With theatre as one of the key themes, the ninth edition of the Mountain Echoes literary festival in Bhutan’s Thimphu, had theatre persons Sanjna Kapoor and Ratna Pathak Shah converse in a session titled “All the World’s a Stage”. Excerpts from the session:
Make Way for Words
Ratna Pathak Shah: In theatre, speech is the crucial skill to acquire, at least the first skill to acquire. I don’t understand people who discard words in theatre. Words are what make theatre interesting. Theatre is about ideas, it’s not so much about emotions. Emotions are only the vehicle on which those ideas are carried. The communication of ideas is what makes the play come alive.
Invasion of the Digital
Sanjna Kapoor: I don’t think the magic of theatre will ever be available on the mobile phone. The act of theatre is that you’re there in a space with performers. It is this communal engagement that is magical and that is the power of being together. What is interesting in India is that the younger generation is coming back to theatre. It is in the urban centres that a greater number is seeking the communal engagement of theatre.
Free to Play
Pathak Shah: I went to a festival in Bikaner last year and was astounded by the number of small theatre groups across the country. That is what is special in India, so far at least. Elsewhere, you need permission to put up a play, book a theatre months in advance and be a part of a guild but in India, four friends get together and say, ‘Chal, let’s read a play and perform’. I don’t want that cottage industry feel of theatre to go away. We’re so keen to become Broadway. Why would you want to become Broadway? It is meant for tourists. I’m all for the excellence it puts across — beautiful productions and lights — but where is the meat? What am I hearing?
No Places to Train?
Pathak Shah: There are no places to train actors. There is traditional theatre, which has systems of training that have developed over centuries and there was commercial theatre, which was borrowing right, left and centre from Western plays and Marathi and Gujarati theatre. This mixed world of theatre made it difficult for anyone to decide how to train actors. So, there was all kinds of ad hoc little things tried at the National School of Drama in Delhi but there was nothing organised. It was tricks that you were learning along the way and I think that’s the worst kind of education for an actor. If one has to go beyond that as an actor, then what does one do?
More than Awards
Pathak Shah: Companies, as part of CSR, would set up award ceremonies for theatre. What is that award going to do? If you are so keen on putting your money, give us theatre and rehearsal spaces. You would do more for the business of theatre that way, than handing out silly awards or making these huge productions. I’m angry at those who put money in the wrong area.