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Practising the art of listening in this time of noise

Koumarane Valavane, director of Puducherry-based Indianostrum Theatre, has spent the past nine months tuning in to different voices from across the world

'Chandala, Impure'. Photo courtesy: The Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards (2018)

The last production that director Koumarane Valavane staged before covid-19 was Chandala, Impure. The play used Romeo and Juliet as a starting point to look at issues of honour killings, caste, sexuality and societal rules. However, during the pandemic, while some other theatre groups took the digital route to showcase their work, Valavane, the founder of Puducherry-based Indianostrum Theatre, has used this time for reflection. “In the past 13 years, I had been working nonstop, even if I was doing not more than one play a year,” he says. Valavane temporarily closed Indianostrum till the end of this year. Just before the lockdown, Indianostrum had been working on a new production, Flying Chariots, which they hope to put up next year, taking it to Europe as well. However, March onwards, several of the actors involved with the group headed back to their villages and hometowns. “I too came to my mother’s house. Since then, I have been writing,” says Valavane.

Koumarane Valavane of Indianostrum Theatre
Koumarane Valavane of Indianostrum Theatre

The Franco-Indian director has been watching digital work by groups, some of which he found interesting, but others done just for the sake of putting oneself out there. He hasn’t gone down the virtual path as “I didn’t feel what I had to say could be told digitally. And sometimes, we need to listen to what the world is saying to us. My form of expression during the pandemic has been my silence,” Valavane has also been mulling over the kind of stories that will be told in theatre in the coming months. Will they be the kind that were told before the pandemic, or will the deepening crisis taking place across the world be incorporated? “There is this wonderful quote by Bertlot Brecht. ‘In the dark times, will there also be singing? Yes, there will also be singing about the dark times’. It will not serve well if we don’t tell stories of this time,” he says.

However, Valavane doesn’t feel that artists should confine themselves to just theatre. Rather, he sees this as a time of expanding one’s way of expression. Art could bring together photos and performance, or an element of digital into a live experience. He also feels a greater need to tell stories passed on as oral traditions in villages. For a production sometime in the future, he would like to look at the meetings held on the cusp of Indian independence between leaders from across class, caste and religions, “They shared some common values. I want to do a play around that as we all need a reminder about what connects, say, a person from Uttar Pradesh, with someone like me from Tamil Nadu,” he adds.

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