Tuesday, July 9, 2013

An Artistic Journey

The theatre doyen explains the process of creating a play with examples of her renowned play Hamidabaichi Kothi. Some excerpts --

Great theatre directors are moulded by their experience as seen in the case of playwright, director and theatre doyen Vijayabai Mehta. In an interview at the programme Samhita Te Natyaprayog - Ek Kalapravaas (Script to staging - an artistic journey) on Saturday, Vijayabai revealed the art and science of the theatre. At the start, she made it clear that all her observations were her opinions formed out of experience and not universal philosophies.

She said, "The journey began when I was 21 and is still going on. This journey requires a sense of companionship and also collaboration. I was lucky to get to work with people with similar sensibilities. Pitching your art to the right audience is also important."

Vijayabai then explained the process of creation in a step by step manner.

Concept and Filters

"All art forms are like morning tea. You take tea leaves; you add water, milk, sugar and boil it. What you have now is life and once you filter it to weed out unnecessary things, what you have left is art. In art forms these filters come at several levels. The first is the director, who interprets the script. Then, the rehearsals start and every actor adds his own filter. Then the music, set, properties, light -- every department adds a filter. Finally, the audience views the play with their own filters. That is when it becomes an art form -- when the creator takes an element from society, refines it and gives it back."

Citing Hamidabaichi Kothi, Vijayabai said, "Anil Barve (the writer) came to me with the concept. He had met a girl, Shabbo, on a train. Her mother was a traditional kothi singer who had refused to teach her the dying art. Anil went to Mumbai in search of such a woman. Although he didn't find one, he came across interesting characters that became part of the play."

Vijayabai said, "I asked my mother-in-law, Durga Khote, about the era when the business of the kothis began to dwindle thanks to film music and records. She told me about a lady, Neelambai (a kothi singer), whom she knew as the person who brought Nargis' mother into the film industry. To my surprise, this Neelambai turned out to be the same lady whose daughter Anil had met on the train. Anil named the lady Hamidabai and I decided to call the play Hamidabaichi Kothi. In the lead role would be the music, second lead the kothi, third character would be Hamidabai and then all the wacky characters from Anil's journey."

Collaboration and growth

"Now I had to decide m what form the play should be presented. Every playwright had a particular style -- Vijay Tendulkar had a journalistic approach, Dalvi an involved way of expressing in his work. For me, Hamidabaichi Kothi had to be a melodrama. Melodrama means something beyond real, overwhelming, but not fake. It meant taking a particular moment and lingering over it to contain the emotions."

"For the music, I discussed with Bhaskar Chandavarkar. He procured the earliest recorded ghazals, showed them to me and told me, "The ball is in your court." DG Godse worked on the set and costumes. Ten days later, he came to me with fabric samples for every character and a plan for the set. He said, "Deviji, the walls of the kothi will be greenish and 60 years old." Yes, the place too had a character. He found one of those large thaals used in community dining, which helped me write a scene including it. Now the concept had started to shape up and the characters were set. That is where the role of the director becomes crucial."

Acting and the director

Vijayabai's direction style is suggestive: Instead of telling actors what to do, she aids them in arriving at the right place. She gives the example of Sattar's character played by Nana Patekar. "We all know how Nana is naturally. He couldn't find Sattar's morose, vulnerable, pitiful body language. So I made him improvise on a scene wherein he had to run some errands for Hamidabai while in constant fear of her finding out about his other business. While he was into that, he found Sattar's neck. Then he found Sattar's shoulders and slowly, he found Sattar's voice. What happened next, we all know," she added.

"For an actor, it is important to keep searching for the character. An actor has four identities -- one of himself, the second is the character written by the writer, the third the identity which observes how the first is adapting to the second and the fourth identity supervises the other three. The fourth identity is the art in you. And one thing every actor should remember, something Stanislavski said - "Always respect the art in you, not you in the art." Because once you are proud of yourself, that curiosity and the will to search subside."

Theatre: as it is today

"I belong to the renaissance period in theatre and today, the situation is not the same. There are theories that revolutions are a cycle and skip a generation or two. I hope there is another renaissance soon. Today, there are a lot of training institutes that teach the craft, but those can only take you so far. The trick is not in knowing what to do; but knowing when to apply a particular skill. Practice and perseverance are two virtues young artists should cherish. They should strive to bring something new to the table and try to stretch the limits," she added.

Vijayabai concluded the programme with a quote by Picasso: "All art, including theatre is the greatest lie ever. But it is this great lie which can take you closest to the eternal truth."

Published in DNA (Pune) on July 8, 2013

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