Alok Rajwade Thinks Society Needs to Coexist

Posted on 4 August, 2016 by Team Wishberry

The experimental movement in theatre in the 1970s truly paved the way for a modern thought, experiment in the presentation, and all things good that modern theatre has. I met one of the modern stalwarts of Marathi experimental theatre, Alok Rajwade, for a chat. Alok directs Nipun Dharmadhikari’s Natak Company’s productions. His plays Binkamache Sanwad and Geli Ekvees Varsha have been critically acclaimed.

The energy was immense as we spoke about direction, theatre, the society, the world and everything in between.

Here are the excerpts of that conversation.

How did the relationship between you and theatre begin?

I have always loved plays and films ever since my school days. Plus, my elder sister used to paint. Though, painting does not have a direct relation with theatre, having an artist at home does make a difference. When she used to paint, she used to tell me what is what and how things are done, the technicalities, etc. So, drawing and painting are my access points to theatre. Then there was Jaagar, an organization, in Pune. A lady named Ruta Pandit used to work with them at the time. And she used to teach us in school. While working for a school play, she asked me if I was interested in working in a play. I agreed. The play was Abraham Lincolnche Patra (Abraham Lincoln’s Letter). That was my first serious play. I was in the 9th grade at the time. Post that, for a couple of years, I was off plays. But, during that time, I knew I had to go back to theatre.  So yes, these three things – the drawing, painting, and the play.

You acted in that play, I assume. What about direction? How did that happen?

Initially, I really liked acting. Sometimes, you take a long time figuring out what you love more. During that time, for Sakaal Karandak, an inter-collegiate competition, the whole BMCC (Brihan Maharashtra College of Commerce) culture, and in fact the Pune college circuit culture, was to outsource direction of plays. It wasn’t allowed as per rules of the competition. But, it used to happen. Our super seniors, Sarang Sathaye and Omkar, these batches said and ingrained in us that we would direct our own plays. When Amey and Nipun were in their final year, there was a question of who will direct plays after them. Abhay Mahajan and I were in our first year that time. So, it was like, let’s do it. It just happened automatically. I started liking direction then.

Plus, as an actor you get to perform one character, but as a director, you get to perform multiple characters…

Multiple characters, yes. The possibility of performing through multiple characters is created.

Plus, the way we (Natak Company) have always functioned is a pretty improvised process. Everything evolves slowly. So, it isn’t like everything is known in the beginning itself, but the director does the bringing together of things and constructing it. To decide the one way, out of say 10 possibilities of doing a scene, is the director’s duty. Plus, there are the multiple ways of expressing yourself through the various performers. That is a different thrill, which is why I fell in love with direction.

I watched Binkamache Sanwad last year at NCPA during Pratibimb Natya Utsav 2015. The play looks utterly random. But, I realised that it isn’t as random as it looks. There is linearity in there, and connecting points despite appearing disconnected. I am curious as to how this was thought about, or how the chaos was conceived while maintaining the philosophy and conveying it to the audience.

Dharmakirti (Sumant) wrote this play. Everyone thinks that the play is improvised or that many things have been added on at the direction level. But, 90% of that chaos or jokes were done at the script level itself. It was an organised chaos only. The play has that randomness because our lives are also random. A major focus of experimental plays is to understand life and how we go through it.

Dharmakirti wrote this play according to the phase he was going through, because of that focus. The play is about the information overload, of all kinds including jokes, that we are experiencing these days, the contradiction of ideas in our own minds, and the meaninglessness that language has acquired due to its misuse. The writing of this play was sort of like undergoing a narco-analysis test. Dharmya (Dharmakirti) just kept writing. He used to say ‘Even I don’t know what shape this play is going to take.’ Generally, a play takes a shape, you know, that this is where the climax will begin, or some other points. There was nothing of that sort taken into account. It was written as it flowed without any inhibition.

Alok Rajwade and Dharmakirti Sumant

Do you think that our society is somewhat moving away from this instinct that we all have as humans? Especially with whatever we do in our life. And adopting a strictly moulded living?

Yes, I definitely feel that we are. The reason for that, I think, is that we have a problem with coexistence. We want everyone to be the same, and that this is the system and everyone should live by it. This is, in a way, a very fascist logic - everyone looks the same, behaves the same, wears similar clothes, speaks similarly, everyone wakes up at 6 am and sleep at 10 pm. I don’t accept this logic.

We are unable to understand that we can be different from each other. Everything is flat, then. I mean, Hinduism is only this, or elections happen like that, or a good art is a particular thing, everything and all of it is defined strongly and put in moulds. This is a result of not accepting coexistence.

All the big words like tolerance come into the picture right there. Not being able to understand someone is different and that he can be leads to anger and a violent reaction to it. I agree it is not the easiest thing to understand, but there need to be efforts undertaken towards an attempt to understand. Otherwise, all of us living together will become extremely difficult.

I recently came across an excerpt of an interview of Frank Zappa done in the early 1970s. In that, he negated everything that was prevalent at the time saying that all of them were fads. It reminded of Binkamache Sanwad for some reason. That is when I realised that experimental theatre is supposed to point out the fads and show society the reality. Do you think so?

That is true. But, if you think about it, that is also a fad. Even in Binkamache Sanwad, Tushar Tengale’s character gets angry and has a monologue addressed towards the rest of the cast. He says that your theatre has acquired fungus, and that you guys are giving undue importance to your own thoughts amongst yourself. He contradicts himself as well, because that again is a fad.

Experimental theatre, while claiming of not being mainstream, eventually becomes mainstream. As I am establishing myself in the experimental theatre, eventually someone will take my place. It keeps changing; the logic behind it keeps changing.

Also, there is no real difference in experimental and commercial. Those are just titles we have given them for our convenience. It is everyone’s personal journey. I don’t wave the flag of experimentalism and roam around, and nobody can do that. By choice, I like doing what I do, for which unfortunately not many people are ready to pay up a lot of money. That is the sole reason it is experimental, because I use the freedom I get to make something which is not commercial. That is all.

Experiments also keep changing with time, yes.

Yes. What you said is true that experimental theatre is supposed to be fad-breaking, shake the established, and point the fallacies of the establishment. And that is definitely my attempt. I commit to that attempt. I do not want the established, and I want to go out of that structure and explore. I want to say something which is not going on around, and not for the sake of it, but because I see it differently. That is my attempt. And I am fully committed to it.

This young man, all of 27, is a marvellous director, and Marathi theatre is blessed to have handed him down some part of its responsibility. As a theatre lover, this extensive conversation ensured me that Marathi theatre is in safe hands.

The coffee cups emptied, but topics and conversations were still filled to the brim. Time, though, is a construct none of us can escape. After an intense hour and a half, it was time for Alok to leave. A new play is in the works, he told me. Hearing that only made me encourage him to get there faster and work on it.

May his love affair with theatre achieve greater heights.

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