EVERY year, for seven days, all the roads in Begusarai, a small town that came under the spotlight this election for an interesting ideological battle between Giriraj Singh and Kanhaiya Kumar, lead to Rang-e-Mahaul — a theatre festival that brings some of the best productions from across the country to theatre lovers. “Cinema halls and markets remain empty, as people pay Rs 20 as ticket price to be part of every show. It is a festival we have built with our commitment to establish a culture of theatre and create audiences, play by play,” says Pravin Kumar Gunjan, theatre director and founder of the group, The Fact Rangmandal.
Gunjan says that the success and popularity of Rang-e-Mahaul, which began in 2012, is testimony to the fact that people will support and appreciate theatre which connects them with what they experience around them — politically, socially, economically — and what resonates their concerns and is not divorced from reality. The festival, shares 43-year-old Gunjan, who trained in design and direction from the National School of Drama, New Delhi (2009), brings landmark productions which break established norms and conventions, with both established and upcoming directors as part of the effort that celebrates the artform and its large impact on people. “The core of the festival is not entertainment but establishing links with theatre fraternity and practitioners. It validates my decision and work to come back home from NSD, present for the people and be connected with my roots.
The effort is also to take the theatre I believe in to small cities of the country,” shares Gunjan, who is in Chandigarh to perform as part of a theatre festival, Theatre For Theatre Festival.
Known as a visionary director and designer, with a post-modern approach in theatre, Gunjan received the Bismillah Khan Yuva Samman in 2011 by Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi for theatre direction and the prestigious Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Award for directing the play, Samjhouta, and has many Indian and western classic theatre productions to his credit.
Gunjan’s journey with theatre began way back in 1994, when he, along with 15 people, established a theatre group and in Patna for four years. “It was complete junoon, as I felt free on stage as an actor, meeting and understanding the pulse of the people. As we grew with every play, some of the members from our group began to head to NSD, some taking even seven attempts to get in. I, too, wanted to explore a bigger world outside Bihar and appeared for the exam, among the few from the Hindi speaking belt, and got through in the first attempt. My theatre background gave me confidence. The institution and its teachers gave my art a new vision, depth, understanding, world exposure, as I understood theatre beyond the confines of my rural background,” recalls Gunjan. It’s here that he had the chance to work on his weaknesses, with individual focus refining his practice and the training of technology in theatre enhancing his vision, as it opened a world of possibilities.
It was the powerful Andha Yug by Dharamvir Bharti that Gunjan chose to present as his final student production, which was highly appreciated. He says that the decision to return to Bihar and not stay on in Delhi or move to Mumbai was a conscious one. He didn’t want to get lost like many other talented people had, but instead, create a platform for gifted theatre people and audiences alike. The director says he knew that he didn’t want a career with theatre, but an emotional relationship with it. “With the support of the NSD, the first play we staged was Macbeth and then there was no looking back as his next production, The Fact Rangmandal, was accepted with love and respect,” recalls the director, whose productions such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Man Without Shadow, Media, The Exception And The Rule, Hanush, Rashomon, Final Solution, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Gabarghichor, Raktkarbi, Andha Yug, Dakghar, Romeo Juliet, and Journey For Freedom have been staged in different festivals around the country and abroad.
A minimalistic practitioner, for Gunjan, the actor is the centre of his process, as he works extensively for more than two years to stage a production, rejecting many initial ideas to probe new and novel ways to say things. Live music, poetry, stories, Gunjan says that his plays talk of political, social issues, problems of people, for he wants people to question, think, probe and understand the intricacies of politics and religion. “I am a politically aware and active person, not afraid to express and share my point of view about the state of affairs, look at theatre with new eyes and deep down, we hope it can bring change, however small. If theatre gets established, then we all will and grow with the people,” concludes Gunjan.