It is ten-thirty on a weekday night. Dressed casually in a white shirt and jeans, Arjun Sajnani doesn’t look like someone who was in another city only a few hours ago.
“The minute the plane lands at the airport I feel the energy of this city; it’s just the same energy as New York,” says the director, who once lived in the most populous city in the United States, and for who Bangalore is now home.
Sajnani is in Mumbai to promote the out-of-town production A Man For All Seasons, which will have a limited run in the city. The play by Oscar-winning screenwriter Robert Bolt, which premiered on the London stage in July of 1960, was later adapted into a successful film directed by Fred Zinnemann.
“When we started work on the Tudor piece, the first question that popped into people’s minds was: ‘Will the young people of today enjoy it?’,” says Sajnani.
It’s a question that the director of Girish Karnad’s Tughlaq and the 2002 Hindi film starring south star Nagarjuna, Agni Varsha does not appreciate. “When we were growing up, the things that we watched were never centric to only an environment we were comfortable with,” he says, adding, “The response that we received in Bangalore was heartening, though I don’t know how many people in the audience were young or old.”
The question of ‘theatre as entertainment’ is, however, still one that the director must grapple with. “Theatre does not make me any money, the restaurant does,” says Sajnani, referring to Sunny’s and the relatively new Sunny’s Indira, restaurants that he runs along with partner Vivek Ubhayakar.
Timing is everything
A Man For All Seasons marks Sajnani’s return to the theatre after six years. “After Tughlaq, I worked on two or three scripts, hoping that something would click,” he says.
Three years ago, something did click, but the director still had to wait for other things to fall in place. “I tried to do this play three years ago, but from a cast of 14, five would show up for rehearsal,” shares Sajnani, who has retained a few members from the original cast.
The drama that is set in the sixteenth century tells the story of Renaissance man Thomas More. “It’s about having the guts to become a martyr and the huge amount of courage it takes to face eventuality,” says Sajnani, referring to the character of Thomas More who refused to annul the marriage between Henry VIII of England and Catherine of Aragon, so that the king would be free to marry Anne Boleyn, as it went against his religious beliefs.
Sajnani, who plays the “small, but significant role” of Cardinal Wolsey, says, “The idea to revive the play occurred to me, as I realised with Anna Hazare’s movement against corruption that there was a consciousness about corruption and a refusal to bow to authority .”
Ashok Mandanna, Anil Abraham and Vivek Madan are part of the production.
Thomas More (7 Feb 1478 — 6 July 1535) was advisor to Henry VIII of England. Henry VIII was keen to marry his mistress’ sister Anne Boleyn, as he was hopeful that she would provide him with a male heir to continue the Tudor line. To marry Boleyn, however, he would first need to have his marriage to wife Catherine annulled. More refused to support King Henry VIII’s plan and ultimately resigns from his post, citing ill health. He was later found guilty of treason and sent for execution. His final words were: “The King’s good servant, but God’s First.” More was beatified in 1886 and is recognised as a saint within the Catholic Church.