By Sukant Deepak
New Delhi, Apr 9 (IANS): Lamenting that Indian theatre is just not ready to push boundaries, theatre director Mohit Takalkar, whose production 'Hunkaro' won seven awards at the recently concluded Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards (META) curated by Teamwork Arts in the capital, tells IANS: "Being average has become more popular than doing something different. Why are we not taking more risks when it comes to writing, stage making, and design? Imagine, for many, the role of a scenographer in theatre-making is completely dispensable."
'Hunkaro', a devised production in Marwari, Hindi, Awadhi, and Haryanvi, which swept in the categories including Best Director, Stage Design, Light Design, Costume Design, Production, Ensemble, and Original Script was conceived during the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The idea of the piece came into existence with the disturbing realisation that the pandemic had reduced not only the attention span of people but also the capacity and need to listen. Since Lockdown, there is an insatiable hunger to consume visuals and noise which leaves very little to no room for listening. And if there is no listening, Hunkaro cannot exist.
"But are we ready to listen? It is said that listening is an art, so just like many other art forms, is this one too losing its beauty and necessity? But the world lives on hope and indeed, hope is the thread that binds this performance. The performance, while laying a strong emphasis on the beauty of the Rajasthani language, does talk about the aesthetic value of languages as a whole, the importance of the uttered word as well as the art of listening. Keeping 'Psychophysical acting' at the core of the performance, the actors are challenged to speak with the unison of mind and body, at times expressing themselves through tone and body, and sometimes in a dead no-tone. The piece is replete with songs which come from the centennials old Maanganiyaar tradition but avoids musical instruments, once again underlining the power of the spoken and sung word," the director says.
Takalkar is optimistic that the many awards will be instrumental in encouraging the young actors who were part of the production. "For the group, when we started, we didn't even think we had a play in our hands, just an exploration in our minds. So considering that, it is really special that it is getting so much attention," he adds about the play based on stories by Vijaedan Detha, Chirag Khandelwal, and Arvind Charan.
The director, admitting that there was a time when he would treat the text as a Bible and follow it to the T', says at one stage he realised that a performance script is something completely different, and there was a particular challenge and satisfaction in working on that. "Take the example of this play. The actors were the biggest point to rely on. Owing to the pandemic and what people suffered, there was so much to share. The raw emotion was the biggest material of the piece and after a long time the focus was only on the actors and their bodies along with their speech, so it was an enriching experience."
Important the themes he chooses are contemporary and situations relatable, Takalkar, who received the Charles Wallace scholarship which enabled him to pursue his Masters's degree in Theatre Practice from the University of Exeter (UK) in the year 2010 under the guidance of Phillip Zarrill, enrolled in formal theatre education quite late in his professional life. The director did not come through the 'inter-college circuit' and for a long time did not understand the concept of formal education.
"Everyone in the group decided to go out for a year and come back. That is how I applied to the master's programme with half a mind. And it was a different world altogether. What I experienced changed my perspective. Also, coming from a background of Marathi theatre; we had very clear descriptions of what theatre was and was not, something that changed for me. I saw a lot of dance, and art and attended music concerts that changed the way I looked at things and my practice metamorphosed," says the director who co-founded the Aasakta Kalamanch in 2003 and has directed more than 30 experimental plays in Marathi, Hindi, Urdu, Kannada, Marwari, and English languages.
Also, a filmmaker ('The Bright Day' and 'Medium Spicy'), he feels that when it comes to indie cinema and content being made for OTT, while things are looking up, makers still have to conform to certain aspects and there is no 'independence' in the true sense of the word. "The saleability aspect is still very high, and I do not see that changing very soon. Look at thrillers on digital platforms. Even in that genre, makers are not willing to touch newer aspects."
Takalkar, who lives with bipolar disorder and has been quite vocal about it stresses that while he does not wear it on the sleeve, but it is important for him to speak about it. " It is an everyday struggle... For the longest time, I used to hide it for obvious reasons, but it fuels my art and the way I look at things, and the way I lead my life. And that raw energy, I must acknowledge."
Jay Shah, Vice-President, Head - Cultural Outreach, at Mahindra Group adds, "At META, each production represented a distinctive topic with its unique way of presentation. Overall the 18th edition of the festival was a veritable feast for the senses covering various topics of social relevance. It is a true representation of Mahindra Group's commitment to this essential art form."