I saw the Bhagvad Gita in The Alchemist: Ashvin Gidwani

Published: Apr 18, 2009, 18:47 IST | Fashutana Patel

Producer Ashvin Gidwani on the stage production of Paulo Coelho's bestseller that will play across India

Producer Ashvin Gidwani on the stage production of Paulo Coelho's bestseller that will play across India  

DO you want the long version or short version?" asks Ashvin Gidwani, when we enquire about latest production, the theatre version of Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist. We get the long version, sprinkled with good humour and philosophy.

A still from The Alchemist

"Everybody was talking about The Alchemist. I'd read half the novel but was not able to get back to it," he says. Time passed and Gidwani found himself in London, reading an article about a theatre version of The Alchemist there. He went to see it: "It was verbose but colourful. I picked up the book again, finished reading it in one sitting from 10 pm to 5 in the morning. I understood why it had been such an inspiration to so many," he says. Julia Roberts and Will Smith are a few Hollywood actors who've complimented the book.

So in 2007, the producer started his communication with Coelho's company that encouraged him to do it the way he saw it best. The process to shaping the play further deepened his understanding into the bestseller. He says it becomes a part of your being and you learn to utilise what it tells you: the universe is what you make of it.

In his mind's eye, Gidwani saw the Bhagvad Gita in The Alchemist. Why? Because both have the idea that "the whole world converges towards a universal truth. When you have an idea to do something, the whole world comes together with you to do that," he explains.

Gidwani chose journalist Deepa Gehlot to adapt the book for stage. "She said, 'I haven't read it,' I asked her to read it. After she had, I asked her to visualise it," he says. Manish Dattani was approached to direct. "Mahesh is a brilliant director. He has tremendous experience. We both understood that if we want to create something, we have to make it grand, have great production values, music and live singing, martial arts" Hold on, martial arts? Really? "Yes," comes the reply "and choreography and then of course, we wanted a fresh face for Santiago (the principal character of the book). We went for 300 + auditions," says Gidwani.

At last, Mohan Kapoor was chosen for the part. And despite music being a primal force that weaves the play, it isn't a musical, says the producer.

A year and a half later, a book that Gidwani couldn't finish will see its theatrical form in India. The magic realism of the book is something the cast and crew hope to catch the authenticity of. "Time was spent in research and development, making it theatre worthy. We wanted to be able to engage the audience without giving them a moment to say 'What's going on?' We took the entire essence; you've got to take the piece for what it is. We wanted to keep the symbolism of the content and take it forward. Think on a larger scale," says the producer.

The Alchemist will play today evening, 6.30 pm at Tata Theatre, NCPA

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