NEW DELHI, Sep 10: For the second time in its 20-year history, National Theatre`s Ibsen Festival in Oslo staged an Indian production – Ratan Thiyam`s lyrical and surreal “When We Dead Awaken” the past week.
A very Manipuri interpretation of the Norwegian playwright`s text, choral singing and dramatic aesthetics bordering on the fantastic spurred a virgin experience, flickering curiosity about a theatre tradition unknown in Norway. For Thiyam`s Chorus Repertory Theatre from the nooks of Imphal, the journey with theatre has always been to global stages. However, an Indian Ibsen play in “its own playwright`s country” interpreted through indigenous forms makes it worthwhile for the director.
He is set to travel further with the play to the theatre Olympiad in Seoul later this year.
In an interview in Oslo, the new vice-chairman of the Sangeet Natak Akademi dissects his theatre a work-in-progress which he calls “the only medium I don`t know” and the ecstasy of dialogues with playwrights long gone playing out in his mind as he looks deeper into their works.
When you picked up “When We Dead Awaken,” Henrik Ibsen`s 19th Century play, what defined your approach to it?
The only emphasis for me was on the universality characteristic of the play, in the way it is reflected to every artiste whether Manipuri or Norwegian doesn`t make any difference anymore. The demand of the thematic content pronounced the devices utilised, the language comes out automatically.
I have had many phases in my theatre life, which have lasted five to six to eight years. This is a phase where I say to myself the emphasis should be on theme. The text is written as a performance text without disturbing the original. It is imperative to my understanding of theatre, what I have been doing, what it will be.
How would you describe the process of choosing/writing a text and getting it ready for production?
I am not the kind of director to produce a play for the sake of it. I can`t do that. The cycle of time with social, political, economic and religious factors is significant. If it is the demand of the time and also part of my journey of experimentation, if it fits well into the frame of a production, I write answered the popular theateran.
I try to leap/mark my own expectations. There are many plays I have written which I never staged. I don`t expect invalid things to work with the audience. The best of the best, intellectuals and scholars, form the audience. So there is no excuse. If it doesn`t work, one has to say no to oneself. In art the hardest enemy is one`s self.
I am now taking up a work of Tagore. All genius` works carry a universal quality. When I am working with Ibsen, I am with Ibsen all the time — eating, sleeping, dreaming, I am talking to Ibsen to get light on many questions. I talk to Tagore about his art. The process is about sharing pain, sorrow, happiness — it has a subconscious slant. There will be many aspects of agreement and disagreement. That is why it is boring for me to see my plays on stage. I seldom go for my rehearsals. I die with that play.
How did your journey that began as a novelist and artist culminate in theatre?
Theatre, for me, is the composite art of expression that has all the ingredients that had made up my life. Writing, painting, even dance and music, they are all known elements of theatre and I decided to try out theatre. However, I was always sure that I wanted to do theatre as a professional, complete with developing methodology, training and experimentation. It is the only medium I do not know.
In Norway, there seems to be a pretty organised theatre culture in place. Where do you think are the gaps in India`s approach to drama?
We are not lacking in terms of theatre activities. But theatre economics never has been good in the last many years. It needs a very fresh outlook from the political circles. Lives have changed; earlier theatre was patronised by kings and zamindars. Now things have taken a different shape and in the field of art things have got much sharper when it comes to business aspects. However, good theatre has always had an audience. But whether it will be able to survive or not is the question.
“When I started my company I told my colleagues, there might be no butter, only bread should do. But somehow, we have managed to survive for 33 years doing professional theatre. Theatre is a commitment for life,” Ratan Thiyam added.