He is busy hammering a nail on the stage of open-air theatre at Kala Bhawan, to ready the set of his new production, Palayan, being put together by his six-year-old Chandigarh-based theatre group, Rang Virasat. In between, he manages to take calls from team members, who are also busy prepping for the play to be staged the same evening.
National School of Drama (NSD) pass-out, renowned playwright and director Asif Ali, manages to sum up the whole world of theatre in a small conversation.
But the man prefers to begin with the play he has been working on from the past one-and-a-half months, the music for which has been provided by Kajal Ghosh. “The play is about displaced immigrants. We live in a global village, and development obviously gives rise to displacement.
Now, Mumbai is a cosmopolitan city where people from different parts of the nation descend, mostly for their careers. But, they end up facing various problems by certain fanatic political outfits. It’s like they have something against growth and civilization. I felt the need to talk about these issues,” shares Ali and adds that Palayan also has a historical perspective to it.
“It talks about Indian indentured labourers who were taken to Fiji to work in a sugar plantation. The act of slavery was abolished and the play is about the way these people were taken as bonded labourers to those places. Most of these people died on the ship and women were mistreated by Britishers. Hence, it’s about the struggle of their identity and loneliness. Only 10% of the people returned, while the rest struggled there,” he adds.
But how would the audience establish a connection with the characters? “People connect with emotions. Since Punjab sees a lot of immigration, all of us will see it as our own story. The canvas of the play is quite big and I have tried to move beyond the four walls. The colonial architecture of the city (Chandigarh) also plays a huge role in the play.”
Finally getting down to his journey that led him from National School of Drama, Delhi to Mumbai to Chandigarh, he says, “When I shifted to Mumbai, I got the Bismillah Khan Yuva Puruskar for my playwriting in 2007. I was also offered various projects that could’ve helped me earn well. But, the kind of writing required there would have exhausted me. Since I believed that the recognition I got was for playwriting, I came back to Chandigarh and continued with theatre.”
About what disturbs the man — who shuttles between Delhi and Chandigarh — about Chandigarh theatre, he says, “Acting is a practice-oriented art, but theatre in Chandigarh is oversimplified by many upcoming artistes. On the positive side, you will hardly find a tussle between different theatre groups here. Artistes here are helpful, unlike other cities.”
Ali has recently worked in a few movies, including Indo-Canadian movie Amal (2007) by Richie Mehta. Another movie, Bioscope, the shoot for which took place in Bikaner, is in the post-production phase. Then, he is also playing a role in an English feature film, An America in India, by Akksar Allahabadi, which is based on inflation, corruption and poverty in our country.
The play is being staged at Kala Bhawan, Sector 16, at 6.45 pm today