a bit more. The Gentlemen’s Club aka Tape is an insightful and exuberant look at drag kings — who are women and perform as men — through their gigs at an imaginary underground club. “Tape does not follow a particular story. Instead, it strings together a series of vignettes. We thought of doing away with the story and made it more about the experience,” says Sarup. She appears in a series of drag king avatars, including that of Shamsher, whose gigs are inspired by Shammi Kapoor. With her androgynous look, Khalid, dresses in sharp suits and boots, and does justice to her character Alex, which is influenced by musician Justin Timberlake. And her Begum Fida avatar, dressed in a shimmering black gown and stilettos, is a hoot. These characters emerged from the people they have encountered and the brainstorming sessions they had with the actors. The script that developed from these exercises was written by Vikram Phukan.

Even as they plan their future projects, the duo is confident of continuing with their method of creating theatre pieces — collaborative and devised. “This decision even reflects in our group’s name. Patchwork Ensemble is an endeavour to bring together different kinds of artistes and their style to create something new, just like traditional patchwork or embroidery. However, it will still retain the individual styles of our collaborators,” says Khalid.

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