Because classics need revisiting

Updated: Sep 28, 2019, 16:53 IST | Snigdha Hasan | Mumbai

A new production of Girish Karnad's Tughlaq situates the iconic play in a dystopian setting. Director Abhinav Grover on his journey with the script

A scene from the play with Abhinav Grover
A scene from the play with Abhinav Grover

Those plays which are contemporary but are forgotten a few years later are not political plays. Political plays talk about much more than a political event; they talk about the forces that shape the event... I have an offer now to translate my play, Tughlaq, into Iranian. Now, why is that? Because it makes sense in Iran today," Girish Karnad had told this writer in March this year, about why he deemed relevance necessary for the success of political plays.

Girish Karnad

Three months later, his passing left an aching void in the world of theatre. But theatrewallahs quickly found a way of paying tribute to the playwright the way he would have liked it, and thus began a series of readings of Karnad’s plays by theatre companies across India. "But the joy of a play lies in mounting it," says Mumbai-based Abhinav Grover, who has taken on the task of directing a dystopian adaptation of Tughlaq, where he also plays the 14th-century Sultan of Delhi. Though a historical play about the idealist ruler who failed miserably, Karnad’s script alluded to the times he wrote it in — the Nehruvian era and the ultimate disillusionment with it. Since then, the play has been staged at different stages in the country’s history including Alyque Padamsee’s English adaptation of it and Ebrahim Alkazi’s staging of the play in Delhi.

Ebrahim Alkazi’s 1974 production, Purana Qila, New Delhi, 1974. Pic courtesy/Alkazi Theatre Archives/ Alkazi Foundation for the Arts

"A writer lives on through his words. What you need is young people to engage with them, making them relevant through their own contexts, understanding and upbringing," shares Grover, 27, who put together a cast of 13 actors of varying experience including senior artiste Chinmay Kelkar and 19-year-old Ansh Gupta. An alumnus of The Drama School Mumbai, Grover had read Karnad’s works as a student there. But it was while assisting veteran director Sunil Shanbag in his adaptation of Taledanda in March that the political intricacies of Karnad’s writing became more apparent. "Then the General Elections happened. With the complex character of its protagonist, Tughlaq helps you understand the psyche of a ruler by reflecting on the present through the prism of the past," he explains.

This being his third directorial venture, Grover’s earlier plays, Ram Ji Aayenge and Krishna Sandhan, were contemporary takes on Indian mythology. With history now added to that, is this mix of the past and the fantastical the idiom that has come to define his work? "I was once speaking to [theatre director] Abhishek Majumdar and what he told me has stayed with me," he recalls. "He said, ‘Always do a classic in a new way. And treat a new play like a classic.’"

On Today and tomorrow, 7 pm
At The Drama School Mumbai, Charni Road.
RSVP 9930157637
Entry Rs 200

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