‘Even Mists have Silver Linings’ is a play that works to facilitate the evolution of the attitudes of the audience towards LBTQIA+ identities in India and the stigma surrounding them. Supported by a US Consulate General Mumbai grant, it is a stage collaboration between the Mumbai-based Five Senses Theatre and the University of Florida. The play’s behind the scenes process has as much intrigue surrounding it as the performance itself does, as it the centre of Malati Rao’s new documentary. This process includes community-based research techniques outlined by Will Weigler, sensitisation sessions by the writer Vikram Phukan, and intense psychophysical training by the director Victor Thoudam.
Victor Thoudam is a director who stands apart from others because his work questions and analyzes the relationship between the practice of theatre and the deep hidden social reality. Through his plays, he consciously seeks for a consistent practice of preparing the body and mind rigorously to understand different psychophysical aspects and the performance space as an inclusive-ensemble between the artistes and the audience.
In a conversation, he is contemplative and focused. Any question that I ask is met with a pause and then a well-thought-out reply. However, even as we talk, one side of his mind stays with his cast and crew whom he is about to begin practice with as soon as we end our conversation. It is obvious that when he is working on a play, he passionately stays in the zone of preparation and performance above all else. And yet, he answers every single question I ask with seriousness and resolution-
Q. ‘Even Mists have Silver Linings’ (EMHSL) explores random connections that occur only by chance- would you say that that also reflects your connection to the story?
Well, the creative team for this play- Jeff, Vikram, Will and me- have all met very recently at the end of January, even if we took part in some video conversations before. But we knew about the general drift of the project much in advance. Of course, the synopsis we shared was an early one. I think the play is shaping up to become a one-of-its-kind celebration of a diverse array of queer experiences. My batchmate from NSD, Hardik Shah of Five Senses Theatre, requested me to participate in this project. Since the team came together around three weeks ago, there has been a lot of spontaneity in the way we have started working together. I like the amorphousness of the queer experience. Vikram is the only queer person in the creative leadership team. So the sensitisation sessions he organised allowed me to tap into a world that I’m still discovering.
Q. Do you think the sensitisation by Vikram was an essential part of this project? Do you feel like the involvement of a queer person in telling a story about the community is important?
It was absolutely important. we needed to involve the community, and this was something we took care of during auditions, that queer actors should be part of the process. Vikram also contributed an open script to be used by the actors during devising, and it is resonant with the rich context of queer life in India. Will Weigler, who’s on board with the techniques outlined in The Alchemy of Astonishment, has worked with community-led projects. EMHSL is slightly different because we are a professional theatre company but we’re linked to the community through our research partners (the Humsafar Trust).
Q. How different was the psychophysical training process for this production as compared to others that you have directed?
In Manipur, the experimental theatre works in the realm of the corporeal and the visceral. So my grounding has been in that kind of theatre. I’ve done a physical theatre play called Black and White which is about the distrust between communities in Manipur. Queer experiences are deeply embedded in the psyche since so many in the community are forced to hide fundamental truths about themselves. We spend much time discovering the ‘gests’ that embody who people really are. So much of a person’s life is hidden, that in order to unearth their essences, a psychophysical process brings out revelatory insights. I must clarify that Will Jeff and I bring in different sensibilities. so the play is a mix of influences.
Q. Keeping that in mind, how important is the theatre as a space to further a conversation about equal rights? Do you think it has power over other mediums?
Well, as a creative medium it is, according to me, the most powerful- because it is live and in the flesh. Our minds are operating in the ‘here and now’. However the reach of urban theatre is somewhat limited, and groups are constantly trying to build audiences without succumbing to making only entertainment.in the area of social justice, sometimes we run the risk of preaching to the converted. However, we are constantly attempting to reach diverse sets of audiences. Here, the queer community, and its allies.
Q. If the audience could take one thing away from the play, what would you want it to be?
That queer people are resilient, and celebrate their lives in their own ways, that stigma is pervasive but it cannot essentially destroy a person’s fundamental sense of self.