Playwright Purva Naresh on balancing mainstream cinema and sensitive theatre
A playwright, dancer and percussionist. That’s 44-year-old Purva Naresh for you. We are at her Lokhandwala residence. A number of instruments, novels and scripts are scattered around the living room. The disarray is courtesy her busy schedule: her upcoming play, Ladies Sangeet, which will premiere at the ongoing Aadyam Theatre Festival tomorrow. During this hectic period, Purva prefers a Lee Child thriller. “Murder mysteries give me solutions and help me plot schemes for killing certain people around me,” she laughs.
Over tea, we get chatting about Ladies Sangeet. “The play deals with a pertinent issue — gender stereotyping. Our evolution today is speedy, but we tend to get polarised — economically as well as culturally. Ladies Sangeet highlights the conflict between classical and contemporary ideologies, in a subtle way,” she says.
Back to the beginning
Born in Lucknow, Purva was exposed to various art forms since a young age. Her father, Naresh Saxena, is a Hindi poet, while her mother, Vijay Naresh, was a singer. Purva, a trained Kathak dancer, choreographs the dance sequences in her plays herself. She is also a percussionist — she plays the mridangam and uses it for the music in her productions.
Her mother was the first woman to graduate in film direction from the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune, in 1974. Following in her footsteps, Purva too did a film production course from the same institute.
She started off in the theatre circuit by writing a play, Afsaneh: Bai se Bioscope Tak, in 2008 for Rajit Kapoor’s, Rage Productions. In two years, she founded her own theatre company, Aarambh Productions. It brought together music, dance and drama — a trait that’s common to all her plays. It’s also a reflection of the fact that her life is an amalgamation of different art forms.
Travel has helped her form plots and characters. “The best stories are not found in between the pages of a book, but on the pages of a passport,” she shares. It is also the motto she abides by. “I turn the random people I bump into while exploring the world into characters in my stories.”
Purva has written and directed several plays for Aarambh. Some of them include Ok Tata Bye Bye, Aaj Rang Hai and an adaptation of Umrao. Ok Tata Bye Bye, an offshoot of a short film titled Highway Courtesans, for which she was the cinematographer, is especially close to her heart; it got her the Laadli Media Award for Best Play on Gender Sensitisation (2012) and the Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Purushkar (2015), also known as the National Award for young performing and theatre artist.
From the heart
Purva’s plays tend to touch upon delicate issues such as caste-based prostitution. “It is important to debate on these topics. Besides, theatre is the strongest storytelling platform. It helps you follow a particular path without being worried about the backlash you might face, unlike in commercial cinema,” she says.
However, Purva has done a few gigs in the commercial cinema circuit too, having written dialogue for Hasee toh Phasee (2014) and Dum Maaro Dum (2011). Her way of balancing her time between theatre and commercial cinema, she tells us, is to constantly oscillate between the two.
Apart from taking up causes through her work, she also feels strongly about preserving Hindi, and makes sure her plays retain it in some way or the other. “Its importance is diminishing. It is imperative to connect with the masses and not just the niche, English-speaking audience,” she feels.
Ladies Sangeet will be staged on May 7, 7.30pm onward
Where: St. Andrews Auditorium, Bandra (W)
Call: 2640 1657
Tickets: Rs 300 onward on bookmyshow.com