In conversation with writer and director Happy Ranajit of award winning theatre play “A Straight Proposal”. You can watch the play 7.30PM this Sunday, 23rd October at Rang Sharda, Mumbai. To book tickets go, here.
Q. Tell us a bit about yourself & Unicorn Actor’s Studio.
I was born in 1983 and brought up in Orissa, started theatre in childhood, moved to join NSD and successfully completed my degree with specialization in acting in 2008 from National School of Drama. I have acted in more than 60 plays with many eminent directors like Ram Gopal Bajaj, Amal Allana, Anuradha Kapur, Tripurari Sharma, Anamika Haksar, Abhilash Pillai, K.S Rajendran, Dilip Shankar, David Freeman, Powel Miskinviz.
My performance as “Lovberg” in Delhi Ibsen festival 2009 was much appreciated by the audience and critics. I was awarded best actor award at Mahindra theatre awards 2010 for my performance in “Roop Aroop”. I also won the best actor award at the international GATS theatre festival for the play “Richard III” at Beijing, China.
Apart from acting I also conduct acting workshops, write and direct plays. I have directed fifteen plays such as Ward No 30, Bhagyashree Ka MMS Dekha Kya, Humari Adhuri Kahani, A Straight Proposal, etc. I also work as a guest faculty for Acting in many institutes including National School of Drama.
Unicorn Actors’ Studio is set with a purpose to give platform to new ideas, new thoughts and experimental performance. It was established in 2010 and got registered in 2012 by a group of young artists. The group focuses on evolving new texts, new language of performance, collaborative works and performance on a regular basis. We have produced many plays and have participated in many national and international theatre festivals all over India. The group has produced “Suraj Ka Saatwan Ghoda” which will be show cased at the Bharat Rang Mahotsav 2017 in Delhi.
Q. What inspired you to write the script of “A Straight Proposal”?
Life of a cousin brother, death of a close friend and the 2013 Supreme court verdict on IPC Section 377 compelled me to create “A Straight Proposal”.
A cousin brother who is gay never came out because of the social stigma/ taboo. He used to share his stories and thoughts with me but it was very tough for him to accept and come out as he was staying in a small town and belonged to a lower middle class family.
On the other hand in March 2008 a close friend of mine who belonged to a metro city like Mumbai stopped meeting friends, receiving phone calls and became lost on the social media too and after six months he passed away. It must have been a tough time for him. During those days a young boy (his partner) was taking care of him. He was there with him emotionally, mentally and physically. But right after his death all the relatives came and took over. They didn’t even allow his partner to be there at his last rites. The family and relatives were thinking about the society, image and reputation of the family.
These two incidents became fuel for me to write. I finished the scripting after a brief research. But due to shortage of sponsors I decided not to stage it.
Thereafter 11-12-13 happened. The verdict on article 377. Suddenly a personal play became political and as an artiste I decided to bring it on stage as an artistic response. I changed the ending, treated the whole story as a metaphor and with the help of a bunch of brilliant actors we finally staged it on 1st April 2014.
Q. You are an acclaimed actor yourself, then why choose a director’s role?
As an artist I enjoy acting, writing and directing. All are challenging in their own way. Even while I was studying acting at NSD (2005-2008) I had started directing plays. Directing plays is not a calculated shift or choice rather it happened in an organic way. But yes I must say as an actor you have limited scope to keep your political stand through your art. As an artist I think it’s very necessary to have a political stand. I think as a director I get more scope and freedom to express things the way I want to express them.
Q. Please tell us a little about you actor(s) selection process/criteria for this play.
Since it is a very sensitive topic and very close to my heart I preferred professional trained actors to be cast in this play. I am very lucky that I managed to convince Dilip Shankar who has worked with the likes of Barry John, Teekam Joshi (NSD Almuni), Nitin Goel from (FTII Pune) to play major roles in the play, one of the key characters is a singer so I requested Yuvraj Bajwa who sings in a musical band to act in my play. Apart from them Ashok Dhawan, Junaid Kaifi, Shaurya Shanker who are quite well known actors of Delhi theatre are also part of this production. They all did workshops with Gilles Chuyan and Varun Narain on gender and sexuality before starting the rehearsal.
Q. How has the audience response been so far?
The audience response has been outstanding so far. We had done almost a dozen of houseful ticketed shows in Delhi itself. People have laughed, cried and enjoyed the show. We have had a great response in Bangalore and Goa too. That’s what gave us the courage to bring the show to Mumbai of our own without any financial support from any sponsors. We are doing this show from last three years, it has been selected for both of the biggest theatre festivals in India (Bharat Rang Mahotsav by NSD and META by Mahindra Group). We also have a Facebook page by the same name where you can see all the reviews by critics & the audience.
Q. Name a recent stage production/play you have seen & wished you were a part of?
Recently at a festival in Russia I saw a modern adaption of the play “Macbeth” and I really wish to be a part of such a production someday.
Q. Your immediate future plans?
These days I am working on my book “Love in the time of Rainbows” which will have 5 plays on LGBTQ issues in India. Out of which I have written five. So by the end of Dec 2017 I will get it published. I am also directing a performance piece with a Group of Dancers and Actors on woman sexuality and its violation as a response to Nirbhaya Rape case called “Gang of Girls” which we will be previewing in Mumbai in November and opening on 16th of December in New Delhi.