This time round Gaysi Blog Editor chats up Saattivc. Who not only wrote & directed but also acted in the recently staged play (Mumbai & New Delhi), ‘The Pad’.
Q. Please give us a brief about your play ‘The Pad’ and the themes you have explored?
Brief about the play
A house in Bandra, Mumbai is witness to two inextricably intertwined relationships between successive pairs of occupants.
Pulkit, a banker, has rented a quirky flat in Bandra for the sole purpose of hooking up. One night he meets Sahil, a young PhD student, for sex. Sahil is researching interior design, and is taken by the interiors of the house. He wants to use it for his research, but has to deal with a bitter, cynical and brusque Pulkit who constantly runs away from the one thing he loves – singing. The one night stand turns into something more, as they get to know each other, help each other… and uncover the lives of the previous occupants, Jennifer and Fabian.
Fabian, a retired army officer, shares the perfect marriage with Jennifer, his wife of thirty years. But the family is put under tremendous stress when their daughter in law, Nita, suddenly goes missing. While Jennifer is consumed in grief at her family falling apart, Fabian is searching for a way to redeem himself in the eyes of society and the Anglo-Indian Community for a blunder committed during the Kargil war. One day, Jennifer gets a call … Nita has been found.
Themes in the play
The central theme of the play is the nature of love – what it actually means, whether it is universal, the sorts of roadblocks it can overcome and what its limitations are. Both stories are essentially love stories.
There are, of course, several other themes that surround the central theme.
a. Minority communities
Both couples in the play belong to minority communities – Sahil and Pulkit are gay, and Jennifer and Fabian are Anglo-Indian. Moreover, Fabian is a retired army officer. These are all communities that aren’t very prevalent in Indian theatre. Our very constitution celebrates the diversity of our country, so it our duty as a society to see that no one gets left behind. Makers of art share this responsibility, and this play attempts to fulfill a tiny part of this responsibility.
On the other hand, according too much importance to a community label sometimes does more harm than good – it colours our reading of people. We always look at people with certain assumptions about their character (that come from stereotypes) if we know they belong to a particular community. Often, that hinders us from appreciating the person for who they are – we are unable to look beyond the community label. Gay people are not defined just by their sexuality, and Anglo-Indians are not defined just by their heritage.
Therefore, this play is not about minorities – that is, at best, an undercurrent. This is not a play about gay rights, or the issues faced by Anglo-Indians. Instead, we look at the development of two relationships between sets of people who also happen to belong to minority communities. If anything, one of the messages of this play is ‘look into the ordinary lives of folk who are different from you, and see that their lives are quite like yours’.
b. Psychological problems
Both stories have a strong strand of psychological illness that drive them forward. In India, psychological issues are often brushed under the carpet – and people afflicted by them are often dismissed as ‘mad’. But in developed countries, there is much more sensitivity to such issues. In the army, for instance, only now do we have some recognition of the effects of rigorous warfare on soldiers’ mental stability, whereas in developed countries there are entire factions in the armed forces dedicated to helping soldiers deal with the after effects of war.
Even in our extended families, we know someone characterised as crazy, and they are usually just shut in a room and left to themselves. Very seldom are they offered treatment. There is a lot of social stigma attached.
Several situations in the play would not have arisen had the characters involved received treatment when their problems surfaced. But pushing things under the carpet only makes things worse.
Q. With the verdict on 377, did you have any misgivings about two of the central characters being gay or fear backlash?
I think the most telling effect of the verdict on 377 has been in the villages, in the rural countryside where the law now suddenly tells crores of people that they are illegal. Where a year ago two women or two men could go to the police and demand protection from persecution by village elders or family members, now they cannot. In the cities the impact is more limited, I feel. From my understanding, gay parties continue, guys continue to meet guys, openly gay celebrities continue to be openly gay and so on.
Moreover, this is a relatively small play, and the people who come to watch it are quite liberal in their thinking in any case.
Yes, there is a slight fear that authorities or close minded groups might throw a spanner in the works, but we are prepared for that. The way we look at it, it will create publicity and any publicity is good publicity. Even if it gets shut down, we now have a recording of a performance; so it will always be accessible to those who really want to see it.
