Nandikar, our theatre group, is 58 years old – we have produced 80 plays and had nearly 8,500 performances since the group’s inception in 1960. Things have changed so much in all these years, and our team has a bunch of talented, sharp, young actors who have been taught to think independently.
And because we allow them to think independently, it is impossible to impose on them classics and old texts that have no relevance today, nor plays with strong political statements that are insincere and staged only because they will sell. For me, and for all of us at Nandikar, theatre must entertain people. “Entertainment” is essential. The young people these days are watching web series, and we must create something that makes a production appealing to them as well.
There are actors in my group who play drums, who perform fascinating stunts and they put in a lot of effort to do these acts. They learn these skills and that makes the performances stunning. Panchajanya has been appreciated a lot not only because it raises questions about destiny, commitment to human values, whether war can bring peace and so on, but also because it is a visual, fascinating treat that is thoroughly entertaining.
The space where we stage plays – the theatre halls, stage, seats – are in very poor condition. There is little parking space around theatre halls. To attract people to theatre halls that are in such condition is difficult in the first place. Think of it in terms of the fact that these same people are spending time in AC shopping malls where hundreds of cars can be parked for hours. Therefore, the plays that we stage must have the appeal to draw them in a way they will ignore those constraints. The younger audience can adjust, but it is difficult for the middle aged and elderly people to visit such theatre halls.
Despite such constraints however, we are also trying to stage new plays by using the talent of these young women and men who are part of our team, instead of remaking or reviving old classics. We are rehearsing now for our new play, Manush, taken from a story written by Prafulla Roy – which is a simple, lyrical story that raises questions of the accountability and responsibilities of human beings. We are also preparing for two more plays – Mrito Kobider Upotyoka and Bishaad Periye. Mrito Kobider Upotyoka is taken from the story of Dead Poets Society, the script written by Saptarshi (Moulik).
The members of our team are asked to be strictly disciplined – no smoking or drinking is allowed. I have seen terrible indiscipline in green rooms during the National Theatre Festival that Nandikar organises. Such indiscipline cannot make good, dedicated actors.
For us at Nandikar, there is also a regular, healthy exchange of ideas. Our members could have done well exceptionally well in any other profession too. It is wrong to think that only losers end up doing theatre. There are graduates in Physics, IIT graduates working with us. They are pooling in their own money to build an institute of Nandikar.
Apart from restrictions on smoking and drinking, there are hardly any rules. Each one is learning from the others. That freedom of thought, exchange of ideas is very essential for attracting young people who can work so selflessly in a theatre group. For them, the art is the most important.
While they aren’t attached to money and are doing theatre for the love of it, it is also important to remember that as a team leader, you can’t make them do anything without making it convincing for them. Therefore, it’s a reward as well as a huge challenge.
[Photographs of Panchajanya: Nandikar website]