'It's a bit like an Indian King Lear'

A much acclaimed and experimental UK production about a doctor dealing with Alzheimer's and his family learning about their Indian origins, flags off NCPA's centrestage

How does a family, members of which have lived their lives as British citizens, suddenly cope with the reality that they actually hail from Goa? How does a much-loved doctor who has treated serious conditions himself, handle being struck down by Alzhiemer's? And how are these questions of memory, identity and the fragility of the human condition translated through circus acts on a stage?

Only Bobbie can see this hoop. It becomes a door that only he can open
and go through. The hoop takes him back to his childhood world of
Bombay in the '50s

To find out, pay a visit to the staging of Mind Walking, Tanika Gupta's much-acclaimed UK production, that opens the Centrestage festival at the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA). As director John Binnie tells us, the team, currently in Delhi for three shows of the play, researched and developed Mindwalking in Mumbai last year, and anticipates a good response from the NCPA crowd after seeing "some inspiring new Indian writing" as audience members.

The play deals with questions of identity, a pertinent subject these days.
Mind Walking explores what makes up a life. Bobbie is 74, and his mind is starting to wander. He has lived in Britain for over 50 years, working as a doctor. He is married to a white English woman, and has a daughter and grandson. He has been alienated from India, where he lived his first 20 years. When he reverts to his mother tongue Gujarati, how does his family communicate with him? Does our adopted country or our birth country shape us? The world often looks at older people, instantly assuming that we know what that elder's life is and has been. But human beings constantly surprise us when we dig below the surface.

The play has generated a lot of press for the use of circus techniques.
A red metal hoop hangs from the lighting grid. Only Bobbie can see this hoop. It becomes a door that only he can open and go through. The hoop takes him back to his childhood world of Bombay in the '50s, climbing Mango trees with his brother in the heat and noise. It also symbolises his mind, his completeness as a person, the world that he travels (from Bombay to London) in the early '60s. The hoop is completely integrated, so it is also used as a swing in a love scene, or a table. The fusion of hoop and emotion makes Mind Walking poetic and fluid in its staging. It is not a distressing, naturalistic study of mind wandering.

Does the play also explore notions of home and family?
Bobbie has denied his Indian past to his wife, daughter and grandson. The daughter especially, as an Anglo Indian living in Britain, knows nothing of her father's past although she has asked him often about it. Mind Walking isn't just about a person with Alzhiemer's, but also explores how a family needs to step up and rise to the challenge, when such a crisis occurs.

Why is the play called Mind Walking?
It is about an old mind that is compelled to walk. When we near the end of our life, what are the issues we need to address? Where did we get stuck in life? What are the essentials?

How have audiences reacted to the play?
We opened the show in London, and toured south of England and Scotland. We've just opened in Delhi. Audiences have been moved by the production; the combination of the story and the trapeze has intrigued them. We've performed to a variety of audiences so far, including the Parsi community in London, young African refugees in Scotland, students in Oxford, and elderly South Asians in Glasgow. They all seem to get something different from the show.

Any expectations from the NCPA performance? What are you hoping for?
Tanika Gupta (writer), aerialist producer Philippa Vafadari, co-producer Quasar Padamsee of Q Theatre, and I researched and developed Mind Walking in Mumbai last year (within a week's time). We worked with a group of fascinating Indian actors, who shared their stories and enthusiasm with us. We met lots of Parsis, who did likewise. We think Mind Walking will work well. We are also finding that the play has lots of reverberations among our Delhi audience. We have two performances in Bengaluru, before the Mumbai performances. Mind Walking is set in Bombay, so it'll be a real privilege to perform it there. We can' wait!

Tell us about casting Bobbie.
It was very difficult to cast the part of Bobbie. We've found an incredible 74 year-old actor, Peter D'Souza, who was really up for the adventure of playing this kind of emotional part and embarking on such a tour. It's a bit like an Indian King Lear.

At: 4 pm & 7.30 pm, November 18, Experimental Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point
For: Rs 300, Rs 250 and Rs 200
Call: 66223737

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