Thursday, October 20, 2016

Bliss of Impersonating : Arundhati Nag

Arundhati Nag 
 (courtesy the Hindu)
At the age of fifteen she fell in love with theatre. Forty five years down the line she could just get up and say that her identity and love for the country are intact without being a member of the RSS. She is Arundhati Nag, the noted theatre and film personality, and director of Rang Shankara, an exclusive platform for modern and contemporary theatre in India, at the L V Prasad Eye Institute Auditorium in Hyderabad, delivering the third Ramkinkar Baij memorial lecture, organised by the Musui Foundation in strategic collaboration with Kalakriti Art Gallery, Hyderabad. Arundhati Nag is not an academic, but an actress, an art administrator and a silent practitioner of frugal living. Born in Delhi and brought up in Mumbai, Arundhati, at an early age itself became a juggler of languages which she says, has helped in developing her theatre persona.

Arundhati Nag knows that her acquaintance with the life and works of Ramkinkar Baij is not as deep as that of an art historian or an artist. But what she has learnt from Ramkinkar Baij is the passion of pursuing the enigmatic call of unbridled creativity and his perseverance of frugal life. As a creative artist what Ramkinkar wanted was a platform to do his art povera. Baij celebrated life in its naturalness and created works from what was available, maximising their mediator qualities despite their minimal stature in life. Putting the humble components of nature together, Baij created a galaxy on earth of which the stars like Santhal Family, Mill Call, Harvester, Sujata and so on still shine with their original glitter. Arundhati coming from a different creative circuit has found her soulmate in Ramkinkar when she visited Santiniketan a few years ago and accidentally confronted the imposing presence of Ramkinkar's sculptures in the campus.

Girish Karnad giving instruction to Arundhati in Ranga Shankara's landmark production 'Bikhare Bimb'

"I did not know anything about Ramkinkar then. But the monumental sculpture - Santhal Family took me by force. The rawness of their contours, the blissfulness on their faces and the curiosity in their eyes; their balance and poise, everything attracted me. The theatricality of his sculpture was just real, never falling into the gorge of sentimentalism. I understood the drama in it. Since then I have been an ardent admirer of Ramkinkar " says Arundhati.

" If human beings are moving sculptures then sculptures are frozen drama theatre" Arundhati had said a day before the formal memorial lecture. She uttered these inedible words when she stood enthralled before the sculpture of Ramkinkar's disciple K S Radhakrishnan. " Theatre gives the great high of impersonating a character which is not you. An actress is someone who hosts  another personality in her body keeping the objectivity intact without ever falling into the trap of the character. Sculptures also have that quality one being the other without subjecting the artist to its demands. There is a relationship and there is a high, but it is that of impersonating" says Arundhati in her lecture.

In Paa with Amitabh Bachchan
Ramkinkar had thrown all societal and artistic conventions to the wind. He did not care for others' views. As K G Subramanyan had once put it, 'Baij was in pursuit of happiness in the simplest things in nature". Arundhati also had thrown conventions to the wind. But as a young girl of fifteen it was easier said than done. She was fascinated by the IPTA, Indian People's Theatre Association, which had established in Mumbai and had stalwarts like Balraj Sahni, AK Hangal, Kaifi Azmi, Shaukat Azmi as its actors and ideologues. There was a strong resistance from Arundhati's family and she was given permission only when her mother got the assurance from the IPTA elders that there would be someone who is socially accepted to escort the young, vibrant, dreamy and aspiring Arundhati from and to home for and after rehearsals.

Receiving Padmashree from the then President Smt Pratibha Patil
The idea of impersonation came to Arundhati as a  revelation because the first role she was offered was that of a young widow who was forced to marry her dead husband's brother. The play was Rajeender Singh Bedi's 'Ek Chadar Maili si'. Arundhati was not sixteen then. She did not know all what went into the making of a marriage, family, death, remarriage and so on. Encouraged by the elders of IPTA, Arundhati learned the ropes of acting only to land up with similarly passionate people like Jennifer Kapoor under whose care and vision, the Prithvi theatre came up and changed the theatre scenario in Mumbai. Arundhati carried the seeds of Prithvi theatre within her and relentlessly worked for establishing Ranga Shankara in Bangalore, where any theatre group with a decent production could present their play for just Rs 2500 a day. Three hundred and sixty five days a year, Ranga Shankara presents around four hundred performances including her own productions.

Arundhati with Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar
Like painting and sculpting have inherent differences in conceiving and executing, theatre acting and film acting are different, says Arundhati. Even if she gets many offers to act in films (yet another mother role), she declines most of them because she knows well that her acting style is for theatre. " My gestures, emoting, voice modulations and all should be meant for a live audience including the ones who are sitting in the last row. In film, you are performing for a camera and the performance is limited to a part where the camera is focussing. Cinema is the medium of fragmentations; it is an art of fragmenting and putting together. For me theatre is a bodily experience which makes the actress happy, devoid of any ruptures in my personality" says Arundhati.

Arundhati with Sanjana Kapoor
Indian theatre is definitely facing a lot of challenges from new media and television. But experience tells her that if there is a provision for good theatre, people will come back to it. Arundhati extolls Naseeruddin Shah for delivering good theatre without fail. "Paresh Rawal is a good actor but he delivers bad theatre. Anupam Kher's theatre is a no no to me personally" says Arundhati. Citing once again Ramkinkar Baij, Arundhati reiterates that she still in search of an Indian theatre, which she knowns cannot exist for India's  cultural diversity. But the search and the show must go on.

(Images courtesy: Internet)

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