Shubhrastha(S) - Each of your plays right from Nati Binodini to Seventeenth July violently engage with the political canvas of the last decade. As an artist why does politics intrigue you so much?
The Left front had come to power in 1978. Meanwhile, I was absconding for six years. My years with NSD and National School of Arts were punctuated with a strong sense of engagement with the world. There was politics everywhere and I wanted to dabble in it, as if I had been sucked into politics willingly and never wanted to escape from it. There were all sorts of people I met, all sorts of discoveries I made. For example, the plane which carried the then Indian and Chinese premier at the princess of Kashmir's behest crashed. Everyone except these two were saved. Was it innocence? It was difficult to remain immune to the touch of politics. I am sensitive to what I see and discover, you could say.
S - How did the journey to Circle Theatre happen? Did you always want to direct?
BB - (smiling) See, it does not happen this way. One play and then plan for the next - no, it does not happen like that. When I created Nati Binodini, people everywhere just trashed it on face. But J.N. Kaushal who rejected it at first later suggested me to promote the same. Later, the play was staged as a tribute to the nation.
Similarly, the production of Dilli Challo was stopped despite 13 state governments agreeing to sponsor it. Later on, the play inaugurated the first Bharat Ranga Mahotsava. With time I learnt that every time I wanted to do something, there were hiccups. My own teachers, fellow artists were bitter. Instead of communication and exchange, I saw bitter altercations welcoming and trashing me at the same time. So, Circle theatre happened as a response, as a release. It was an answer to my own self and struggle.
S - Your plays very intelligently and creatively interlace real life events with theatrical devices and innovations. You borrow from the western and the Indian tradition, so you have Julius Caeser ke Aakhiri Saat Din and Socrates with ParamPurush and Pratham Parth. What is your agenda? Is it to please everyone everywhere? Or are you trying to be democratic in your approach?
BB - Main har sanskritik virasat ka malik hun. Ye cultural barrier tod dunga taaki log jud saken. (I am the master of all cultural tradition. I shall break this cultural barrier.) See, without people no art can exist. And I want to grow with people. If I do theatre in isolation for my own sense of gratification, and if one does not understand and make people understand, intellectual capability is a waste.
So, yes, I want to associate with people - everywhere. And no nationality, no tradition, no literature, no culture will or can bar me. Jis sector mein problem hai main wahan jaunga. ( I shall go to any sector that has problems.) I don't believe in fanatic appropriation of art as 'Indian' or Chinese' or 'English' etc. Art is for people to consume and produce and I will go anywhere and everywhere to search for it and create it.
Turup ka Patta is about the American administration during Bill Clinton's regime. Its production was stopped in want of good quality actors.
Sanyasi ki Talwar is about resurrecting Indian history and the story around freedom struggle. It focuses on the role of Hindu saints and Muslim fakirs as an opposition force to the Imperial power. We were literally gheraoed. Post three shows, the production had to be stopped.
Socrates picks on the emergency days in its construction. It was produced post Godhra carnage. Mayawati government had come to power for the first time. The trial scene tries to capture Godhra, the rest builds on that parliamentary culture where MLAs are physically manhandled. The symbolism of Tilak and Trishul are deliberate.
Julius Caeser is an unfinished project by Bertolt Bretcht. My adaptation is rooted in that time when America attacks Kuwait. In the name of democracy, autocracy has free reign.
Pratham Parth brings out the neglected story of Karna in Mahabharata. Every time I see a child being neglected by busy parents, I feel a pang. We have developed a culture of distracting children rather than engaging them. We make false promises that we never fulfill. The play is sensitive towards childhood and the need to save it from being spoilt. If you don't do this, you might just destroy childhood forever for something largely destructive. The play is situated at a time when 26/11 happened, the parliament was attacked. It is for the audience to draw parallels.
Param Purush is about Ram Krishna Paramhamsa. But it is far from being religious. Ramakrishna practiced Islam, tantra sadhna, Christianity, yoga, teachings of Guru Nanak. This play echoes the concerns of 26/11 and the global atmosphere of high religious intolerance.
The plays I produce are about stirring this faculty of relation and correlation in the readers. They are meant to make the audience think and ponder, introspect and intervene.
S - Why did you choose the name circle theatre for your brain child? And why do you call it the theatre of cerebral excellence?
BB - (shuffles his pocket for a brochure and asks me to peep into it. Pointing deftly to the symbol?) Life is a circle. The white and red colours are colours of sweat and blood. And you see, if you go back to the Greek theatrical history, the circles suggest the seating arrangement then. So, I think I am just collecting and collating what appeals to my sense of understanding of the world.
Joseph Stalin talks about understanding the target audience before producing plays. He asks about putting a challenge towards the audience. And by this he means to put a play intelligible by 30 years-old to an audience which is 25-years old. My plays try to strike coherence there. I wish to put up a challenge to my audience.
S - Sir, while some artists in the theatrical enterprise today pick up regional themes, motifs, traditions and concerns trying to dig into the exterminating tendencies, you strive at being more universal and general. Is it deliberate?
BB - I am not interested in Bengaliwaad or any other 'waad' that limits my creativity. I always wanted a broad canvas to work on. And which is what has been my struggle always. Restrictions could never chain me. Like others who have particular interests, I have my own. Politics excites me. And politics permeates everywhere. So, the themes and motifs and other attachments to my works will have to be broad.
S - Are you engaged in something new at the moment?
BB - I am working on the untold stories of gadar.
S - Thank you, sir.
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