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Myriad shoes to fill

That's what the solo artiste in the play Arrangement of Shoes does as she switches characters spanning three generations

An Arrangement of Shoes written by Abhishek Majumdar had its India premiere in Ranga Shankara yesterday. It has been performed in a few theatres in London and the Edinburgh and Exeter Fringe Festivals in Scotland and won the Toto Funds the Arts Award.


A still from the play

But the play had a rather humble beginning. Abhishek, in fact, didn't have an audience in mind when he wrote it in a bus travelling from Madrid to Prague. "I was writing a play called Ahmet about three generations of a family in India. And then the image of a girl with lots of shoes on the stage flashed in my mind," he reveals.

Abhishek was certain that the play had to have just one actor playing multiple roles, but if he directed it, he would have cast three women in the roles of the grandmother, the mother and the twins.

The play was written in three days and is easily Abhishek's quickest work, perhaps because the idea was at the tip of his pen. But ask him what the play really is about, and he says, "A play is not about one thing and should not be. A play has the ambition of a novel and the precision of a poem. The play shows how ordinary lives are touched by larger events in the world."

The 75-minute play directed by Vivek V Narayan narrates the story of a family told by Rukshar, a young Muslim girl between 28 and 30,  played by Anitha Santhanam. It's set during the Gulf War and begins with the death of Rukshar's grandfather (Dadajaan) which prompts her to reminisce about him, her grandmother and her mother.

Abhishek always wanted a female protagonist for the play as much as he wanted to set it in a railway colony in small town Barauni, as he had an uncle who lives in one such colony. "While writing it, I realised that I am interested in a woman who's a shoe stealer," says Abhishek. And that's how Rukshar's twin sister Nissar's character was born.

The twins are integral to the script. "The twins don't really talk to each other but stand by each other nevertheless. That's how siblings are. I share a similar rapport with mine," shares Abhishek. As the play progresses, Nissar becomes a frequent shoe stealer. "Stealing is her way of reacting to situations around her," explains Abhishek.

And the situations range from the death of her father, who used to work in an oil firm in Dubai during the first world war and her grandmother dying dreaming of her son.

But the stealing of shoes has been given a communal undertone for Dadajaan is the keeper of shoes and since the shoes go missing from the temple and a mosque in the same compound, people actually start counting how many Hindu shoes and how many Muslim shoes are missing. 

 In Abhishek's mind however religion is a non-issue in India. "Maybe I'm a romantic. But I feel the large middle class in the country doesn't bother about religion. The Hindu Muslim tussle is too outdated. Yes, people do react when there's communal disturbance," he avers. 

He's often asked why his characters are mostly Muslim, but this play isn't about the minority community, clarifies Abhishek. "India has the second largest population of Muslims after Indonesia, so Muslims are not a minority here," maintains Abhishek.

The play, according to him, has a lot of pathos highlighted by the sense of loss in it. "People respond differently to pain. Children don't really talk about it. They behave like nothing has happened and carry on with their lives. But it's not as if they are unaffected. Adults talks about it," observes Abhishek. 

Vivek had never worked on a one woman show or a play that required the use of multimedia. "So it was challenging for me. The videos of the song Mere Mehboob from the film of the same name and Anand Patwardhan's documentary Ram Ke Naam play key parts in the play," says Vivek.

Abhishek never wanted to direct the play as he wanted someone else to interpret the story. "Theatre is not a solo form. I don't think the play belongs only to the writer," he says.  
The play will travel to Mumbai and Calicut shortly.

Where Ranga Shankara 36/2, 8th Cross, JP Nagar 2nd Phase
When November 16, 7 30 pm
Call 8971965921
For Rs 100

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