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Death of Theatre’s Soul

Ruchika Sharma for BeyondHeadlines

I have been part of a play called AURANGZEB, which is play in hindustani and all through February and March we have been performing it in Delhi, and elsewhere. I play Mousiqui (personify music) who is figment of his imagination but he has supposedly killed it, along with many more people to come to power and then to consolidate it.

One of the shows was staged at National School of Drama (NSD) and after my show this gentleman came up to me, in very polite words praised my performance and asked for my number. The next day, which was Sunday morning while still in my Kathak riyaaz, I began getting incessant calls from his number.

Death of Theatre's Soul

That’s when i saw a message from one of my co-actors at Aurangzeb, Imran Raza saying that this Mr. Quraishi has also spoken to him that I should call him back. When I called Mr. Quraishi, he told me he is from IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association) Delhi chapter and that he is also doing a period play and that he would like me to be a part of it, because they wanted somebody with Urdu pronunciation etc. And then it turned out that he was also an old Stephanian, one of those wonderful bonds for anyone who has been a part of same institution.

Now for me, IPTA has a very political meaning, they were a theatre of resistance and voice of the oppressed. I related it with Balraj Sahni, Utpal Dutt, Prithviraj Kapoor etc. All of those were committed to their causes, but more importantly to the cause of theatre of and for people. Here was a play that was too commercial, with huge fundings but i was told categorically that we are an apolitical group, so says their brochure and so did Pheorze Vincent’s brutally honest review of their last play! I am not even going into the problems i had with the play as a historian and as somebody who is a feminist. I began working on the play as double cast, which meant I was to do half the shows along with another actor.

I started rehearsing from 24th February, travelling diligently from Kamala Nehru college where i teach or from my home in South West Delhi to CP, Shankar Market. I worked with both the double cast lead actors, as there was no double casting for me for a long time.

I also after tedious college festival days was requested to join rehearsals because except for me, everyone had two actors coming alternately.

Somewhere around 7th of March i was informed that a senior person would be double casting with me, but which days and how many shows i’ll get, will be decided later on. So i continued to go for rehearsals, memorize my difficult persianised lines, spent 2-3 hours of evenings rehearsing. Till then i was introduced to half of the theatre going people as somebody who was to play a certain important role and i am sure i too was working at it. Then the other actor joined us around 20th of march, with the shows to held in first few days of April.

I realized by 24th march that something was amiss, i didn’t get to do the run through at all and that most of the double casting actors had backed off. And that’s when i confronted Mr. Quraishi on 27th March, and he said yes, he will see my scene and that i should keep working on it. That same evening i’d reached the rehearsal space by about 4 and was there till 8 and when i had the chance to perform, Mr. director ran off to an old stephanin gathering. Oh the irony of it was too much! Two of his assistants for his chores said that yes, i could perform and that they would see and inform him.

I was too angry but i went back home and called him next morning. He said that the show would run for about a year and a half and that if i looked past this bad episode, he would like to work with me in future. I told him i love my self-respect, and i would never work with him again. Then he said that i am a very dedicated and good actor but not as good as the other one (who is definitely much more experienced, but duh how do i get experience, by performing).

Also, he told me that i was always informed that i was in double casting, i reminded him that i never thought it meant having a spare actor in reserve. And then after this, more than a month of time, effort, energy, fuel, and self-respect was spent on something that does use new/young actors as spares! I was given a cheque of three thousand rupees, for a production which has ICCR’s funding, used multi-media and expensive lights and everything IPTA’s spirit did not stand for. I thought of returning the cheque, but was advised against it, for i was un-organised labour who could always be behaved badly to, a young artist who has no medium to be heard and no one to go to. Also, i don’t think it would have meant anything to them, if my dedication, time, efforts did not!

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