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Theatre is all I know: Atul Kumar

As his new play opens in the city next week, director Atul Kumar tells Deepali Dhingra that all the world’s a stage for him

We enter Room 802 of Sardar Patel Institute of Technology at Bhavan’s campus, Andheri, and find actors Kalki Koechlin, Purab Kohli, Richa Chaddha and Cyrus Sahukar, sitting cross-legged on cardboard boxes and listening intently to Atul Kumar.

The acclaimed theatre director’s new play, Trivial Disasters, debuted last week in Bangalore. And here he is, storming across the makeshift stage and passionately telling his cast to engage with the audience.

Atul Kumar
Atul Kumar’s play, Trivial Disasters, will turn everyday events upside down. Pic/Kaushik Thanekar

It’s not the deepest question to ask someone who got into theatre at 14, but know we must—after having travelled to Kerala to learn Kathakali and Kalaripayattu, and to England, France and the UK to learn theatre, what does it all really mean to Kumar? “It’s life,” he says simply, “It’s all I do, all I’ve done, all that I know how to do. I don’t know anything else.”

With acclaimed plays such as Piya Behrupiya, Hamlet—The Clown Prince, The Blue Mug, among others, Kumar, today, is one of the most successful theatre directors around. His shows go housefull, and peers and critics are all praises, but the 46-year-old brushes it all aside. “We’ve just been fortunate,” says the founder of The Theatre Company. “We don’t publicise our work. We don’t even have a designer on board—I often sit till 3 am to design our posters.”

So what is the secret of his success — his Delhi-bred Marwari business sense? “No. Like I said, we’ve just been fortunate,” he smiles. Last year, when they opened the production, Unselfed, based on Haruki Murakami’s works, there were hardly any takers for the piece. “Today, we’re doing a play with four film stars and it has sold out even before it is ready. These things should not to be taken for granted,” he adds.

It is Kumar’s unflagging desire to change that fuels his work. “I never allow myself to be comfortable,” he reveals. The ultimate homage he could pay to his first love is by living for 10,000 years, so he could make 500 plays. “But that’s not going to happen, so I will just do 1/10th of it in my lifetime,” Kumar smiles.

Trivial Disasters will be staged at St Andrews Auditorium, Bandra on August 3 at 7 pm

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