Tiger in the theatre

Published: Jun 16, 2019, 05:14 IST | Rahul da Cunha

Here's my thing. When it comes to the theatre, I have some specific rules that I abide by, as a writer, and as a watcher:

Tiger in the theatre
Illustration/Uday Mohite

Rahul da CunhaSo, last week, I was asked a lot about the great Girish Karnad's contribution to theatre. That was an easy one. "It was immense, unmatched," I said. But when questioned on the slightly more curve-balled, "What did you think of his plays?," a ready answer wasn't available. In Facebook lingo, it was complicated.

Here's my thing. When it comes to the theatre, I have some specific rules that I abide by, as a writer, and as a watcher:

1. Dialogue between characters needs to be snappy, loaded with subtext (dear reader, that translates as what is really being said).

2. Less is more, meaning don't tell us everything.

3. Conflict needs to be in the scene not offstage. It was in some of these that I felt a tad differently from the legend.

But, perhaps my biggest disagreement was this. "In scenes, characters need to persuade each other to do something," he said.

No sir, persuasion is a weak emotion. In my humble opinion, great stage characters attempt to wound each other, manipulate each other. In life we talk, in theatre we taunt.
Perhaps Mr Karnad did achieve all these things, it's just that I didn't see them.

But if my ultimate truth be told, and if it does seem like a contradiction, he was our poster boy. No question.

Any theatre bookshop, anywhere in the world, will have Karnad's compilation of plays on its shelves.

Countless Indian theatre companies, striving to do local plays, not Arthur Miller, would stage his Tughlaq or Hayavadana. And I would think to myself with some envy, "Mera time kab aayega?"

Then one day, the first phone call came. "Sir, we are the amateur dramatics club, as part of IIT Trivandrum. Last year we performed Girish Karnad's Hayavadana, this year, we would appreciate the rights to your Class of 84." This was followed by a mail from the Indian students of Penn State, saying that their theatre wing had staged Karnad's Tughlaq; this year they would like to consider my Pune Highway.

Every year now, I get mails asking me if the copyright of one of my plays be allowed: American colleges, Ahmedabad dramatic clubs. It is joyful and humbling. Invariably, the mail will say that a Karnad classic has graced their auditorium in previous years.

And so, it was with some shock when a leading publication headlined Karnad's obit as, "Tiger Zinda Hai actor dies at 81."

An absurd caption, probably written by a young greenhorn journo, unaware of the man's legacy as a Sanskrit scholar, but aware that he was Salman Khan's RAW boss. (That's how Bollywood we've become.)

And yet, the truth was, he kept his acting simple, in stark contrast to his complex plays. His face often showed very little, but you sensed there was much going on underneath.
He was truly underplayed. As Dr Rao in Manthan. And, Bhai's boss.

Goodbye, sir. Thank you for living life on your own terms.

Rahul daCunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at rahuldacunha62@gmail.com

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