Quasar Thakore Padamsee reads newspapers, ignores the television, scrolls through current affairs websites and tries not to get angry. Nearly 20 years’ worth of comments have been packed carefully into his theatre, like fists that punch the face of the world or shake it up. Better known in the theatre community as Q, the Mumbai-based director has created his most political and ambitious work yet, Mother Courage and Her Children. Eric Bentley’s 1955 translation of Bertolt Brecht’s play in German has an appendage in Quasar’s adaptation — a tagline that states “Everybody Loves a Good War”. It will be staged as part of Aadyam Theatre Festival in Delhi’s Kamani Auditorium from September 27-29.
Brecht set the play in the Thirty Years’ War, which started in 1618 and was one of the bloodiest religious conflict in Europe. Quasar, 39, turns it into a battle in the sub-continent between two sides that are exactly the same — the Extremists and the Fundamentalists. The central figure, always present on stage, is a woman with three children and a cart full of food, booze and other supplies that she sells to both camps. Quasar says, over phone from a rained-out Mumbai, “She is like, ‘Boss, this is the world, this is war, apun ko jeene ka hai. That’s what I am going to do. I am going to make a living from the war.”
The local train Quasar is travelling by provides a rattling background score that is punctuated by commuter commotion at stops. Quasar goes into a calm analysis of wars that have rejuvenated businesses in many countries. “If you look at history, you’ll see that someone has always gained from any kind of conflict. Someone somewhere is making money hand over fist,” he says.
Fictions based on facts are his staple. Quasar’s first play, when he was still in college, was Inherit the Wind, “about religion versus science”. His second was The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail, about the philosopher Henry David Thoreau, “who inspired Gandhi’s civil disobedience movement”. A Peasant of El Salvador revolved around “the farming community in El Salvador, which is similar to the farming community in India”. “When we did So Many Socks, about three generations of a Tibetan family living in exile in India, we were finding out about their problems and how they grappled with it,” he says. So Many Socks won the Best Supporting Actor (Female) in 2014 for Bhavna Pani, who is part of the cast of Mother Courage.
Quasar used to be fed in the wings as his mother, theatre veteran Dolly Thakore, attended rehearsals and shows. “My mother has a severe case of FOMO. If she misses a play, she feels bad. She used to drag me for performances. I was six or seven and used to go kicking and screaming. But, it created an impact because, I watch about 80-100 plays a year now,” he says.
His triple barrel name is a testament to “identifying as both, my mother’s and my father’s child. Why should you belong to only one in nomenclature?” In his driving licence, in the column for “son of”, he writes his mother’s name. “Not any act of defiance. She is the one who brought me up, all my formative years were with her,” he says.
Quasar learnt on the job with path-bending directors such as Rehan Engineer (“he has a need to get stuff right and pursue excellence”) and Tim Supple, when he was in India for A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 2005-06 (“A large part of the process of how I work is influenced by Tim’s style”). Much later, he produced a play by his father, Alyque Padamsee.
One of Quasar’s most successful initiatives was to bring Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour’s White Rabbit Red Rabbit to India, to be performed by a range of actors. Among those who dared to take up the avant-garde script was the powerful thespian Arundhati Nag. “While I was watching her last year, I said, ‘Bloody hell, she’s good.’ There’s a certain comfort and ease,” says Quasar. It was a no-brainer who should be cast as Mother Courage. Quasar made the phone call.
Nag, who speaks seven languages, talks to her three children in Mother Courage in Tamil, Gujarati, Marathi, and Hindi. “There are 51 characters in the play, enacted by an ensemble of 13 actors,” says Quasar. The other presence is the cart, the symbol of profiteering, which has been designed by Pune sculptor Abir Patwardhan. “There is a lovely line in the play, ‘In business, you ask what price, not what religion’,” says Quasar.