I want to take theatre to the remotest of places: Vipul Mahagaonkar

Posted on 13 February, 2017 by Team Wishberry

A still from Khidki

Fate is funny sometimes. Vipul Mahagaonkar, one of the brightest young theatre directors, and I spent two weeks trying to fix a meeting for an interview. The schedules just would not let us. Ganeshotsav was at its peak during that time, so it became doubly difficult.

One fine Thursday afternoon, I just called him asking if we could just do a telephonic interview. He agreed. That evening, a fairly rainy one at that, we both stood in different parts of the city and pulled off a long conversation; an interesting one. Thought you would like it, just like you have liked his plays – Pai Paishachi Goshta and Khidki.

After a couple of calls missed due to work from both ends, and apologies exchanged, we went on a ride of discussing his plays, political ideologies, administrative hiccups, and the state of experimental theatre.

Here are the excerpts.

Pai Paishachi Goshta was adapted from a story by Vijaya Rajadhyaksha, and Khidki was adapted from Death of an Anarchist, an Italian play. What was the difference in the experience of both adaptations?

It was completely different. The genres are different, the treatment was different. Pai Paishachi Goshta is from our culture, so I did not have to make any changes and present it as it is. Even when I was reading it, it felt to me like a grandma sitting on a couch and telling the story. It came that easily. So, I kept it that way, no movement or anything. But, it doesn’t feel that way that someone is just sitting for so long. That truly is credited to Ila Bhate ma’am’s skill.

But, it wasn’t so with Khidki. I had to mould everything because the cultural, political, economical backgrounds are different in Italy. So, I had to string our background into the play, and mould it accordingly. It should not feel European, but should feel completely ours. I kept the pulp the same, how Dario Fo intended it to be; I just added stories from our recent past and present. I added the stuff how it works around here.

You basically kept the body the same, but changed the clothes to fit us.

Yes, exactly. I took care that his writing doesn’t fade in my adaptation. I kept the madness, the fun of Dario Fo intact, and I attempted to add dark humour and black comedy to it. But, I did not try to overcome Fo’s writing.

You did that successfully. There was a telling comment in the play on the Leftists, in the sense that how much they enjoy discourse and debate and how that keeps them from acting on it. That is what I got out of it. Was that your attempt?

Yes yes, that was my attempt. I tried presenting whatever my intellect has understood so far. I did not research a lot. I mean, I did not try to implement what others would make of that. I just put it out there the way it felt right to me, and the way it felt to me in the first place.

I did speak to the actors, though. Since they are the ones portraying what is written, it was important to have conversations with them in this regard. I held discussions with them and took their opinions. What their thoughts were, if they were in agreement with what they were portraying – these are the things I kept in mind and then wrote it accordingly.

The right wing is in power in our country currently. Where do you think the left wing fits in all of this, according to you?

The right wing is capturing the country. The left wing has a lot of restrictions, their ideology has restrictions. This is my opinion, and I am not trying to compare. But, that might be the reason why the right wing is getting successful as opposed to the left wing. I even tried showing that in the play – this is right wing, this is left wing.

But, in the end the common man gets screwed in between. And that is the core of it. Left wing, right wing, what they do, and what policies they bring to the table, and what not, but in the end the only one seriously related to all of it is the common man. He benefits the least, and suffers the most. This happens unbeknownst to us. In fact, there are so many things we suffer from unknowingly that we do not even realise that the wounds need to be tended to.

Now, in Khidki, the actors broke the fourth wall, left their character, and discussed the problems of experimental theatre amongst themselves. Those problems are real is a fact known by all. But, what I am curious about is if you see a scope of those things getting better.

To be honest, I have cut down a lot of things from there because there has been a lot of positive change in the recent past. For example, experimental theatre is eligible for the State Government’s grant (funding). Although, there are parts of it which are still problematic and unacceptable. But, the main thing is that there is a positive step taken.

There are trivial problems, though. For example, I had applied for the grant for Pai Paishachi Goshta, but they have a clause which requires the play to be in two acts. Now, my story is only an hour and a half long. How do I do it in two acts? It has to be a one act play. But, they have no provision for that.

A Director from the Directorate of Cultural Affairs watched the play. He told me he liked the play and that it was really good. Then he said that the rules are such that it does not qualify for a grant. He is from the Directorate, he is a part of the committee which sits and makes these rules. And he tells me that he cannot help it or change the rules to fit one act plays which are aplenty in the theatre circuit. Irony couldn’t have had a better example.

