In Conversation With

DEVENDRA RAJ 'ANKUR'

TOPIC : Pandemic time, a great opportunity for actors.

An exclusive talk on Theatre, where renowned theatre personality and former Director of National School of drama Devendra Raj 'Ankur' shared his own profound experiences with eminent actor, theatre practitioner GYANENDRA SINGH aka Anshu, the founder of Ramagya Theatre Lab.

GYANENDRA : Dear Ankur Ji, tell us about your experience with the pandemic? Did you do anything new during this time?

ANKUR : I wrote three books, which are ready to be printed and online classes for a month with N.S.D. I even managed one-week of online class for Pune University, we did an online reading session where we read a total of five stories.

GYANENDRA : Did you miss your rehearsals, performances and all of those theatrical activities during these days?

ANKUR : Of course! why not? Because in our understanding that is the only truth, the only path.

GYANENDRA : So are you satisfied with the things going on virtually? Can it be to a substitute for Theatre, which is so human?

ANKUR JI : No, I dont think so, when even films cant substitute theatre! Theatre is a living genre. Online is a time gap. It is, of course, better than doing nothing, but it is not my liking.

GYANENDRA : Ankur Ji would you please give a few words of wisdom to our fellow Theatre practitioners, since most of them are not doing anything productive, especially during this time of a global pandemic.

ANKUR : There is so much od idle time that can be used for something productive like reading. I would highly recommend everyone to read, Read everything, I have read a hundred books word by word, which I had stored in my house but never picked up to read before this time. I pick a few stories from them which can be performed in the future. So I don't think all of us will get such a golden chance ever in life again so when you have the opportunity, you must make the most of it. As I can see, not much attention is being paid on this aspect, So this is a great activity. Theatre practitioner doesn't have to be only when doing rehearsals, take this as preparation, all these days read everything like Natyashastra, Stanislavsky and all the other great names which you keep hearing, everything is available online, download it, read it and raise your questions and when the time comes for actual practice, apply this. Prepare a strong background in these valuable days!

GYANENDRA : As you are the pioneer of "Kahani ka Rangmanch" how would you suggest to choose the story especially for performance.?

ANKUR : The First thing always is asking what does the story wants to say? That is the most important, the theme, idea and then knowing how important it is for you? How many questions does it raise for you? It's relevancy to you and how much does it touch your heart. If it has caught you so definitely it is going to catch the audiences too. Kahani, when decoded, comes from " Kahan" that is 'what is it saying?' Rest of the things come afterwards, whether it is suitable for performance or not, that we have to check while attempting it. If it has grabbed your attention and heart while reading it, then definitely without any doubts, you will enjoy performing that as well.

GYANENDRA : Please recommend a few Indian writers that must be read?

ANKUR JI : There are many, Start from Premchand then Jainendra Kumar, Agyeya, Yashpal, Mohan Rakesh, Kamleshwar, Rajendra Yadav, Mannu Bhandari, Usha Priyamvada, Krishna Sobati...all these names are from the 60s ... T Bhagavati Charan Verma, then Kashinath Singh, Uday Prakash, Akhilesh, All are important, pick any one writer and read all their creations. Munshi Premchand alone has written over three hundred stories. Finish these hundred stories in a week or ten days, read it alone or in a group, out of that only 50 stories will appeal to you majorly that you would want to perform. In 1982 I was doing one Hindi production in Bangalore, the owner of the hotel where I stayed was fond of literature, in that room, there was a library full of books, I used to pick up stories from Munshi Premchand's collection Mansarovar, every day in eight parts and within eight days, I finished reading this entire piece by Premchand. I shortlisted 20 to 25 stories out of these and eventually, after many years in Delhi, I did the production of a few of them.

GYANENDRA : And any foreign writers?

ANKUR : I haven't done much of them, because I still haven't covered all the Indian writers, However, I remember doing production on Albert Kamu's The stranger, outsiders and the Chekhov's story.

GYANENDRA : Any specific reason to choose stories when plenty of plays are there to perform?

ANKUR : it has much to do with my background, since the beginning, I had a deep relationship with literature, I was a very good reader, By the 6th or 7th standard, I had read a lot from the Hindi literature and then after joining N.S.D, I realised that I have so many things to do from them, that I read. This is how it all started and then looking at the response, I continued with it till date.

GYANENDRA : Ankur Ji, the biggest obstacle that one comes across during staging of the story is the formation of scenes, would you like to give some guidelines?

ANKUR : Interestingly, I never prepared separate scripts for stories. I always try to stage the story in its original format and then in that process it evolves and takes the shape but I never do any adaptation or alteration.

GYANENDRA : So even for the formation of scenes you don't take any liberty?

