Five chairs occupy the centre of the stage and the sixth lies in a corner. Three men and three women are standing around the ones in the centre. As they start sitting one after the other, one woman is left standing. She walks ahead and takes her place on the sixth chair in the corner.
This image had played out in Manav Kaul’s mind when he started rehearsing for his new play a month-and-a-half ago. All he had in place at the time was his cast and this image. Based on this, he started writing and rewriting stories and snippets, and a structure started to emerge, which has now taken the shape of Tumhaare Baare Mein. It bears no direct connection with his book by the same title.
This new Hindi play sees him taking on the director’s mantle after a gap of almost five years. This story is Kaul’s modern take on relationships, in which the man wants to be a penguin but the woman is a bird and wants to fly. “There are things that bother you and you are compelled to write about them. For instance, from a larger perspective, I have always felt that our mothers have been reduced to glorified maids. I detest it from the core of my being and have fought against it within my family and outside. That is where the idea of a woman as a bird comes from—someone who wants to fly but has been put in a cage,” he explains.
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The absurd piece of theatre, or dark comedy, explores many themes, right from desires to fulfilment, fantasies and voids. This “devised writing piece” saw the play’s six actors—Manasi Bhawalkar, Priyanka Choudhary, Sakhee Gokhale, Ghanshyam Lalsa, Kaustubh Harit and Hrishabh Kanti—rehearsing lines, which would inevitably be changed the next day. Lalsa, who has worked with Kaul in seven other plays, shares that the director would keep improvising on the stories and lines daily. Kaul admits to it with a laugh, “I think I had started appearing in their nightmares!” What has emerged from all that improvisation, he believes, is something really interesting and a piece that he is extremely proud of.
Whether it is in his books or plays, when he sees something completely unexpected, Kaul finds it compelling to pursue it. “What started emerging after all those re-writings was absolutely absurd and whacko. This play was a beautiful surprise to me,” he says. “In a span of an hour and 15 minutes, there is so much one can say, and I have a lot to say.”
For Harit, who is making his debut with this play, working in Tumhaare Baare Mein has been challenging as well as fun. “As an actor, I got to explore spaces that were surreal,” he says. For Gokhale, working with the director has helped push her boundaries as an actor as well. “It is so refreshing to have a man telling a female story devoid of the male gaze. It is an empowering piece in that sense,” she adds.
Tumhaare Baare Mein at Experimental Theatre, The National Centre for Performing Arts, Mumbai, on 27 and 28 May, 5 pm and 7 pm respectively
Deepali Singh is a Mumbai-based art and culture writer