Years ago, my playwriting teacher Carl Miller, during a lecture on ‘Where ideas come from’, advised us, “Read, scan and scour the newspapers, they are granaries of juicy tidbits and numerous ideas for potential drama. Thanks to Indian news, which is full of nuggets, how can you ever be short of ideas?
“There is drama on every street corner of India, it just depends on how you fictionalise it.”
Carl comes to town in a week, and he will ask me, as he always does, “Rahul, much is happening in India. Surely you have three potential play ideas based on current news?”
And I will say, “Carl, here they are.”
News Item 1: A Muslim man is lynched to death in a village. Minutes before be dies, he frantically calls his Hindu childhood friend. The friend arrives late. The chilling deed has been committed.
My play idea: A Rashoman-like plot, which unfolds through the parallel perspectives of the leader of the mob, the temple priest who announces that the man had killed a calf, the investigating police chief and the friend, who puts his grief and guilt aside, to narrate the story.
News Item 2: A Pakistani ghazal singer is disallowed from singing in a Mumbai concert because certain political parties forbid it.
My play idea: The singer decides to become a cricket commentator-cum actor because he realises that there is no bar on either of them.
News Item 3: Christians and Muslims are not allowed to participate in garba raas during Navratri.
My play idea: A Catholic dance instructor called Rodrigues decides to create a new navatri dance incorporating garba steps along with tango, ramba, samba, cha cha cha and the jive moves.
But I will also tell Carl:
1. With the first play, the auditorium, will be stormed by certain groups who will tear out the seats and destroy my set.
2. With the second play, the auditorium will be stormed by certain groups who will tear out the seats and destroy my set.
3. With the third play, I will be accused of ‘hurting religious sentiments’.
So, instead of risking life and limb, I will take him to a performance of the newly-opened play, Agnes of God. And we will watch the play, protected by several khaki-clad policemen. And he will wonder how a play, as non-controversial as this, has attracted so much negative attention. And, I will explain that in beloved India, it only requires one zealot to stir up a hornet’s nest without having bothered to read the script. One trouble maker, seeking his five minutes of fame, to have the gall to speak on behalf of an entire community.
Post the performance, I will take Carl for a steak dinner.
Not cow beef. Buffalo.
Rahul da Cunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org