Q. There are occasionally concerns about authenticity when LGBT relationships are enacted on stage. Was it easy enough to make the equation look believable/ realistic?
My feeling is that authenticity in LGBT relationships suffers on stage mostly because any play with LGBT characters ends up being about gay rights. The homosexuality becomes the subject matter, rather than a character trait. So it will inevitably show a character coming to terms with his sexuality, trying to get his parents to accept his sexuality, fighting against an oppressive society that ostracises him because of his sexuality, etc. These are exceptions to the norm – many people today have come to terms with their sexuality and have found their way of insulating themselves from the naysayers. If only exceptions are portrayed on stage, then clearly authenticity is difficult to achieve.
This play shows a normal relationship. It just happens between two guys. It could have happened between a heterosexual couple. The homosexuality is irrelevant. Which is the way it usually is in relationships. The issues are all the same – attachment, willingness to commit, possessiveness, insecurity – these are universal. Given that we wanted to show a normal relationship, authenticity was easy.
Q. What was the cast dynamic like and how did you help establish it?
I always knew casting Jennifer and Fabian would be tough. I didn’t want to cast young people and give them gray hair – this play is too realistic for that. I feel blessed that actors as experienced and talented as Kitu Gidwani and Capt Sanjay Nath have liked the script and have agreed to be directed by a relative newcomer. They have tried everything that I have asked them to, rehearsed for long hours, and have given to the play everything I could have asked for and more.
Daniel, too, is a very experienced actor and director himself, even though he is still in his mid twenties. His contribution to the play is enormous – he comes up with very interesting ideas and suggests very interesting and insightful games for us to play, which have greatly aided the scenes between him and me.
Given that all three of my co-actors are so experienced, I have always had to be on my toes. All four of us come from very different schools of acting, and the biggest challenge as a director has been to find ways of reconciling seemingly opposing working styles to arrive at common working methods. This, I think, we have achieved, and what we have created is much bigger than the sum of its parts.
Q. With the changing political climate and concerns about free speech being curtailed, do you anticipate a significant change in the performing arts?
Yes and no. While I fear that some people in authority might be a bit trigger happy and curtail free speech, I think that at the end of the day there are enough checks and balances built into our democracy to prevent that from happening at a very large scale.
Our judiciary may be slow, but it is fiercely independent and our Supreme Court has a long and glorious record of upholding basic rights. I view the 377 judgement as a blip in an otherwise progressive series of judgements and initiatives from the Supreme Court. Remember, the curative petition has been admitted, and who knows what will happen after that is heard.
Our media is also mostly progressive, and any attempts at curtailing free speech that affects too many people will be brought to the media’s attention.
Lastly, given the nature of politics that the country has seen recently, any attempt at en masse clamping down on fundamental rights will be met with massive protests on the ground – just like the Nirbhaya rape protests, or the Jessica Lall protests.
In short, I believe that it will be very hard for Indian democracy to be transformed into a dictatorship. And free speech is a cornerstone of modern democracy.
Q. How has the reception been so far from Delhi and Mumbai?
We have had a good response in general. Those who have seen the play have generally liked it.
However, in Mumbai we have had a few problems with venues. Unlike in Delhi, there is a culture of ‘curated programming’ in Mumbai’s most popular venues, which essentially means that they don’t entertain new groups unless there are personal connections. We applied to the popular venues with established user bases, but were not given dates. We were forced to look for alternative venues, which meant that the theatre goers who only go to popular venues never got to know about our play. This definitely affected audience sizes.
Now that we have a performance recorded, we are hoping to somehow get the curators to watch the recording and be convinced of the quality of the product. So hopefully we will be able to become a part of the ‘traditional’ theatre scene when we run next.
Q. What is the next project in the pipeline for you?
I am probably going to be acting in Lushin Dubey’s ‘The Life of Gautam Buddha’ as Gautam Buddha soon – we are scheduled to rehearse in July and tour the US in September.
There is also a film script that I am working on with a friend, and it looks like it will be going into production soon.
As a theatre maker, my next project will probably only happen next year – a modern interpretation of the life of Muhammad bin Tughlaq (the actual historical character, not Karnad’s play) incorporating elements of Indian classical music and dance.