Such are the issues. And I had kept it in the second act of Khidki where they discuss the lack of venues and grants. When I wrote it, they had not announced it because they could not figure out the difference between experimental and commercial. The General Report wasn’t coming out, so I had asked them. That is when they told me this problem where they could not classify the plays. This is a reality. And we have an entire ministry for cultural affairs, but these are the kind of ‘dilemmas’ they have.

Ila Bhate in Pai Paishachi Goshta

Aren’t they the ones who defined what is experimental and what is commercial?

They have.

I mean, when I start doing a play, I really do not know if it is an experimental play or a commercial play. And I would like to care less about it. But, because of these procedures, I have to go down that road.

On top of that, there is a censor committee for theatre. When you describe your play as experimental, they censor it and certify it accordingly. And the censor board has some senior members from the theatre fraternity like Arun Nalawade and the likes. But, when the play applies for a grant, such questions still arise about its classification.

Let’s be honest here. The guys at the Directorate are administrators. They have spent their lives doing administrative work. Why do they bother with taking artistic calls when there are people who have spent their entire lives pursuing the arts taking that call already? That is something I will never get.

I mean, if there are experienced guys like Arun Nalawade who are saying that it falls under a certain classification, just trust their judgement. But, it won’t happen. Their GR (General Report) does not even consider the censor committee at all.

It is because of such trivial problems that I thought there was a need to address them in some way, which is where those parts in Khidki came in. I just thought, let’s do it. But, I had to ensure that the play falls back on track smoothly. It seems to have been working well.

Oh, yes, it does. I loved those parts. It came in at points where the play got too intense, and felt like fresh air. I felt that when I was in the audience.

I am glad it does. But, yes, since they had taken steps towards granting funds for experimental plays, which is a great move forward despite the restrictions, I removed those parts which mentioned the funding bits.

In Khidki, there was also a small mention of lack of venues for experimental theatre. What exactly is the problem there?

There is barely anything in Mumbai. For one show, I spend an average of Rs. 25,000-30,000. The same show in Pune would cost me about 20,000. The ticket sales are better in Pune. I don’t get profits anyway, and I don’t even do this for profits. But, I get back most of the expenditure in Pune. Thankfully, the satisfaction of performing is equal in both the places. But, logistics wise Pune is better.

The rent in Sudarshan in Pune is Rs. 2,500. In that you get spot (lights) and dimmers (lights), you get their technical support. They also have a lot of props for the set. All of that collectively brings my production cost down right away.

There are venues in Mumbai, but their rents are damn high. And for someone who puts his own money, it is not entirely feasible. Plus, a couple of venues which were meant for experimental theatre, after a lot of struggle by the likes of Vijay Tendulkar and Lalan Sarang, are now used for commercial plays. We get those only for the weekdays, and odd days, and only the later slots in the day - 8 pm and the likes. On weekdays people do not want to stay out that late. So the ticket sales are less. That affects everything.

If you ask them for the weekends, they charge you according to the commercial rates, which is very high and pretty non-feasible.

What is cooking in the Mahagaonkar camp for the future?

Well, to be honest, I am completely blank right now.

That’s great.

Yes, it is absolutely. It is truly a very good thing. I just feel like reading a lot, and watching a lot. I have joined NCPA. I am on their panel of Theatre and Films Department. I get to watch a lot of great plays, I get to work with a lot of amazing people. So, maybe, for a year I am not planning to do anything. I will obviously continue writing on the side. But, I am more keen on the learning aspect of it currently.

But, still, you never know when the sparks light into a fire. We are planning to do Khidki in Hindi for the Rajyanatya Spardha (State Theatre Competition). I am done with the translation, but let’s see. Unless things fit properly, I won’t go ahead with it. It would not make sense. In that, I want to remove the symbolism, and say things upfront, as they are. You can say a lot in a play, and I want to make the most of it.

After another year or so, I want to take theatre to the tribals in places like Chandrapur, Yavatmal, other Naxalite affected areas. I want to bring them in the loop.

That will be a great experience for them.

Yes. And me too. Those guys are really creative. All our folk has come from there to us. All our creativity has evolved from there. So we need to go back and explore their arts, and take our arts to them. They need some things which we have.

Having had a really, insightful and heart to heart with Vipul, I hung up sincerely hoping his plans of taking theatre in the remotest of places come to fruition.

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