ANKUR : No, Nothing. It is not required, my work is itself called "Kahani ka Rangmanch" because of how the story itself transforms into Theatre, still being the same. Otherwise, it is so easy to prepare a new script and add the scenes from my side, dialogues from my side. So what is new in that, it is already in practice. People are doing that already. My work allows the story to remain that story only without changing the craft, form and shape and then just see how it transforms into a theatrical experience, this is the challenge.

GYANENDRA : And then what do us contribute in that as a theatre practitioner?

ANKUR : Ah...This is such a big exercise for an actor, now he is working in a form which is not a drama now. Sometimes he is in the third person, some times in the first person and sometime he shares the descriptions like a dialogue to the audiences. Sometimes he is speaking alone sometimes talking with someone, sometime the whole group is speaking together, so many ways. The actor is sometimes a character, sometimes an observer and sometimes a critic of his own. So these are all the possibilities there to be explored and perhaps this is the reason people are doing this from for so many years. For the last 45 years, I have been doing " Kahani ka Rangmanch" and still continue to do so because there are still many possibilities that are yet to be explored. I did the novel, biography in the same way.

GYANENDRA : Ankur Ji, after so many years of practise on one specific genre, spontaneously certain principles emerge as a certain list of do's and don't's ... Would you like to share them?

ANKUR : yes, obviously, I see with many grand sets, so many properties, costumes, music etc. It shows somewhere you are moving towards adaptation, I think this should be avoided as much as possible, because the provision is that, while reading the story, how it starts to take the form of life within you that is the same experience we want to create on the stage as words are moving lively on the stage. Nothing else is required; I have done all my theatre on an empty stage. Occasionally I used a chair, stool or table and other than this, I never needed anything more.

People are also confused about how to treat the description portion of the story, majorly they give it to a man called "Sutradhar" and dialogue portions is given to the rest of the actors. I want to know Why do you even need a Narrator or Sutradhar when you are doing the whole story? A portion of the description should also become one short of dialogue, so this is one important aspect that they must think upon. There is a maximum of three ways that many people have tried, First way is that they change the story into a drama, that is by just keeping the dialogues and edited descriptions etc or adding their dialogues. The second way, they loved the story but didn't take anything from the story and instead created a completely new script based on that and the third procedure, which I have been advocating since the beginning and calling it the " Kahani ka Rangmanch" that is we read the story, liked it and try to present it as it is without any change in the text.

GYANENDRA : So you're suggesting three rules that are if I may recall? first rule no deviation from the text. The second rule is, there is no need of the narrator and the third is...

ANKUR : and the third is execution with minimum properties and preferably an empty stage...

GYANENDRA : Empty stage...!

ANKUR : ... means actors can become the scenes or whatever.. and try to avoid entry and exit like drama.

GYANENDRA - Aaah! Thanks a lot, sir! It was so informative. Also just to mention, Ankur Ji, I would like to tell you that I have a very deep association with Maharastra and Marathi theatre, I wonder, why theatre couldn't become a household thing in Hindi speaking states as it is in Maharashtra? Do you feel someday Hindi belt will also have such devotion for theatre?

ANKUR : Are Bhai Hindi me to isliye nahi huwa... because Hindi speaking areas, especially Northern India was always a disturbed territory from the very beginning almost since the last one thousand years, whenever there was a foreign invasion, they always entered from the north side and they kept moving ahead disturbing the social life of these people. Therefore, I believe, people of northern India could never really get a chance to be that stable, so that they could grow their art, or their theatre appropriately. This is the biggest reason for not growing art and Theatre in Northern India. Geographically in other parts of the country situation was different and that's why we see a very strong tradition there and theatre as a major part of their lives.

GYANENDRA : one last question, do you feel disappointed sometimes when you see very profound actors who were once a part of classics Theatre and literature and are now a part of mediocre cinemas?

ANKUR : They don't have any other choice so what can they even do? Whenever they get a chance they do work closer to their heart. Like Naseer ( Naseeruddin Shah) whenever he wants to do some work of his choice, he is doing theatre. With his play, Prithvi theatre is opening from 26th November. Cinema has a different grammar if you are investing money so you want a great return Also and To recover that they have certain formats. It is called the' Film industry.' if you see, We never hear any such words related to the theatre like 'Theatre industry'. They did some good art films too, There are many such good films, I remember one film long back called "Wednesday". Now see it's a full commercial film, but at the same time, it also gives you satisfaction as an actor in terms of Acting, at the level of story and other such things.

GYANENDRA : Any last words for your students like us?

ANKUR : For last twenty years you have been continuously doing theatre, this consistency itself is a proof that all this path you have been walking all these years has some significance to your life and for the society.