Curtain call: A story enacted in pauses

Published on May 30, 2021 04:14 PM IST

I always treat the audience as intelligent and do not believe in spoon-feeding them at every moment. If all their questions are answered by the end of the play, then that should be fine

A still from ‘Baapjanma.’ (HT PHOTO)
A still from ‘Baapjanma.’ (HT PHOTO)
ByNipun Dharmadhikari

So, while we are on the subject of adapting plays, I thought of sharing one more experience before moving on to something different. Though it didn’t run for as long as the other two did, it is very important for me personally.

We used to have reading sessions of our old theatre group when we were not rehearsing for plays. I remember that a team member had read this story from a magazine. It was a letter written by a man to his father, who he hasn’t met in the last sixteen years. The father left one day after charges of corruption were filed against him. He had always been a family man, providing well for his wife, and doting on his son and young daughter. After he leaves without informing them, the family goes through a turbulent phase. Not financially as they are well cared for by their relatives, but it leaves a huge vacuum emotionally.

Especially in the life of this boy who considered his father as his role-model. It has been sixteen years to this incident and they haven’t heard from his father still. The son is now successful in his career, has a family of his own but this incident still keeps him awake during some nights. The only respite he has is writing about this in his journal. This particular entry is in the form of a letter addressed to his father.

After I heard the story, I kept thinking what will happen if the father finally met his son? The story was told from the point of view of only the son. I would have loved to hear what the father had to say about himself. He must have experienced a huge gap in his personal life as well. The letter mentioned that he had an affair with another woman. But there must have been times when he missed his wife and kids. It could not have been all rosy for him. Was there any guilt for his actions? If yes, how did he deal with it? This was one major character that I had to add. And it was interesting to imagine his world and the life that he must have lived for the past sixteen years. There were also many details about the son’s life that we had to imagine as well.

But the thing I loved doing the most was their actual confrontation. There were two options – the audience sees the father enter and introduce himself or the father and son have already met. I chose the latter. While choosing the first option was a far easier route in terms of exposition, I thought the second option opened up a possibility of awkwardness. Such extreme awkwardness will cause discomfort to the audience too. And so after the curtain rose and the play started, we showed these two characters sitting in a similar position. A pose that is simple – sitting on a chair with their right leg on their left and hands folded, with their heads slightly tilted to the left – but most certainly imprinted in their genes. It just made the audience believe that these two are related to each other. The actors and I believed that once the father meets his son, there will be more than a few moments of silence, where both of them won’t know what to say to each other! We decided to start our play there. So, right at the beginning, there was absolute silence for about a minute. Where both of them are waiting for the other to speak. And I think we were successful in adapting their relationship from the story to the stage in that one minute.

The dialogues were minimal. The script was hardly twenty pages long. But the play was full of awkward pauses and even the information flowed in bits and pieces. I always treat the audience as intelligent and do not believe in spoon-feeding them at every moment. If all their questions are answered by the end of the play, then that should be fine.

By the end of the play we have understood both sides. While the father is able to explain why he disappeared, there isn’t and cannot be any excuse for leaving his family and not connecting with them for so many years. While the man helps his father financially and is grateful that he has finally got closure and that he might be able to sleep well at night, he refuses to be available for him emotionally. His decision might change in the future but not right now. The father understands this and leaves. After the man leaves, his son, who has maintained a strong stance in front of him, hugs his own child and breaks down uncontrollably.

I had not named the play till the last moment as I could not come up with a suitable name. It was hardly a surprise that my mother suggested the most appropriate name. Later, I borrowed that name for a film of mine, which had a completely different storyline, but dealt with the same relationship. Baapjanma – the birth of a father.

Nipun Dharmadhikari is a storyteller and looks forward to telling them on stage, in front of the camera or inperson

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