New Delhi, Sep 25 (IANS): Long back, he had seen the film ’To Be or Not To Be’, a textbook movie shown at all film schools which is about a Polish theatre group struggling to survive, trying to escape and fool Hitler and his people. The film made a huge impact on theatre director Atul Kumar, and thus was born the play ‘Baaghi Albele'.
“Many artists including myself feel censored and attacked. A few of my close friends have also suffered and it felt like the right time to attempt it. So I approached the writer Nick Witbee and he allowed us to perform it. One is always trying to negotiate how to put out your views -- directly, metaphorically and poetically. The play is our attempt to underline, through performance, the relevance of art and artists to the healthy growth of a nation. ‘Baaghi Albele’, is daring and brave and I am proud of it,” he told IANS.
In times, when getting ‘hurt’ seems to be the easiest thing to do -- stand-up comedy, a film’s name, and a very shallow and linear reading of the ‘culture’, he hopes people become stronger every time they are silenced. “There have been places where theatre groups have performed the same play where a group member was killed. I admire such hearts of steel. I just pray we develop multiple ways of fighting back.”
This is Kumar’s first production in Punjabi and he is set to bring it to Chandigarh, Jalandhar and Amritsar. The director, who grew up in Old Delhi amid Punjabis, understands the language well. When he decided to adapt it to an Indian situation, he zeroed in on this language as it has a joie de vivre. “Punjabis have always fought against oppression and been a part of so many revolutions,” he asserts.
“The atmosphere in the rehearsal room was brilliant. It was lovely to be around them and there were things that happened to people but the kind of joy that was in the room was unbelievable. The level which people share, it was an absolute joy. It is a comedy and there are so many different ideas. "
Kumar rejects the narrative that many major corporates are coming forward to support theatre. Adding that neither the government nor business houses are doing anything substantial for this art form, he laments that it is a constant struggle and plays that do get sponsorships mostly manage that through personal relations. “Yes, there are some corporate’ backed festivals, but they are careful about the content that goes out in the world so that their name does get attached to anything controversial. Frankly, the most important theatre festival is the one that happens in Kerala which is completely state-funded. And that is autonomous and they get international and national. And if people are putting crores and lakhs then they do want their share back.”
Kumar, who trained in Kathakali and Kalaripayattu for several years says the same has had a huge impact on his psycho-physical formation as an actor, not to mention how these forms contributed to his fitness. “Although I don’t practice those art forms now they have had an impact on my creativity too, and I do many things that are not in the genre of theatre and not everyday stories. It helped me to delve into that world and allowed me to bring it into the contemporary world.”
Now seen regularly on OTT and in films, he smiles, he has to make some money too. “My kids are growing up fast. You will see me in more movies and series.”
The director, who started an international residency in Kamshet 12 years back where artists from across the world come to perform and hold workshops, adds, “We hold festivals and children’s workshops there too, besides performances at local schools. It is completely organic and blends itself beautifully with all kinds of art.”
Wanting to try out Harold Pinter’s ‘Mountain Language’ and do it in 13 different languages in 13cities, he also wants to explore Charlie Chaplin’s biography. “I am also thinking of taking a long sabbatical... I have done theatre for so long, I do want to try something else too.”