the grapevine is abuzz about Sunil Shanbag’s upcoming play Club Desire. So when we hear that it premiers on October 24 at NCPA, we decide to take a sneak peek. The eighth floor of the Sardar Patel Institute of Technology at Bhavan’s campus in Andheri is normally buzzing with Shanbag’s actors rehearsing in one room, while on either side, there’s Quasar Thakore Padamsee rehearsing for one of his plays and a Gujarati stage rehearsal in the other. Manasi Parekh Gohil, the protagonist of Club Desire, laughingly tells us, “I was telling Sunil the other day that if a random person happens to come to the eighth floor of this building, he will think everyone’s gone mad, with somebody yelling in one room, two people romancing in the other and someone crying in the third!”
Today is a quieter day, with only the actors of Club Desire getting their act together. When we step inside room 802 at around 5.30 in the evening, the actors are taking a little break. Parikh-Gohil, Faisal Rashid, Karan Pandit and Ankur Ratan, have been rehearsing since four in the evening, Shanbag tells us. The fifth actor in the play, Gagan Dev Riar, is travelling with another play and couldn’t make it for the rehearsal today. Inspired by the French opera Carmen, Club Desire is all about love, passion and jealousy. “I saw Carmen in the 1970s, and have lived with it for many years,” Shanbag tells us, “I was fascinated by Carmen, her free spirit and her in-your-face sexuality. When I thought of adapting it for stage, I had to think of a setting where music was part of the scenario, so I set it in a nightclub called Club Desire.”
Parikh-Gohil, who plays the central character Chahat, embodies the characteristics of Carmen from the original play. “It’s the story of a free spirit, of a woman who cannot be possessed. Chahat is a singer at a nightclub called Club Desire and that’s where she meets Faisal’s character Jayam, who is a writer. That’s the start of a relationship and slowly, things start breaking down,” she tells us during the tea break. And as she’s also required to sing in the play, Parikh-Gohil, who was once a part of a fusion rock band called Soul Sutra, has been practising, even at home. Does the husband object? “I don’t sing that loudly,” she grins, “Otherwise I would lose my voice.”
Tea break over, the actors get set to rehearse a scene involding Parikh-Gohil, Rashid and Ratan, who plays a budding writer called Ravi. And while they go over their act, Shanbag watches from the sidelines. Changing an expression here, a gesture there, the director is completely involved. “I really see myself as an informed observer,” he says, while adding that with this play, he’s got actors who are keen to discuss the characters and the dialogues with him. “I have given them a framework, and they are free to experiment within that framework. I love it when actors do something and I can watch and say that worked or that didn’t work. That’s what my role is,” he adds. The exchange of ideas between them is something even Rashid prefers to have. “The script is still a work in progress. There are 20 ways in which a scene can be performed; you have to choose the best option,” he says.
The next scene the actors rehearse is pretty intense — a sort of a confontration between Rashid and Pandit. Again, there is a lot of deliberation and discussion on how the actors should express themselves or react to a certain dialogue. Pandit, who plays DJ Abeer, gets into a discussion with writer Sapan Saran about some of his lines and dialogue delivery. “I do tend to work a bit on the background of the character. I need it somewhere just to hold it in my head,” he says. There is a part in the play where he gets to play music as a DJ for a bit and he’s excited about that. “I’ve dabbled in DJing for a while when I was younger. So maybe that will come in handy now,” he smiles.
It’s close to 8 pm and the actors take a break again, this time there’s poha to savour. “We actors are always hungry,” grins Ratan. The actor considers Shanbag his mentor and is doubling up as the Executive Producer on the play. “I was doing a couple of workshops with Sunil sir when I got the opportunity to work in this play with him,” says the young actor, who was last seen in the play A Kind of True Story. As music is an integral part of the play, the musicians will be joining them for the rehearsals in a few days. “We have to practise with them as there has to be a lot of co-ordination between the actors and the music. Otherwise, Club Desire will turn into club commotion,” he says jokingly. Well, with the kind of preparation and time the actors are putting into this one, that hardly seems a possibility.